Search This Blog

Sunday, December 31, 2006

It is Time to Have a Break.

Quite simply we need oxygen to survive. We breath air into our lungs. In the lungs the oxygen passes through the thin walls and dissolves in the blood. The blood is then pumped round the body. The heart acts as the pump. The oxygen in the blood is thus supplied to all the tissues of the body.

It is essential that the brain is kept full of oxygen. Eleven plus children, and their parents, need lots and lots of oxygen. It essential, therefore, that parents of eleven plus children think deeply about oxygen.

We all know that it seems likely that a wide range of dinosaurs emerged when lots of oxygen was released by the oceans. Divers and the mammals of the sea need oxygen.

The final eleven plus advice of the year is that as the eleven plus examinations grow closer parents should find reliable babysitters. They should then take themselves off on a diving holiday in Fiji. It will be very difficult to worry about the eleven plus examinations while you are preparing to dive, diving and then relaxing in the warm sun after a dive. (Especially if your children are safely thousands of miles away.)

You have done all you can for your child. What will be will be. Go for it, enjoy yourselves. Get a bit of oxygen into your blood.

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Altering The Plot

We can all remember being taught different methods of writing stories. Some eleven plus children may be writing a descriptive or an imaginative account in the next few days. Confirm that there are many different ways of writing plans but ensure that your child understands that it is vitally important that a plan is prepared.

Your children will have been taught at school about the plot, the setting and the theme. The words `plot’, `setting’ and `theme’ should be deep in their memories. Suggest that if they can not think of what to write they could always revert to the simple method given to them when they were seven or eight years old.

(think about the characters involved)
(where does the story take place?)
(when does the story take place i.e. past, present, future?)
(why are these characters there or involved in the story?)
(what is the beginning?)
(how did the characters get there?)

(They could use a spider diagram or equivalent to finish the plan.)

We may need to remind our very bright eleven plus children that is it essential that they do not write as an eight year old. They must think about the plot. Try to make the point that a successful plot is where the characters, the setting and the theme all work together. Explain that if one character changes then the whole story will need to be transformed.

Read some pages of a book together, look at a character, then discuss how the whole book would change if the character suddenly took on a new appearance or manner of speaking. Use a character from a popular soap. Talk about how the episode would need to alter if the setting or theme changed.

Enjoy some heated discussions!

Friday, December 29, 2006

Pure Chance

Multiple choice tests offer us the opportunity to `have a guess’. T.V. shows demonstrate clearly the need to think before arriving at an answer. The shows also show grown people in agony over making a decision or choice.

In an eleven plus examination children are not given the opportunity to `phone a friend’ or `ask the audience’. Parents, teachers and tutors will naturally have instructed their children to eliminate questions that just can not be correct – leaving just two options. This is where parents can be really useful on the day of the examination. They can slip their child a lucky coin.

The lucky coin can be blessed. It can be found or even handed down from generation to generation. I, for example, have the coin first carried by my grandfather and passed to my father.

Picture the examination hall. A hundred children solemnly flipping coins to find the right answer.

But what happens on a question like this?

Heavy rains had been forecast. There was a drainage culvert very close to the school where the eleven plus examinations were to take place. The culvert was just wide enough for one person to crawl through. A rare bird was nesting in the culvert. An excess of water could wash the nest away. The foreman sent two men to investigate.

Both men crawled into the culvert at opposite ends – and each came out from the other side from which he went in. They both reported on the state and the situation of the nest.

How did they mange to do this without widening the culvert?

The clue is probably in the answer. We think that the men may have flipped a coin to see who should go first. This has given the answer away. You will all be yelling: `The men went in at different times!”

So please supply your child with a lucky coin. You may want to reinforce the need to think and plan before answering a question. But on the day your child may also need a little luck and chance.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Escaping Chickens

At some time in the Christmas break we all get the feeling that, for just a few seconds, we need a break. It is the clutter that gets to us. We love the family, the food and the drink. The conversation is stimulating and pleasantly family orientated – peppered with lots of: `Do you remember?’ It is just the clutter that gets on our nerves.

Every Christmas we are offered our fair share of escape stories. We are all used to seeing grey figures crawl out of tunnels in the middle of the night. I think we even saw a film this Christamas where chickens were trying to escape from a prison camp. This was the sequel to the chicken escape.

In the prison on the Chicken Farm a group of chickens escaped from a tunnel they dug at the rate of four metres a week. The escape took a long time because they were nearly discovered by the dog. When they rushed their work three metres of the tunnel would cave in.

Finally one night they managed to escape.

When the guards measured the tunnel, they found that it was sixteen metres long. For how many weeks did the chickens dig?

Like all questions of this nature we rally need to look at the intent. Are we expected to draw a little sketch in our minds and picture chickens scratching away at the earth night after night? Should we worry about how the chickens disposed of the sail? Was there a natural leader among the chickens? The answer, as you all have worked out immediately, was that it took them thirteen weeks. How do we explain that?

“Ask your mother. I have to deal with all this clutter.”

“Ask your father. I have to deal with all the clutter he left behind”

“Oh, I don’t know. After all it is just after Christmas.”

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Ten Last Minute Words of Comfort:

“Do not worry about these eleven plus tests: remember that you are doing them voluntarily.”

“Do not stop in the middle of a test but work as quickly, and accurately, as you can.”

“Answer all the questions, but do not spend too long over any one question.”

“There are no catch questions.”

“A number of other children will not finish the whole test in the time allowed.”

“The eleven plus tests are designed to test your aptitude – the real you. Just do your best.”

“After you have the results you will be able to make decisions about what you want to do.”

“There will be questions that will not allow for learning and knowledge – so if you find them hard so will every one else.”

“The tests are trying to discover your potential. At your age you have not yet developed your true potential."

“The word `aptitude’ means your natural talent for succeeding in one area. If you do not succeed in these examinations it does not mean that you do not have any other talents. Remember that we love you whatever the results.”

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Regular Revision

Trying to remember if you have done all of your preparations for Christmas day uses your memory. No doubt some cooks will try to remember if all the ingredients for Christmas Lunch have been purchased by trying to visual the various recipes.

Some `Christmas Cooks’ will even make lists. If you are really well organised you will even be able to look again at the organisation of the various Christmas lists. The early lists will have a very different composition to the final memory aids. How do you ensure that you have left nothing off the final list? Quite simply it is called review. You revise and alter the lists to your current needs.

Over a hundred years ago Ebbinghaus, who was a German experimental psychologist, studied learning and memory experimentally. He used lists of nonsense syllables to examine how well we were able to remember.

His experiments demonstrated that most forgetting happens immediately after learning. If you have painstakingly spent fifteen minutes discussing how to do long division you may not be heartened to know that almost half of what you have said will be forgotten within twenty minutes. Seventy five percent of will lost within six days.

Ebbinhaus worked that `over learning’ helped. Regular review is also essential. When should you help your ten year old to revise?
First Review : Immediately
Second Review : Twenty Four Hours
Third Review : One week later
Fourth Review : One month later
Fifth Review : Three months later.

What you are trying to do is shift what your ten year old has learnt from his or her short term memory to long term memory. So as the last brussels sprout rolls across the carpet under the piano - only to be unearthed in the New Year - remember to help your loved one to revise on a regular basis.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Problem Solving

A weapon that is very occasionally used by parents is the word `because‘.

“Why do we have to go to visit Aunt Emerald this Christmas?” (Because)

“Why do we have to learn Equations?” (Because)

Sometimes we are able to work through a topic all the right reasons. For example:

Solve 3x + 5 = 11

One of your explanations:
Equations are sums where numbers are replaced with letters. Rearrange the equation to work out the value of the mystery letter. Remember that it is an equation: both sides are equal so whatever you do to one side must also be done to the other side of the equation! Write down all working to make sure you don’t make any silly mistakes.

Solve 3x + 5 = 11

3x = 11 – 5 ß taking 5 from both sides

3x = 6

x = 6 ¸ 3 ß dividing both sides by 3

x = 2

`Mum, why do I have to learn equations?
`Learning to solve an equation can help you to learn to pay attention to detail - and do the required steps of working out. Once you have the solution you can test the answer to see if you have worked the equation out correctly.’

`But Dad does it differently.’
`You can change the language. You dad will probably be able to show you different methods of arriving at the answer. You find the method that suits you.’

`What benefit will I get from solving an equation?’
`You will be solving problems all your life. Solving equations also encourages you to be able to cope with the four rules of number (addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division). Solving equations forces you to order the steps to be carried out.

`Do I really have to do it now?’
`Yes! Because!’

Friday, December 22, 2006

A Question of Balance

Many bright ten year olds have this rather deceptive self contained air. It is sometimes hard for a parent to maintain that rather delicate balance between wanting to keep offering rules and precepts and on the other hand allowing full voice to an emerging personality and intellect.

We all pray for advancing maturity and greater emotional balance. Your child, however, continues to need praise, reward, criticism and a good dose of warmth and understanding.

There are, however, two sides to the coin. One of the basic tenets that children need to understand is that parents too need praise, reward, criticism and a good dose of warmth and understanding. Sometimes children do need to be reminded of their obligations to their parents.

Some parents have found that the words: `After all I have done for you……’ do not go down too well in the middle of a heated discussion. What you want is to try to find words that will increase motivation and a desire for dialogue.

If you and your child have worked happily together then it is very unlikely that the stress and strain of eleven plus examinations will amount to much. Both of you should be able to take it all in your stride.

As a parent you naturally want to try to continue to develop the will to learn. However much you work together your child may still not pass the examination. Whatever the result of the eleven plus examination the `self contained air’ may slip at times. Then you will feel that you have earned your right to be parent.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Advice on How to Act

I once played the part of `A Ghost of Christmas Past’ in A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. This was not a great speaking part. In fact I recall quite vividly that I only had one word to say. The three ghosts were employed to change Scrooge’s attitude to Christmas.

A little later on in the play I walked around in the background and served as part of a `crowd scene’. It has been difficult to add this part to my acting C.V. as this was not a speaking part. My career never recovered from the crushing disappointment and I never auditioned again. It was obvious that the director saw through the lack of my talents. In the absence of an agent the awaited phone never came. I am sure that I received excellent direction – I probably needed more advice on how to act than others.

The wardrobe department fitted me out in a musty purple robe – replete with the makeup of past productions. My face was painted green. I had to hold a torch under my chin at key moments.

The part of the ghost is over quite early in the play. The director, however, insisted on the three ghosts appearing at the final curtain – in full makeup. There was a lot of waiting around to do. I was a young school master at the time so there were always books to mark and lessons to prepare. There are only so many numbers of times that an actor can go over a one word line.

John Wayne gave some advice to prospective actors: `Talk low, talk slow, and don’t talk too much.’

Relax over Christmas. Let the family have a rest from the eleven plus grind. If you have to talk about the eleven plus then: `Talk low, talk slow and don’t talk too much.’

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Touch of Spice

There will be millions watching the final of `Strictly Come Dancing’.

It has been fascinating watching the candidates absorbing the decisions and comments of the judges. Very few people in the world can actually enjoy being told they are pigeon toed or have immobile upper bodies.

On most of the occasions the professionals have got away without comment – unless it has been to hear that they have made the routine too easy or too hard. It has been the celebrities who have borne the brunt of the judge’s opinions.

Very few routines have been awarded a perfect ten. Equally, especially as the show has developed, there have been very few marks around the two or three. I am sure we all gasped with horror when we heard: “As this is the semi-final we expect something better.” The judges then frustrated us by awarding a string or eights and nines.

It is simply extraordinary how much preparation and effort has gone into the routines. The accumulation of so much emphasis on perfect lines, and carefully choreographed steps and gestures, has obviously had an impact. The value of the words: “`Practice makes perfect!’ is certainly evident.

There is much for our eleven plus children to learn. I am sure they have all watched the hugging and kissing with great interest. I bet there is no flicker of emotion at all that unbridled despair and elation. The hours of rehearsal and the insistence on faults being corrected must make an impact. The praise and the adulation must also be heart-warming and encouraging for our children.

We can all applaud the graciousness and demeanour of the losing contestants. In the end it is the public who have the last word. This makes the show exciting and unpredictable.

In the eleven plus examinations our children will be judged on how well they can apply themselves on paper. It would certainly add a touch of spice if each child had to pass the scrutiny of a panel of judges and then the votes of millions before being awarded a place in grammar school.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Foggy Dew

We woke up to a foggy morning today. We know that fog occurs when cloud hits the ground. One of the main problems with fog is that it reduces visibility. We can be living our lives quite smoothly and then suddenly be hit by a blanket of fog.

A type of fog that causes problems is called localised fog. This is especially dangerous when we are driving as a little wisp can obscure our vision. We need to be especially careful and pay attention.

What happens in the eleven plus examination when a fog comes over the mind? Here we could meet a child who is bright, sunny and confident. In the examination everything is moving ahead smoothly. Suddenly the child is hit by a ground fog. The brain stops working. The answer to a question is hard to find. We can just pray that at the crucial moment the fog lights will come on and guide the candidate through.

We know that most types of fog are created when relative humidity reaches 100% at ground-level. Sometimes fog is accompanied by dew. What we can be fairly certain of is that remarkably few eleven plus children will be hit by the sort of problem facing the participants in these few lines:

When I was a bachelor, I lived by myself
And I worked at the weaver’s trade;
The only, only, thing that I ever did wrong
Was to woo a fair young maid.
I wooed her in the winter time,
And in the summer too;
And the only, only thing that I ever did wrong
Was to keep her from the foggy, foggy dew.

Good examination preparation and counselling will help. Remind your child to keep focused – to keep the fog lights on and think about `other things’ at other times.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Top Table

One of the problems facing some our eleven plus children is the pressure they feel that they sometimes come under from their peers at school. The great majority of strong eleven plus children, however, will enjoy the increased intellectual challenge of preparing for a competitive examination.

Some bright children will no doubt become frustrated by any activity where they have to work slowly. Another strong gripe, at times, is constant repetition. The children want to feel that their education is being accelerated. They enjoy feeling stimulated and having their brains exercised.

What some may not enjoy is the envy or disdain of other less fortunate children. We work with around five hundred eleven plus children every year. We sometimes see very bright children sitting on the `second table’. Some children feel that if they are on the second table they are subjected to less peer pressure.

We have to help some of our bright children to understand that it is their behaviour and performance than matters. I should imagine that there are very few teachers who would move a child from second table to top table on account of a child achieving nearly full marks on a selection paper.

Your child needs to understand that that he or she will need to demonstrate commitment to the teacher. Your child will need to show academic and social maturity. You, as a parents, will need to provide sound counselling to prepare for a change of habits. Somehow you will need to make the point, as gracefully as you can, that your child will continue to associate with others of less ability for the rest of his or her life. The softly spoken reminder: `Just do your best,’ should help through many difficult situations.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Acronyms and Memory

We have all be told, at one time or another, to use acronyms as memory aids. An acronym is a word formed from the first, or the first few letters of several words. The acronym is spoken as a word rather than as a series of letters.

“Richard of York gave battle in vain” is an acronym of the colours of the spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet.

We can use this aid to memory in mathematics. Suppose we want to revise words relating to angles.

Acute Right Straight Adjacent

We can see the early acronym as `All Right Stop Arguing’

It will take a little more effort to complete the series.

Obtuse Vertical Complementary Supplementary

Once we are able to remember the various types of angles all we have to do is remember something about each of the key or trigger words.

Acute - an angle less than 90°
Right - an angle of 90°

Don’t forget that there are a wide variety of games to excite and stimulate the memory. We have all played the game: `When I went to the supermarket I put an apple in the trolley.’ `This is followed by: `When I went to the supermarket I put an apple and a radish in my trolley.” You can progress like this until you have covered all eight of the initial letters of the angles mentioned above.

The only problem with games and exercises lie these is that you may find your ten year old has a different kind of memory to yours. But think of all the different things you have to remember in a day.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Our Challege

A hundred years ago most professions needed no more than a mastery of the four rules of number. A bookkeeper, for example, needed to be able to add, subtract, multiply and divide. Naturally a bridge builder needed to be able to understand stresses and angles – but did not have access to the comprehensive tools available today.

We only have to see our doctor in action. After you have been greeted, and you are sitting comfortably, the doctor does not look down at your card – but scrolls back through your last few visits on the screen. Your prescription comes from a pull down list and is printed out there and then. The doctor only needs to put a signature.

But think of the host of variables involved in the logistics of the approaching Olympics. Clearing the ground, burying the cables, building the various sites, developing housing, improving the transport systems all require complex calculations.

Behind every one of the aspects of this truly massive project is a team of programmers. Does any one care if they can add, subtract, multiply and divide? Their computers can do the calculations. The programmers, however, do need to be able to think.

It may be that the mathematics we are expecting our eleven plus children to master is antiquated. We know that key elements of mathematics need to be taught. What we are not sure of is what mathematics needs to be taught to cater for the new generations of leaders and thinkers. Logarithms, for example, were introduced over three hundred years. They were taught as an important tool for calculation. Logs certainly play no part in maths syllabuses today.

When we ask our children to analyse and solve a problem, on an eleven plus mathematics paper, we are demanding that they use mathematics knowledge that they have learnt. But we are not insisting that our children are required to apply original thought.

Future generations setting eleven plus papers may need to think again about the type of children who they want to pass eleven plus examinations. We may need to develop children who can think. This could be a real challenge.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Value for Money

We run 11+ courses in Gravesend after Christmas. This is not an advertisement but a statement of fact. We look forward to the courses because we get to see the latest range of mobile phones. This way we get to see the phones in action – without having to listen to a salesperson. I bought my last one in January on the recommendation of a group of ten year olds.

As well as the phones we see our ten / eleven year olds in their best Christmas clothing. The clothing will range from the very smart to the smartly casual. Boys and girls will be preening in clothing from tight to loose and baggy. The trainers too will come in an extraordinary selection of styles. We do wonder at the prices because we seldom see a pair of trainers that appears to be more than three weeks old. An exciting and unusual variety will be displayed in the boots. We expect to see some high heels too!

We know too that we will see accessorised mobile phones. The ring tones will be expansive and varied. We know that one or two girls will text their mums to `check on things’. The boys will be engaged in taking the battery and sim cards out and comparing them. I had no idea, until last year, that the size and strength of a battery could keep a group of ten year old boys enthralled for just on ten minutes. (Potential geeks?)

Every owner will have their phones on `silent mode’ or switched off. Last year we had no `phone abuse’ at all. It must very tempting for our children to pre-arrange an important `conference’ call designed to impress and irritate.

The speed of texting will be another factor to be marveled over. We know about predictive spelling – but those little fingers will tap out important messages!

Naturally every `new’ phone will be camera or video ready. There will be some serious photography of clothes and each other.

By now you are asking – when does this take place? I suppose you thought that the children were there to work not play on phones.

All I can say is that it is extraordinary what can be achieved in a ten minute break. If your child displays as much energy and vivacious behavior in the examination then you will know that all the money you have spent on clothes and phones will pay a rich dividend in the examination.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Setting Objectives

One of ways to approach the eleven plus examinations is by setting objectives. Objectives set out what you are trying to achieve. Eleven plus objectives are set at two levels:

The first is the Corporate level. These are the objectives that concern the whole Eleven Plus examination.

We aim for our child to pass the examination and go to grammar school.

A Functional Eleven Plus objective could be:

We aim to do five different eleven plus verbal reasoning papers before the examinations.

It may be easier to set straight forward functional objectives rather than sweeping corporate ones.

“We aim to complete this exercise before the tide washes the foot print away,” is more achievable than: “We aim to get 10% better on every paper before the examinations.”

A good thing about the beach is that when the tide comes in all marks and signs are washed away. This gives a fresh start twice a day.

“We aim to take the whole family on holiday – if you pass your eleven plus.” This is a statement and, in a way, an objective. What ever name is given it is still bequeaths a lot of pressure on a child – even when the words are accompanied by a little smile. The presence of a smile does not reduce the implications of pressure.

Enjoy your child. Walk on the beach together. Try to avoid unobtainable objectives.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Nice Cup of Tea

The great Tea Clipper Race passed Gravesend back in September of 1866. (This was long before the 11+ examinations had been thought of.)

The Taeping discharged the cargo of tea in the London Docks while the Ariel unloaded in the East India Docks. The two ships shared the first prize.

There was only three days difference between the arrival of the first and the fifth vessel. Other ships had entered the race – but there were but two winners. (A bit like the eleven plus.)

It was a big effort to bring the tea - the ships had to be handled well, they had to use every available breeze and sail.

It may be worthwhile to parents of eleven plus children to research the history of tea with their children. Remind your children that, on occasions, there is more to making tea than simply dipping a tea bag in a cup of hot water.

Ask for a new tea cosy and three carefully selected blends of tea for Christmas. Drop heavy hints about the need for new china set.

On Christmas morning wake up to the sight of your child carrying a tray of lovingly prepared tea to your bed side. Enjoy the sweet smile of your child saying: “Good morning. Happy Christmas. I have already done two verbal reasoning papers this morning and I achieved 100% on each paper.”

As you thank your child for the tea and the papers, and ask to have the door closed, lean back on your pillows and think gratefully that you had foresight and planning. It is not every parent who will enjoy a personally delivered cup of fresh tea.

After all, the next time you have tea brought to you in bed, will probably be as a thank you on the morning after the eleven plus results.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Aids to Memory

One of the great advantages of working with windows is the ability to display multiple applications or multiple documents relating to a single application. Each of the window applications, or documents, displays on the screen in its own window, which can be full screen size, part screen size or even reduced to an icon.

It is also very useful to be able to tile or cascade document the windows of a single application. Think how cascading information could help your child to be organised and methodical. It would just take a few clicks of a mouse.

To conserve memory all you need to do is to close some of the unwanted files or documents. (A bit like turning off the T.V.)

If you get carried away and want faster and faster speed all you need is more memory. Memory, at the moment, is becoming cheaper and cheaper for more and more power.

Just think how easy it would be for our eleven plus child if we could close or open some windows at the right time. Think too what it would be like if all you had to do was to drive down to your nearest 11+ memory store and purchase an extra bit of memory.

You would need to buy the right memory – it would be no use buying a non verbal reasoning memory if non verbal reasoning was not tested at your school. A maths memory could be very useful at times.

The salesperson would like you to complete your wish list with a large `Memory’ memory. This would ensure everything that your child was told would be remembered in the examination. You would probably need to back the memory up because it would be terrible for your child to experience unexpected memory loss. This would need to be an additional purchase of the well known `Memory Back Up’ stick. Cheap at the price madam!

The Christmas shopping list is becoming clearer. Top of the list would need to be a new mouse to open and close windows (especially windows of opportunity) as well as the normal 11+ memory and 11+ memory back up sticks. You could do an entire 11+ revision course in the time it takes to cook the turkey – if you spent enough money on the right size of course. Remember too that that all memory sticks are up to 20% cheaper in the duty free shops.

Monday, December 11, 2006

11+ Perspective

"Lord Raglan wishes the cavalry to advance rapidly to the front, follow the enemy, and try to prevent the enemy carrying away the guns. Horse artillery may accompany. French cavalry is on your left. Immediate."

These instructions are pretty straight forward. The only problem is that the man who was carrying the order was killed. We do not know if there were further oral instructions so can only wonder why Cardigan made such a hash of the whole affair.

The charge is often quoted as an example of an order that has been misunderstood.

Lord Tennyson wrote about the Charge of the Light Brigade und used the lines:

Some one had blunder'd:
Theirs not to make reply,
Theirs not to reason why,
Theirs but to do and die,
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

So if you feel sometimes that that your child has not understood what you have meant - and you wish you could make yourself a little clearer - think about the listening skills of the 600 as they rode towards the Russian cannons.

At least your child will not have to face `cannons to the left and cannons to the right'. Your leadership as a parent will never be questioned as was the judgment of Lord Lucan and the Earl of Cardigan.

It is simply matter of perspective.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Eleven Plus Stress

I was asked recently about how to help a child maintain a calm perspective before the 11+ examinations. Naturally my mind turned to dolphins.

As far as we know we think that dolphins are probably the most intelligent mammal living in the sea. Dolphins also have the ability to be developed and trained. Imagine the impact on your children if you take them swimming with dolphins. We have a lot to learn from dolphins too.

Dolphins love, for example, to leap out of the water. We have all seen pictures of this exciting event. There are some scientists who think dolphins jump out of the water to look for fish. Our eleven plus child could learn to leap out of a chair to look for inspiration. Imagine the scene in the examination room where a selected child suddenly leaps onto a chair to find the answer.

Dolphins also speak with small and delicate sounds. They seem to smile a lot too. Our eleven plus children could learn from them too by only speaking quietly in soft respectful tones.

Dolphins have an acute sense of hearing. Our eleven plus child could learn to listen even when he or she is hearing something that is not palatable.

Dolphins love to play and have been observed surfing. Take any ten year to a beach with waves and you will see surfing too. Our ten year olds can even be taught to surf the net to look for eleven plus solutions.

There is one final and conclusive link for our ten year olds to explore. Dolphins have never been involved, as far as we know, in acts of cannibalism. It looks, therefore, as if it would be quite safe to let our stressed out child swim with the dolphins.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Enhanced 11+.

We have just had some tea on the patio of a richly appointed restaurant. The service was good and the waiter was articulate and knowledgeable. We all agreed, as the waiter walked away with our order, that the service charge deserved to be more than a mere fifteen percent.

Some of the tables were close together. The warm sunlight shone on the friendly face that was obviously under reconstruction. We were feet away - not inches. To the un-tutored eye 1 could only guess at the extent of the cosmetic surgery and did wonder about the starting point.

We have all heard of the lengths some parents have been prepared to go to while preparing for the 11+. We are not just talking about papers, tutors and pressure - but what about the interview!

The interview must follow a reasonably predictable formula covering questions to relax the family and moving on to : “What makes you think you will be happy here?”

Suppose that Question 12 was: “We really do admire your nip and tuck. Where did you get that done?”

Question 13 could be: “Have you, or any one in your family, felt any long term mental health benefits?”

Question 14 would naturally follow: “Did your cosmetic surgery improve your self esteem and body image?”

The interview could then continue with remarks to the parents about how well their child had done on the previous three questions.

The family would leave with these words on endorsement ringing in their ears: “Well Mr. and Mrs Wilson, this is certainly the best prepared and most masterfully created 11+ child we have seen so far. Do you mind if we use your testimonial to your surgeon in our prospectus? We naturally have a place for your super enhanced child.”

(Names have been altered to maintain privacy.)

Friday, December 08, 2006

11 Plus Scoring

One of the advantages of approach of Christmas is the opportunity to play games and have fun. With many games we need to have a score to work out who are winners and losers. It is also a time for making things.

I must confess that I do not, on a regular basis, make paper reindeer. The steps are straightforward, if you follow the instructions in the right order.

Start with paper, scissors, glue and paints.

Fold the paper and draw out the reindeer with his back to the fold.

Score or cut out the shape. Be very careful with the horns.

Fold back the head and neck, and crease.

Push the fold down and push the neck back.

Stand the reindeer up. Contemplate making another seven.

You will recall the voice of your art teacher – from some years ago - explaining how to score.

To score a straight line, run the tip of your scissors along the paper against a ruler. Score curved lines without a ruler. Fold the paper firmly.

So the next time you hear a stories about a child managing to do a whole eleven plus paper in twenty five minutes. Ask yourself, quietly - and do not share your thoughts with anyone else – did the child achieve the score on eleven plus questions or making paper reindeer?

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Thank You Lucas

I’ve decided to become a chemist through a study of very high standard of level of achievement. My family in general has become used to receiving very high standards in school from my sister and myself, this being because we have been very inspired or pushed as far as possible in an educational way.

My father is very pushing but over all it has been my sisters side of the family.

My grandparents are teachers and that naturally helps raise the educational level of achievement.

My grandparents have an extra tuition centre in Kent, which I have visited several times and have had some extra tuition for myself. My grandparents, Shaun and Susan, are very expectant of me and have tried to standards by testing me on higher tests than my age.

As I am fluent in four languages at a very young age they think, and are correct at thinking this, that everything is maybe slightly easier for me than for some of my school mates.

Thank You Lucas!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Listening Skills

One of the most documented stories of someone being told something that he does not want to hear is that of Macbeth and the three witches. The witched prepared a brew, singing "Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and cauldron bubble."

They told Macbeth three key things.
First, beware of Macduff.
Second, "none of woman born shall harm Macbeth."
Third, Macbeth will not be conquered until Birnam wood comes to the hill of Dunsinane.

They also told Macbeth that Banquo’s descendents will become kings.

Imagine what Macbeth must have felt as he walked back to the castle. I wonder if he actually listened to exactly what he was told or if he just heard what he wanted to hear.

We have all wondered at times if our child is actually listening to what we say. The witches spoke in scary voices – and what they said was not very pleasant.

Good listening skills require:

Attention to what someone is saying.
A willingness to understand and comprehend what has been said.
Giving the `other’ person time to finish what they are saying.

Not bursting into tears if you do not like what is being said.
Using good non-verbal signals.
Trying not to switch off when bored if you dislike what is being said.

In the end Macduff decapitated Macbeth – which is a severe punishment for not listening carefully.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Measuring Guilt

It is raining today. This is not an unusual occurrence for this time of year.

We all know that rainfall in England varies widely with the Lake District being the wettest part and parts of the south east receiving almost a third less rain. We can all recall fondly how to make a rain gauge.

To estimate the point at which a rain gauge becomes too small to accurately represent rain fall.

Two different plastic containers with different heights and diameters.
Waterproof marker
Plastic Ruler

Put the rain gauges outside on a level surface, away from any overhanging eaves or trees. Leave the gauges outside all week.
Measure the rainfall every day at about the same time of day.
Record readings.

Results (Or Eleven Plus Question)
How much does the diameter of the container affect the amount of rain being gathered?
If we have a large diameter gauge we expect more rain drops to be caught. The wide base however will spread the rain over a greater area in the container.

A narrower diameter gauge will catch less rain - but the drops will be at an equivalent depth.

I wonder how many eleven plus questions this topic covers? At first glance it seems we are looking at circles, volume, area, graphs, comprehension, metric system, problem solving - the list just goes on and on. We all know that we are more likely to retain information if we have thought about and discussed it.

Of course you do not have to do this experiment practically. We all remember: Rain, rain go away, come again another day. But if your child had needed just one more mark to pass - would you not feel guilty for ever?

Monday, December 04, 2006

A Ratio Question

I went for a ride on my bicycle yesterday on a gravelled path beside the new `fast track’ line leading towards the Channel Tunnel. On the way back I passed the point where the `Lady in White’ has sometimes glided out onto the road. The point is near the lovely village of Cobham. Many years ago Mr. Pickwick was moved to exclaim that this was 'one of the prettiest and desirable places of residence' he had ever met.

The `Lady in White’, or so the story goes appears just as cars round a bend. As she is, apparently, dressed in a diaphanous white outfit it is no wonder that she is regarded favorably by the locals.

If I had been riding a horse I wonder if the horse would have shied at the sight of her. As it was my bicycle became much heavier. It is possible that my heart beat went up because I was riding up a steep little hill. I do know that I suddenly thought of how the gears on a bicycle would make a wonderful 11+ question.

I have bicycle wheels that are 26 inches in diameter. When I changed to the lowest gear, because the hill was steep, and I wanted to see the `Lady’, I went much slower. There are 22 teeth on the lowest front chain wheel and 30 teeth on the rear gear. This means that I was traveling at about three miles an hour. (For each time the pedal goes round the rear wheel turned about 0.7 times.) I know that at three miles an hour I should have jumped off and walked but I thought that a moving object would have been harder for the `Lady’ to catch.

If we raise the number of teeth on the front chain wheel and reduce the number of teeth on the rear wheel to have a new gear ratio of 3:1 how fast will I be going downhill?

I am sorry that questions like this do not come up in the practice papers from reputable 11+ sources. Questions on gear ratios and speed certainly have some relevance to all cyclists.

An ancillary 11+ question could have been around the number of times my heart beat would have risen if I had increased my speed going up the hill – and if I had seen the `Lady in White’.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Keeping Your Child Focused

The idea of the whole family coming round for Christmas lunch is highly appealing. But how will there be a quiet moment in the day to allow time to do a full Eleven Plus paper in the appointed time?

The answer is crackers.

None of the family will mind settling down to a rip roaring discussion on examination technique just before the arrival of the turkey. All will be enthralled by hearing that scores have reached over 70 on a range of eleven plus papers. The entire family will love to hear how `our’ eleven plus candidate knew something that no one in the rest of the class knew. By skilful persuasion I think that you could keep the family focused on the topic of the eleven plus for a full fifty minutes - just the time it takes to do a paper.

What will be on the famous `Eleven Plus’ cracker strips? Well warm the proceedings up with jokes as tasteless as these:

What do you get when you cross a snowman with a vampire? Frostbite.

What dog keeps the best time. A watch dog.

Now add in your eleven plus questions:

Cattle is to l….. as s……… is to bleat.

What is the missing number? 2 5 9 14 29 …..

And finally …. What did the turkey say on the 23rd of December?

Oh, give it a break over Christmas.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Story Telling

Stories are told in many different ways. The art of story telling is not confined to one culture - but traditionally stories have been passed on through the generations. An author will tell a story using words to draw pictures in our minds. We sometimes do not need an illustrator’s interpretation. We can allow our individual experience and imagination to personalise a word picture.

We can cope quite easily with a question asking us to find the best ending for a sentence:

A river always has:

(tributary : rocks : a waterfall : water : bridge)

We can imagine the rivers we know and try to get a picture in our mind of a river. By definition a river does not have to have rocks, waterfall or bridges. So that leaves us with the words `tributary’ and `water‘.

To complete this sentence in a similar manner may be a little more difficult.

A tributary always has:

(a branch : delta : army : weeds)

The answer is branch - because by definition is a tributary is branch that flows into the main stream. If we think immediately of a branch as being part of a tree - we may miss a different interpretation of the word.

So if you child does not want to read story books - why not try to encourage them to listen to the spoken word? Try reading selections of books, try taped books or even radio stories. We have to stimulate and develop the use the words.

Why not tell the story of the family? After all generations of families have passed on the oral history of their families through the use of stories.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Listening to Mother

Sometime when we are tackling 11+ questions we may feel we really do need to be creative.
Let us take the scenario where you are working with your child. You are trying to build new associations between existing ideas or concepts. Nothing is appears to be working.

You may be on a rather simple section where you are trying to find a word that can be put in front of a number of words to make new compound words. What ever the clues you offer you are confronted with a blank face. You begin to question your child’s reading age, vocabulary, attitude, previous education and your own ability as a teacher. You begin to pray that something will suddenly click.

When the two of you have achieved the answer you will feel so relieved and happy that you will be certain that your child’s intelligence has been inherited from you. You will feel good about yourself and very proud of your child.

At other times you will wonder whether creativity and divergent thinking can ever be taught. No matter how often you explain something, or whatever the words you use, it sometimes seems that there is simply no connection with the question – and certainly no assimilation of new ideas.

This may be the time to be a little divergent in your thinking. If something is not working it may be time to make a change. You may choose to attempt the same bank of questions on a different day. It may even be the time of day that is causing the problem.

You walk away from the situation and turn on the television – to catch the middle of an important newscast.

“Good afternoon. We have just heard about the introduction of a machine that will enable children to pass eleven plus examinations. Reliable sources have confirmed that any child can pass the eleven plus examinations after coming into contact with this so called `miracle’ machine.”

(Camera cuts to a close up of a smiling child holding a certificate.) The child speaks:

“Thank you mother for buying me the new eleven plus machine. I will always listen to you again.”

Thursday, November 30, 2006

11+ Magic

King Arthur, or so the legend goes, had a round table. This meant that no one sat in a privileged position. The story goes that at every meeting King Arthur allowed his knights to sit in random places so that one knight was no more important than another.

One day five of the knights arrived early. Perhaps there had not been too much traffic along the way. They may even had taken one of the new toll roads. It was a long way ago - and our memories are weak.

They sat cheerfully at the round table and called for small beers. The knights were: Sir Agravain who was a handsome and capable fighter, Sir Bors was a fine knight, Sir Calogrenant was courteous and eloquent, Sir Daniel engaged in fantastic adventures while Sir Elyan was known as an excellent knight.

The middle knight sat between Sir Calogrenant and a knight. The first letter of his name was later in the alphabet that either Sir Calogrenant’s or his own. There was a large space between Sir Bors and Sir Elyan but the order was not alphabetical. Only one knight was in his correct place according to the first letter of his name.

This is a `easy’ 11+ question. All you have to do is to write down the positions and names of the five knight.

It is worth five marks - so you can’t spend more than three minutes on the exercise.

Naturally you will be able to strip the un-necessary words. We know we have to draw a plan and will need to sketch a `sector‘. (This leads to even more 11+ revision as a sector is a geometric figure bounded by two radii and the included arc of a circle.)

Use the hint about the large space.

King Arthur could call on Merlin for help and advice. Merlin was a wise magician and, as a your child looks to you for help, you will need to draw on your own magic.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Following Instructions

There will be a number of men, and some women, who will immediately recognise the work being done on this car:

To dismantle the brakes proceed as follows:

For front brakes, apply the hand brake, jack up the front of the car and remove the road wheel.
Take out the two brake drum retaining screws, back off the adjusters and remove the brake drums.
Mark the position of the pull off springs, and also mark the brake shoes to make sure they return to their correct positions.

Equally there will be a number of women, and some men, who will recognise these instructions:

Working from right to left, insert the tapestry needle into the first stitch.
Pull the yarn through first stitch.
Insert the needle into the first stitch on the top piece from front to back and second stitch from back to front.

In an English examination a child could be called up on to:

Write the actual words that Caspian said:

Caspian said that he could not pull his sweater over his head.

In all three examples of instruction there is lot left unsaid.

In the case of the car there is no mention of how to cope with nut that will not be moved.
Counting and recounting stitches takes concentration and effort.
To change reported speech to direct speech we need to think as much about a change of tense as the use of inverted commas.

Nothing is easy is it?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Just a Little Patience

We used to use yards and feet because these measures come from man himself - the length of a foot and so on. The length of fields used to be measured in yards. So 10 feet is three yards and one foot. Man has also developed a way of measuring time.

Time, however, is difficult to teach. When we are adding weeks and days we need to know how many days there are in a week. There are seven days in a week. So three days plus five days makes one week and one day.

5 weeks 3 days
+2 weeks 5 days

Sometimes teachers and parents try to help children to `discover’ and `problem solve‘. Part of the theory behind this approach is that if we help children to `discover’ we will save boredom and inattention. It must be very difficult for any of us to feel really excited about adding days and weeks. (Unless we are going on holiday.)

In the eleven plus examination your child will have to solve problems. What we are trying to achieve is to help our children develop the ability to reconstruct a mathematical problem and then solve it. We can go into a field and work our way through problems yards and feet. It not so easy with time.

In the time example above you may find you need to ask two or three simple questions. How many days are there in a week? How can you change eight days to weeks and days? You may find it difficult to construct a time machine at home to let your child discover time. You may need a little patience and a little drill.

Children, however, have been solving problems like this for years. Have patience - one day your child will do it all confidently.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Predicting Success

One of the big problems we have, when we are looking at tests like the 11+, is whether the test is measuring the specific ability is claims to be measuring.

Of course the 11+ examinations are partly used to try to predict future success at school in GCSE and A Level examinations.

It is not only the parents, teachers and tutors of children at the primary school age that are interested in the eleven plus results. Naturally the teachers in the grammar schools will be concerned about the quality of the children joining their school in the new school year.

All involved in the examination are asking:

Do the 11+ tests allow us to make predictions?
Do the tests actually measure what they set out to measure?
Does the test appear to be a `good’ test?
Is the test actually a reliable tool?

When two parents lean over towards their own eleven plus candidate and whisper in an encouraging tone: `You do know that if you go to grammar school you will be more likely to get a good job.’ The parents are making a prediction. Time will tell!

One day your child will arrive at your local grammar school. The teachers who look at the new intake will be just as concerned as you that they will be able to obtain good academic results.

Passing an eleven plus examination is really only one more step in your child’s life. There are plenty of real life examinations and tests to tackle in the years ahead. Doing well on verbal and non verbal reasoning tests can not make a child into a hardworking and serious `A’ level student. To be successful in life your child will need a different kind of spark – and that is a little more difficult to measure.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Time and Motion

Back in 1948 Frank Bunker Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey produced a book called `Cheaper by the Dozen’. Their premise was that applying the principals of time and motion to a family group would enable a family to interact and respond by pulling together. The film was released in 1950.

I have a 1968 copy of the book in a Pan Books Edition. The inscription reads:

Who only reared twelve children
Who reared twelve only children

Do mothers really do everything? Food, clothes, school, homework, 11+ study, recreation, comfort, love, role model - in fact everything. Does this mean that while dads understand that they have children, a mother’s nurturing side enable them understand their children’s needs in a different manner?

What do dads do? A number of dads can do some of the non verbal and some of the maths. Some children even allow their dads to offer tentative solutions to verbal reasoning questions.
This brings us back to time and motion in the home. To fit everything into a early morning scramble for school I can think of a very wide range of activities that the average mum has to manage. This leaves dad able to spend just three minutes a morning revising key concepts.

Can you image the impact on the family as all concerned sit down to cereal and toast and the conversation opens:

“We were able to revise multiplication of factions and proportion this morning. Thanks to dad’s clever methods I think I now know how to do them.”

“I have always thought he was clever, that is why I married him.” (Fondly.)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Solving Problems

When you selling your house you are advised to take on professional advisors. It could be, for example, your accountant to check that you presenting your income correctly. You could also telephone your solicitor about the progress of the sale. The estate agents too are acting professionally on your behalf. While you may rail at times about the unfairness or the iniquities of the system it is the system that exist at the time.

I wonder how often parents are tempted to phone the professional when it is something they can actually do themselves.

Helping a child with 11+ work is, however, very different from selling a house. Both events are probably equally stressful. Selling a house, for example, could involve a chain and with this in place unfair events could happen that are beyond your powers to influence.

The frustration that your child feels when your explanation is not absorbed immediately could sometimes be demonstrated in a slightly pouting lip. Your frustration is also manifest when you have just delivered a perfectly logical and reasoned answer for it to be rejected by a sullenly muttered: `I still don’t understand.’ It is very difficult for you to pick yourself up, smile sweetly and try again.

So before you telephone for professional help think back to when you were able to out think and out wit your child. Do you remember the time in the supermarket when your two year old lay full length on the floor because you had offered a carrot in exchange for a shiny packet of sweets? What did you do? You know you could not get angry - that only would make the matter worse. You could not forcibly remove the sweets from the little one’s hand because that would have brought shrieks of disgust. You were fearful too that you would incur the cumulative censure of the surrounding shoppers.

Do you remember how you distracted your little one? Can you recall how you murmured loving words and offered grateful thanks? Surely that feeling of relief as the onlookers faded away is still engraved on your heart.

When you had your problem with your house you did not telephone the professional. You talked about what you should do. When your two year old decided to express his or her personality you did not call a professional. You talked about what you should do. When your 11+ explanation is rejected - however unfairly - you should simply talk it through.

Keep your cool. Do your thing. Enjoy your child. Do not pick a fight. You know that in time you will solve the problem. Have faith in yourself. Believe in yourself. (Remember that if all else fails bribery usually works with a ten year old.)

After all if you can sell a house and raise a child from two years old to ten years old you will, in time, solve any eleven plus problem.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Dropping Intensity

Many of us make visits to the gymnasium on a regular basis. We go there on the premise that since the brain stores every movement, the more frequently a movement is performed, the more it will stay in the mind. With constant repetition a fast muscular reaction is obtained with lasting effects. At least I think that is what the instructor told me on my induction.

Each time you change gyms you have to have another induction. Every gym you go to has different equipment. This gives your brain a new learning curve and your muscles too. The instructors also remind you to work at 40% of your capacity when you meet new equipment in order that you do not put too much unfamiliar strain on your body.

One of the most reassuring statistics around is that there are remarkably few fatalities in gyms. This must be heartening to the instructors as well as reassuring to the gym users.

What the gym is supposed to do is increase the feeling of physical and psychological well-being.

The brain gym of 11+ papers and exercises is supposed to engender the same feeling of being well conditioned mentally. The ability to concentrate must also be improved if the brain and the body feel fit and healthy.

There is no need, however, to over do it. Try not to allow your child to feel pressured and overstrained. Drop your intensity down to 40% at times - especially when covering a new topic. Think of the smiles and the encouragement offered by your gym instructor. Take their words of praise into your sessions.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

The Sands of Time

I am always impressed by the ingenuity of children and their parents. It is no secret that we run 11+ courses. On the courses we talk a lot about timing - and we do practical exercises based on timing. Naturally we encourage the children to bring their own watches.

“Can I use my mobile phone? I have forgotten my watch.”
“ I didn’t bring my watch today. Can I bring it along tomorrow?
“I don’t have a watch. My mother times papers for me.”
“My mother uses our sand timer to make sure I watch the time running out.”

The idea of using a sand timer shows one very sensible mum. The flowing sand seems to start so slowly - but towards the end the sand seems to be ebbing remarkably quickly. It must be quite distracting to look up from an 11+ paper to see just a little bit of sand left in the hour glass.

We know that sermons used to be timed by a sandglass. An hour glass was placed upon the pulpit. The whole congregation could see the preacher speeding up his delivery as time ran out.

Archimedes developed a number system that he felt capable of counting the number of grains of sand which could be fitted into the universe. We know that he was a great educator - and he produced a large number of theorems that have delighted mathematicians, and some school children, for many many years.

Suppose an 11+ question read:

An hour glass holds a large number of grains of sand. Using the number system developed by Archimedes (the myriad is 10 000 and a myriad myriad is 100 000 000 - but you know that already), how many grains of sand would you need for a verbal reasoning test lasting 50 minutes?

So well done to that mum mentioned earlier. It would have been easier for her to have bought a watch for five pounds - but think of the fun she, and her daughter, had watching the sands of time flow by.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Class Genius

In every class there is always a class genius. This is the person, boy or girl who simply knows everything. The genius knows how to do division of fractions, the length of a football field and how to remain calm under pressure.

When I was at school the `Class Genius’ was Peter Drybrough. Peter was able to do chemistry and this was a great help to all of us.

We had a remarkably pleasant chemistry teacher. He was a young man, as I recall, and he always started the day cheerfully and happily. As the morning went on he became more morose and grumpy.

He collapsed in front of a class one day at about eleven o’clock. Not in front of us I am sorry to say – but we knew all about it. It ensured that in his back room there was a still where he made pure alcohol.

Every class knew that the teacher made frequent trips into his back room over the course of the morning. The chemistry results in the school were not very high in any event. After our teacher had been carried away we were left with no one who could teach chemistry.

Peter, however, knew everything. Is that just not true of all of the genius class? Peter gave some of us help with our chemistry as the examinations grew closer. We did not, however, do all the practicals.

In today’s world we can feel completely sure that no teacher, tutor or parent would ever fall victim to the demon drink. If something did, by chance, go wrong – who could we turn to with a few weeks to go to an examination?

It is simple really, provide as many materials and aids as you can find. Develop a timetable; look for where you can help. If you meet a topic that is really hard just say: `I am sorry, I don’t know – but I know someone who does.’ That gives you a breathing space to phone a friend. Some one will know. You can then go back to your child with the correct answer – and feel good about yourself at the same time.

When the eleven plus examinations are over you can turn to the search engine of your computer and type in the all powerful words: `How do I build a still in my home?’

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Spoon Feeding

For many years teachers have been critical of teaching methods that spoon feed children. It seems that there is, however, a perception, among some, that the more often a teacher or a tutor has a child sitting in front of them, the more the child will learn.

Some teachers have had outstanding results with children who have followed independent study programs. The theory is that the more independent the child is, and the more responsibility the child assumes for examination preparation, the more likely the child is to do well in an examination.

What you hope is that children, who have followed a course of designed instruction, and have had the time to engage in independent study, will do better in tests.

The term spoon feeding in Eleven Plus terms could be defined as providing children with answers and information without allowing time for independent thought. But spoon feeding is also implies supplying information in an oversimplified manner.

We sometimes need to remember to walk away once a child knows what to do. All your child may need, at times, is a little space for problem solving and independent thought. In the examination you will not be sitting beside your child with a spoon in your hand. You did that when they were ten months old - not ten years old.

Unless you challenge your child you may find that you land up offering your child the heritage of a wooden spoon rather than the golden spoon your child so richly deserves.

Monday, November 20, 2006

A Traffic Question

We will start with Question 23 on the 2004 verbal reasoning paper.

What do humps, cushions and tables have in common?

a) Speed calming devices
b) Speed humps
c) Traffic calming
d) Necessary evil
e) Challenge to driving ingenuity
f) All of the above.

Question 36 on the 2005 English paper.

With special reference to traffic calming, define the following:


We know that humps, and their cousins, slow down emergency vehicles, we have heard that the humps cause pollution by extra emissions as people speed up between the humps, we have heard stories about subsidence caused by vibrations. We know too that there is not much evidence to support the claim that speed humps save lives and accidents.

You are naturally wondering why speed humps are the `flavour of the day’. Yesterday, being Sunday, we had a 15 strong family gathering in a pub in Ealing in London. There was family from Spain and various far flung parts of England.

I followed a carefully and lovingly restored VW crawl over humps (a block across the road), cushions (a blip in the road) and a table (an area over an intersection). We all know that the engine in a VW is in the rear. The exhaust pipes enjoy a low suspension. The car had to drop down to walking speed to pass over some of the humps and cushions. A line of fifteen cars built up behind the stately progress of the powder blue VW. (Driven by a member of our family.)

So when you are driving with your child, extending vocabulary and coping with traffic, try to discuss calmly, and rationally, the difference and merits of humps, cushions and tables.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

11+ Questions

Back in 1983 a Mr William Walker discovered an enormous claw bone in a Surrey clay pit. It was called Baryonyx Walkeri and was the first carnivorous dinosaur to be discovered in England. The claws were about a foot long.

It was not just a lucky find. Finding the dinosaur was a result of hard work and thought. Having a dinosaur named after you mans that your name will live on for a long as records last.

After all the hard work you and your family have done wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a type of verbal reasoning question named after you? Take your child’s first name and your surname as the description of the type of verbal reasoning question.

For example we know that the letters alpha (α) and beta (β) are the names of the first two letters of the classical Greek alphabet. So we could call a new type of 11+ question The Alpha Beta question.

Doing verbal reasoning exercises we sometimes have to put letters in order. Sometimes into alphabetical order.

We will now invent our own reasoning question (called the (First Name : Surname):

Take the following words, translate them, and write the ensuing words in English in order.

Je voudrais manger des escargots.

All you need is a bit of translation, some common sense - and are they not fantastic with garlic?

Saturday, November 18, 2006


One of our local Grammar Schools is a widely recognised language centre. As well as the more usual `European’ languages the school offers courses in a number of languages.

I always enjoy the serenity of the 11+ Verbal Reasoning questions that start:

Gerry and Conner learn Japanese and French,
Connor and Kai learn French and German.
Matthew and William learn Japanese and Chinese.

Answer the following questions:

31 Who learns Japanese but not Chinese?
32 Who learns Japanese but not German?
33 Which languages does Gillian not learn?
34 Which languages does Andrew not learn?
35 Which languages does Harry not learn?
36 Who learns the most languages?

Surely this makes this school an exciting prospect for children to attend? Naturally the school is high in any of the league tables of academic excellence and it also offers boys the opportunity of learning a wide range of exciting languages.

Actually there are two boys who learn three languages. Surely this will be a great advantage to them in the years ahead?

Friday, November 17, 2006

Car Games

I was asked today about what verbally based games could be played in the car while travelling backwards and forwards to school.

The first game that sprang to mind was the old favourite: `I went to the shops and bought …. ‘.

The starting player says: `I went to that shops and bought an apple.’

The player says: `I went to the shops and bought an apple and some bread.’

Each player then adds a new word.

If a player forgets the sequence or fails to add a letter then he or she has to drop out until the game starts again.

I then thought of tongue twisters. I have no idea what so ever what this has to do with 11+ verbal reasoning papers if you have to say very quickly:

Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers.
Did Peter Piper pick a peck of pickled peppers?
If Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers,
Where's the peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked?

I do know, however, that you will entertain your ten year old with:

I slit the sheet, the sheet I slit, and on the slitted sheet I sit.

If however you start with this Tongue Twister as a basis - you can always try to substitute words:

If one doctor doctors another doctor,
does the doctor who doctors the doctor
doctor the doctor the way the doctor
he is doctoring doctors?
Or does he doctor the doctor the way
the doctor who doctors doctors?

Please let me know your suggestions.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Wait a moment. It will come to me.

Compilers of crosswords take heart from their understanding of human nature. It is easier to reach for a pencil and attempt a crossword in the morning than go to the local gym. Crossword addicts maintain, however, that they are exposing their brains to a mind gym.

I suppose the `best’ pleasure obtained from completing a cross word is in satisfaction in over coming a challenge. The will probably always be one or two clues that hold you up - but the fierce enjoyment of completing the crossword more than makes up for the frustration of not being able to give the solution immediately.

Verbal reasoning exercises also call for the ability to solve word problems. I can not see however the satisfaction of completing a number of verbal reasoning questions can compete with the joy of filling in the final letters so that you just know that you have completed the grid.

In a crossword every clue has to have some form of a definition. This means that the answer has to be unique. We have all worked through verbal reasoning exercises where occasionally there have been more than one answer. This gives real pleasure to all concerned - particularly when the answer book has a range of answers.

Once the verbal reasoning tests are over, turning to crosswords may give pleasure and stimulation to young minds for many years to come. The great benefit of a crossword is that it can be cast aside - and then picked up when the mood strikes. We are not quite sure why the brain is sometimes able to solve a problem if there has been a delay or period of incubation.

So when you are working on a verbal reasoning paper, and the answer is not immediately apparent, be reasonably confident that you may be able to solve the problem a little later on.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Random Thoughts

I took my child to an 11+ tutor
Hoping she’d change him from iron into pewter.

The tutor shook her head and said with a sigh,
`Your son’s verbal ability just makes me cry.

Are you sure you want to continue the fight?
He really is trying with all of his might.

The examination date is much too near.
I won’t make a difference at all I fear.

Just go on line and download some work,
At least a few exercises won’t make him berserk.

As the date of the exam is getting quite near
Remove from your mind all thoughts of fear.

Don’t throw him into a bottomless pool,
Just dream of a place at a good modern school.’

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Every Mother's Prize

I have just met a mum who was angry and cross.
Her child’s teacher had created a feeling of loss.

She would not recommend a place at the nearest grammar school,
The results weren’t good enough and she wouldn’t break the rule.

The Teacher had said, `Don’t put the grammar school first,
With too much pressure your daughter’s head will burst.’

Now last year’s teacher had said: `Go for grammar,
Your daughter’s so bright she won’t need a crammer.’

This then is a dilemma our Mum has to face,
How can she get her daughter her desired school place?

There is no easy answer to a problem of this size
As grammar school entry is every mother’s prize.

Monday, November 13, 2006

A Matter of Style

Over the weekend I enjoyed reading a boy’s writing.

He planned his work confidently and wrote a rather sensible three paragraphs - just what was asked for.

One aspect of his work stood out. He used an ampersand. The ampersand (&) has been used for at least two thousand years. Why should this symbol stand out on a page - and why not use it in some types of written work?

The origins of the term are shrouded in history. Some writers think that it was Tiro who used a form of shorthand to write down Cicero’s speeches.

Today the ampersand is used in around two hundred different languages. If there is the universal adoption of the term, why should it usage be restricted?

Should the boy lose marks? Should it be commented on?

We know that an ampersand can be used in a headlines like: `Books & The Eleven Plus‘.
It can be used in a official name of a company: `White & White’.

The ampersand should not be used in the text of a passage. `The boy took his sword & his helmet off,’ is simply not acceptable.

We know that 2 + 2 makes 4. A fact. The use of an ampersand, however, is a matter of style. If `style’ is worth 5 marks, how many marks should be deducted for an unruly `ampersand’?

Sunday, November 12, 2006

A Matter of Taste

Back in the mid 18th Century a man called Etienne Silhouette became France’s finance minister. I always remember his name because of my art teacher. In my final art examination he, Mr Morgan Davies, offered me a final evaluation of 13%. This was possibly the lowest mark of the year.

At the time I was sure his judgement was in-correct. I had tried to draw a silhouette - and instead of filling the head in with solid paint - as in the definition of the word - had I tried to do many dabs of colour, rather in the style of Pissarro. Mr Morgan Davies did not like the linking of the two styles and thought that I was a remarkably poor artist.

All those years ago Mr Silhouette, who you recall was the Finance Minister, had tried to cut the salaries of the courtiers and their staff. This had made him rather unpopular. After he had been sacked he made portraits by using cheap black paper cut outs. His work became popular and spread to England. We now use the term in a variety of ways.

I thought of these events today when an able and highly literate boy had completed his well presented written assignment. It was beautifully planned and carefully written. He had used a remarkably wide range of words and I simply enjoyed reading his work.

In the margin he had crafted an exquisitely executed silhouette. The essay title, however, had not asked for the illustration. The boy was simply expressing another of his many talents.

Should I have argued against the silhouette - and thus possibly diminishing his pleasure and pride in his work? Was a quiet word more appropriate, pointing out that while the drawing had offered me more insight into his skills, it may not have excited an examiner in the same way.

Creativity is an art and a science. We all know what happens to unpopular Finance Ministers. What should happen to a gifted boy? Do we sack him or praise him?

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Unexpected 11+ Results

We know a girl who has had Standardised Scores over 120 all the years of her school life.
Suddenly her marks dropped in one test at school to 115.

She fell from ` dead cert’ to `boarder line’. Just a few short weeks to the 11+ examinations.
What can be done?

More lessons? More papers? More work? A severe talking too?

These solutions are all too simplistic. We need to be bolder and it looks as if a revival of the ducking stool may help to find the answer.

The ducking stool was used years ago for women who did too much scolding. A scold was a woman who argued and quarrelled too much. She was tried by her peers, often the neighbours, and then simply dumped in water until she cried for peace.

The reason for the drop in marks, it transpired, was quite simple. This was a school test.

There had been a little happening in the playground and our super able girl had been involved. The tears and the recriminations had been enough to put her off. She had begun the examination feeling upset and put upon.

So we can’t blame her school ,we can’t blame her parents, we can’t blame the girl’s friends, we can’t even blame the blameless girl.

We can only hope for a right royal ducking for the senseless bully. Will this solve the problem? Possibly not but all of us may feel better!

Friday, November 10, 2006

Problem Solving Skills

Are children who are good at verbal and non verbal reasoning tests likely to be good at solving complex problems?

Are children who pass the eleven plus more likely to be able to solve problems better than children who did not attempt the examination? The answer is quite simply that it depends on the problem.

Coping with the logistics of 150 guests at a wedding, along with the ceremony, the dresses, the bridesmaids, the in-laws as well as the immediate family demands problem solving skills far beyond the requirements of a mere 11+ examination.

An actuary is a member of a profession that requires strong problem solving skills. An actuary deals with risk and uncertainly. Naturally there will be many different types of actuary. One kind of actuary will be one involved in the insurance business. It will be the actuary who will suggest the insurance premium that is needed before a wedding to cover the photographer, the food, the venue and the thousand and one other possible areas of misfortune.

Who then will be better at solving problems? On the day it will certainly be the bride. If there is a problem that has a financial implication it will be the insurance company guided by the actuary.

Could one become a bride without passing the eleven plus? Of course. The fact that the actuary has had to go to university does not necessarily mean that the actuary is better at solving practical problems that are complex in nature.

I am pretty certain that there must be actuaries who never did pass the eleven plus. These actuaries would not have needed to struggle with verbal and non verbal reasoning papers. They would, no doubt, have developed their problem solving skills in other ways.

Does anyone know if you can claim for the best man forgetting the rings?

Thursday, November 09, 2006

A Matter of Taste

We had a vast `two family’ roast vegetable dish over the weekend. A similar dish over the summer had segments of nasturtium thrown in for seasoning.

Our family has divided opinions over the nasturtium. My wife thinks upon it as a weed. I have to beg for a segment of the garden. When the plant gets too big towards the end of summer it can only be hacked at and severely reduced.

The strange thing about the nasturtium is that it flourishes in poor soil. No self respecting nasturtium plant likes an abundance of fertiliser. It does not like to be over watered. It just likes to be left alone.

Every now and again we see television shows with bright young children engaging in the act of a spelling test. In some eleven plus examinations, as some parents know, the ability to identify spelling, grammar and punctuation errors is tested.

A syllabus is prepared for GCSE and `A’ level examinations. What happens if a syllabus is prepared for 11+ English examinations? Suppose the 11+ examiner is an acknowledged authority on the Wild Flowers of Britain and Europe?

We will be able to teach words like nasturtium. To me the word sounds and looks nice. A sort of `feel good’ factor word.

A word like trifoliate should also be easy to teach as it means with three leaflets.

The spelling of a world like `saprophyte’ would be more difficult. It would, however, be easy to remember the meaning as a plant lacking in pigment and feeding entirely on decaying matter.

While I would be quite content to throw a nasturtium into a meal I must admit I would think twice about using a saprophyte in a favoured dish. Examiners must have the same feeling about some words.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

11+ Harmony

A couple entered one of our local parks last Sunday. Their five year old son drifted in behind them. The man and women were walking about five feet apart. The woman was white faced and very angry. The man was smiling and conciliatory. I just had the feeling he had done something wrong. Both parents were carrying a mobile phone.

Their son addressed them as `Mum’ and `Dad’ respectively. I presumed, therefore, that he was their son. Both parents were able to smile and talk pleasantly with their son. They just had some unfinished business with each other.

I was only in their orbit for about ten seconds - and did not see them again for some time. In fact the next time I saw them was around sixty minutes later when they left the park hand in hand. The woman’s face was glowing and relaxed. The five year was still skipping. All was well in the world.

I was standing by my car and chanced to hear the following snippet as the mother relayed a telephone conversation to her husband:

`She has reached 89% on the paper!’

`Please tell her well done!’

`You are never going to believe this, but she has turned the oven on too so our meal will be ready as soon as we get back.’

`That’s wonderful, I am so pleased, but - what was the answer to number 37?’

`What was the answer to number thirty seven?’


`She says that I was right.’

`I am sorry, I will never doubt you again.’

Question 37:
A window in a girl’s bedroom measures 1 m by 1.5 m. If she wants her new curtains to have an extra 300cms in length, how much curtain material does she have to buy?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

11+ Tessellations

I wonder just how much correlation there is between learning to play chess at an early age and passing the 11+ examinations. Children learn about tessellations, for example, from very early days in the infant school. Tessellations certainly `come up’ on some 11+ papers. We too know that a tessellation is `the careful juxtaposition of shapes into a pattern'.

A knight steps one square horizontally or vertically and then two squares perpendicular to the previous part of the move. Place a knight on a chess board and tessellations will jump out at the onlooker.

Once the young chess prodigy has learnt the concept that a knight can ignore any pieces in its path then imagination and planning can be brought to the fore. A knight can jump directly to the destination square. The knight can rest on the destination square or it can capture an enemy piece. The knight can attack and defend - or it can brood in a corner and wait for events to unfold.

Imagine how the depth of interest in chess would grow if children were asked questions about possible outcomes of moves. An attraction to chess would stimulate a wealth of socially acceptable activities.

We know that while chess requires the ability to plan moves - it also needs the player to remember moves in attack and defence. The `Queens Pawn Opening Gambit’ is taught to all beginners in its execution and defence. Adult Education class throughout the country would gain unparalleled popularity as parents stream in to learn more about chess.

Verbal reasoning books would need to be rewritten.

Question 35 would read: `The king is under attack from the enemy knight. Checkmate is in store. Which squares can the king move to?'

Monday, November 06, 2006

How long for each question?

Solving problems takes some thought.

If the 11+ examiner makes all the questions achievable to bright children then all of them will pass the examination. The examiner has to think of some way of setting problems that can be solved - but only after some thought. When the family sit down to solve some obscure verbal or non verbal reasoning question there is the combined power of a number of minds bearing down on a problem.

Some questions just take time to solve. The words `lets sleep on it’ are not uttered by chance.

The brain has the capacity to think about a problem long after the moment has passed.

An eleven plus examination requires a problem to be solved in a short time. It is possible to come back to a problem - but once again the time available is limited. A child who answers all the questions correctly - but does not finish the paper - may achieve a pass mark ahead of a child who completes the paper and then goes back over the harder questions.

One way to reduce this perceived unfairness could be to set a section of harder multiple choice question where two marks could be awarded for a correct answer. Questions1 - 55 would then be worth one mark - but Questions 56 to 70 would be worth two marks.

You could then teach your child to spend 25 minutes on Question 1 - 50 and 15 minutes on Questions 56 to 70. Or should it be fifteen minutes on Questions 1 - 15 leaving 25 minutes to answer the rather more difficult questions?

Remember bright parents are more likely to make bright children! Some one will solve this problem for us.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Feeling Good on the Day.

One of the `rules’ of doing well in examinations is to feel refreshed on the day.

If your child is feeling tired on the day of the examination then it is likely that you have allowed your child to do too much. (How parents like to feel blamed for everything!)

In the closing stages it is probably best, for example, to only do part of a paper a day after coming home from school . In the last few days before the examination look through sections where there have been problems. Discuss solutions - encourage recall and problem solving.

Unless you are very, very fortunate, and you are supremely confident of your child’s ability, try to avoid saying: `Of course you will pass.’ Sometimes temper a statement of this magnitude with a softer approach: `Just do you best - we know that you will do your best to pass.’

Unfortunately the gift of passing a child through an eleven plus examination does not lie in a parent’s hands.

Too much work on too many papers, at the last minute, can interfere with your child’s ability to do a slightly different set of questions. Over the whole spectrum of an eleven plus examination, with between two and four papers, a number of questions will rely on problem solving skills.

We can anticipate that some questions will be asking for a form of analysis. Other questions may be asking for evaluation.

A tired, irritable, overworked child will struggle to analyse and evaluate. In just the same way: `Of course you will pass,’ will hardly be music in a weary child’s ears.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Please Mum, I need a drink.

There are strange ways that superstitions arise. Some must arise from actual events and others from more fanciful and imaginative musings.

The Marula tree has a fruit which is high in Vitamin C. The fruit is used jelly and jams - as well as potent base for an alcoholic drink. When the fruit falls into the water it can ferment and become a potent drink.

Elephants, so the legend goes, have been known to imbibe a little too much and then stagger away from the tree. There is sometimes great damage to fields and crops. Can you imagine the sight of these huge animals wandering aimlessly as they try to come to terms with the effect of the alcoholic stimulation? The problem is that an elephant drinks around 150 litres a day. They would need to drink vast quantities of fermented marula juice before it would affect their bodies.

We do sometimes need to remind children to drink - because they can feel dehydrated so quickly - and we don’t want that to happen in the middle of the examination. Remind your child that while an adult is encouraged to drink around two litres a day on a `detox’ diet a child walking towards an examination needs much less.

Oh - one more useful fact - baboons too like to eat the marula fruit. They grab great handfuls and literally stuff their mouths.

Very few parents in the leafy suburbs of England, however, will be faced by elephants, marula trees and baboons.

The modern parent has to cope with different pressures. The next time the family is shopping in one of the major supermarkets keep a close watch on your `pre examination’ child. If you see an intelligent head bent over a selection of jam jars be very careful.

There may be a myth circulating among Year 6 children about the virtues of marula based jam. Preserve the myth - it may actually help on the day. Suggest to your child that a couple of mouthfuls of water before an examination may help.

As a parent all you need to do is simply forget to put a few marula seeds or nuts into the `examination lunch box’.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

11+ Fears

I have heard that when a woman wants to get married her steps take her unerringly past bridal shops and jewellers. The posture a woman adopts as she looks into the window is unmistakable. She is half leaning forward and half leaning back. She leans forward to become caught up in the excitement of the chase and withdraws as she thinks of the consequences.

Your ten year old approaching eleven plus examinations will feel similar emotions. May I suggest the `drive past’ approach?

This means on a quiet Sunday morning driving past the schools of your choice. Stop well away from the zig zag lines and wonder up towards the gates. Gaze wistfully in and dream together of passing through the hallowed gates. Invite your ten year old to think what it would be like to step through the open gates. Have a little day dream too of how you think you will feel as you wait to collect your loved one after the first day of school.

Stop off for a well earned croissant before embarking on your next tour. Repeat the exercise as you work your way through all the schools on your list.

Think too of a mere six to seven year’s time when your seventeen year old will be driving YOUR car to school - and dreaming about university and life after school. Be reassured that you will regain ownership of your car when the young one has actually left home. Lean forward to embrace the future - and plan carefully for the worst.

Is that not the intent of a pre-nuptial agreement?

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

11+ Results

11+ results usually come through the post. Often the children are at school so mum and dad have to sit through much of the morning and part of the afternoon before they know the results.
The letter sits silently on the table until the family gathers to read the news.

I know of some parents who take the results to school and open the 11+ envelope in the car. If all is well that is a proud moment to share but if there is a problem ……

Please think about the postman as he carries the letter to you. We know of postmen being bitten by dogs. There can not be many postmen, however, who have been eaten by a shark.

Tin Can Island is a remote island in the Tongan group. Letters were dropped into the sea in sealed containers and the postman swam out to collect the mail. One day the postman was eaten by a shark.

The islanders then supplied a canoe to collect the mail. I feel sure by now that technology has transformed the postman’s lot in Tonga. It probably won’t be long before technology strikes 11+ results here too!

What is going to happen when the 11+ results are sent by email? Do you put your email address so that you can be the first hear the results - or do you put your child’s email so that the 11+ results can be delivered to your child on their own phone at school? Is it your responsibility to charge your child’s phone or should a ten year old be able to remember?

All the Tongan had to do was to remember to look out for sharks. At least you will not have the same problem.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Helping Children Triumph

I watched one of our pupils with some interest yesterday afternoon. He was struggling with an assignment where he was trying to write about a task of great endeavour. The work had been planned carefully and he knew what he wanted to say - but he was trying to take that great leap forward to where your essay actually follows your plan.

This brought to mind two friends of mine who now live in Australia. Rob and Olga have devoted their lives to helping children and adults effect change.

Rob loved Hemmingway. He could remember passages from `The Old Man and the Sea’. We all recall the story of the old man who caught an enormous Marlin and, after an epic struggle, tried to bring the fish to land. The fish left a trail of blood - and sharks attacked - leaving only the carcass of the fish.

Rob, as a teacher and educator, would have tried to enthuse the child with the love of the task, the grandeur of the occasion and the need to be poetical and even lyrical. Olga would have concentrated on the actual task that the child was involved in. She would have developed a step by step approach so that the child actually knew what he had to do.

We tend to think of `The Old Man and the Sea’ as a triumph of indefatigable spirit over exhaustible material resources. When we watch some children strive to reach the standards demanded by the 11+ examination we can understand the words `indefatigable spirit’ when we see the amount of effort some children have to put into their work.

All we can hope is that our children will meet teachers who love their work, who can stimulate minds and also deal with the minutiae of the task.