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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Sorting Out Your Attitude!

This weekend I watched a dog being trained. It seemed that the family were concentrating on trying to teach their dog not to jump up at people and how to fetch a ball or a stick.

We know that there was lots of praise – and there was certainly lots of movement and noise. But how well was the dog learning? Was the dog absorbing the lessons? What was the power of retention of learned commands?

To encourage the dog to fetch a ball it seemed that a special language was used.

Session One

`Come here, Mary. Look Mary. It’s a ball. Fetch. Fetch. Go on Mary fetch. Get the ball.

No Mary not the stick, we want the ball. The ball, Mary, not the stick!”

Session Two

Another member of the family came out and yelled: “Here Mary, sit!”

The arm and the ball were then held in the air. The hand went back. The ball was thrown.

“Fetch!” was shouted.

The ball and the dog returned immediately.


In the first instance the dog had to focus on a bewildering amount of words. The trainer needed fewer words. Too many words, too much information.

The second instance reduced the information to a minimum.

Let us know contrast this with a child settling down to an eleven plus session.

Scenario One

“No dear, we are not going to the shops. We are going to do some work.

Take out your Non Verbal Reasoning papers, Go to Paper 3. Do questions 19 – 26.

Yes I know we did them together last night – but you did not write the answers. Today, please write the answers.

Once again, no, we are going to stay at home and do some eleven plus work.

I know I said that we were going to the shops, but I meant after you have done your work.

Thank you dear, just do your work now.”

Scenario Two

“Eleven Plus!”


“Thank you dear. Now we can go to the shops.”

After all being a parent is simply a matter of having choices. Sometimes a simple command can do the trick. You sometimes may use too many words. Maintain supreme confidence in your own ability. Develop the climate where there is a strong expectation that you will be listened to.

On the day the examination results come out all you will want to say is:

“Fantastic! Fetch!"

(Successful Eleven Plus results.)

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

A Little Whisper in the Ear!

One lesson that the great majority of our ten year olds seem to enjoy is when they are offered the puzzle of substitution. Naturally if a parent or teacher is working to a time limit in a lesson or session at home there is the temptation to simply explain how to do the exercise.

We would then present the children with a series of `rules of engagement’ where the child is told what to do. If we could make more time we could simply throw the example at the child and then try to guide him or her towards solving the puzzle of substitution.

We could also then mix in the whole question of BODMAS. Now everyone still remembers that with `BODMAS’ we need to do the `Brackets’ first. If we remember that it is easier to work out what the other letters mean.

To sum up we could use words like:

Substitution means replacing letters with numbers in an equation. The values that need to be substituted in are given, but remember that rules of BODMAS still apply: always multiply or divide before adding or subtracting.

E.g. Find 3p + 4p, if p = 8 and q = 2
3p + 4p = 3 x 8 + 4 x 2
= 24 + 8
= 32

So what is it that our eleven plus child needs? How do we find those extra twenty minutes to allow our `big brain’ to explore the problem and try to come up with a solution? We know that for years gifted teachers in schools have encouraged investigation and creative learning. We all know of children who have moved into a new class at school and have suddenly changed into being thoughtful and confident pupils.

So when you are working with your child at home don’t be too quick to `give’ the answer. Allow some time for your child to try to formulate rules and work out solutions. After all in the actual examination you won’t be there to pick up the pieces. Many questions will have two or even three parts.

You can just hope that in the examination your child will still hear your voice whispering words of encouragement and praise.

`Come on – we have done something like this before. Do you remember how we went about it?’

`You were very good at these when we did our last paper. Have you tried to change the numbers to simpler numbers?’

Chose between:

`You explained that type of sum to your mother. She was so impressed!’

`You explained that type of sum to your father. He was so impressed’

`You explained that type of sum to me. I was so impressed.’

Monday, January 29, 2007

The Future of the Eleven Plus

The power and skills of today’s ten year olds are far wider than the content of mere examinations. When the originators of the eleven plus examinations were working out what should in the content they did not know about digital cameras and the power of publishing on the internet.

The digital camera, for example, has the ability to inform and educate. People have had cameras for years and the connection to the internet has been around since before our ten year olds were born. With the connection of the digital camera and the web comes the chance to educate our children in a very different manner.

A search on YouTube on the word `Mathematics’ throws up songs about mathematics as well as different videos on teaching mathematics. I was particularly taken by a video on `vedic mathematics’. This video showed a method of teaching multiplication that certainly does not come into the National Curriculum.

YouTube is still in its infancy – but it is an example of the forefront of tools to educate and stimulate. If this tool had been available the `educators’ of yesteryear may have devised very different batteries of tests.

This weekend I watched a ten year old take a picture, down load it onto her laptop, write a story in English and Spanish, and then publish to this blog. She used her camera, her brain, her email connection and her lap top. All of us would like to think that she has skills and knowledge far beyond the confines of an examination. Her work can be seen on our Extra Tuition Centre blog.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

How to Make Time to Work.

I was given a book by A.S. Neil when I was training to be a teacher. He commented on the Eleven Plus examination:

“If we were to have an exam at 11, let us make it one for humour, sincerity, imagination, character – and where the examiner could test such qualities.” (A letter to the Daily Telegraph in 1957.)

Mr Neil had many ideas. He thought that children should not be compelled to attend lessons. The school was run on democratic lines with meetings determine school rules and policy. Naturally the children had equal voting rights with the teachers and the Head Teacher.

I should imagine that our eleven plus candidates would love to be taught with humour, sincerity, imagination and character.

Image too if you, as a parent, could try to conduct as many as possible eleven plus sessions with those same attributes.

I wonder too if your child would also display those same characteristics during the course of the lessons.

There may even be enough time to do some work!

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Taking Control

Dear Shaun

My husband and I both work. We run a small farm. We get up early in the morning. We have to feed the animals. My husband has dreamt of running his own farm all his life. He used to be high up in a large company.

On school days either my husband or I take the children to school. At the moment we are between three schools– and the round trip seems to take longer and longer.

My fifteen year old daughter says that she wants to leave school as soon as possible. She is very bright but just does not like the grammar school she is in. She says that she wants to get a job with horses. One of our friends runs a riding school and she wants to work there. Naturally my husband and I want her to stay on for further education. But you know what some fifteen year old girls are like.

Our middle child, a boy, would like to go to grammar, but he lives such a busy life that there is not much time for everything. He has just reached the top swimming group for his age group and has to swim five days a week at 5.45. The pool is only five miles away so there is time to nip home to do some chores before collecting him.

Little Elsie, our third child, is only six. She just fits in. My husband and I are so lucky.

How do I make time to spend with my son as he reaches this crucial stage in his life?

Mrs A.


Dear Mrs A

Something is going to have to give. Make very sure that it is not you. Stand up for your rights as a human being.

Start with your husband. Tell him that either he organises some help for you or he will need to give up his dream and go back to his office job.

Next your daughter. Explain to her that she can not devote her life to someone else’s horses. She must help you – and tell her too that she must help herself.

Now your son. Tell him that if his swimming coach can get him to concentrate for fifty lengths then he, your son, can reorganise his after school life and do some work. Tell him enough is enough. He can not do everything. He must start today to do some regular supervised work.

I agree, thank goodness for little Elsie. At least you have one bright star in your life.

Take a sheet of paper. Divide it into columns. Put your name first. Write down what changes you know need to be made.

Call this paper your `Master Plan’. Execute the plan!

Let me know how it all goes.


Thursday, January 25, 2007

"You are always criticising me."

Very occasionally your ten year old might feel that words of criticism have been bandied. In the heat of a discussion, your bright and able ten year old may feel that your well meant words were uttered because you were finding fault.

“It is totally unfair of you to keep pointing out all my mistakes. You hardly ever say any thing nice to me. You just criticize all my work. Even when I reached 93% on the last verbal reasoning paper you still said that you hoped I would do better next time!”

“No dear, what I was trying to do with this little story was to point out what you had done well and where you could improve. I was trying to help you to evaluate your work. Anyway, we are not talking today about the verbal reasoning paper – that was last week.”

“Thank you, mother, for reminding me to write a plan. I must admit I forgot – but I will do better next time. I am so grateful for your advice. I know that as a mother you are doing the best you can. I know when you reminded me to write a plan at the beginning of this exercise that I was not really playing attention. I will try hard to do better.

“I really do have difficulty with writing plans. Perhaps you can go over story planning with me once again?”

Some ten year olds are able to understand that criticism is not all to do with blame – and that when they are criticised it is often done in the spirit of trying to help. Repositioning the criticism as a question is a technique that sometime used to defuse a situation.

“Look dear, there is no blame attached, but do you think you could have included a plan? Do you remember we did plans like this before? Is there anything I can do to help?”

Of course when your child achieves that `higher plane’ and begins to understand the difference between criticism of work and a critique – then you know you gone a long way to establishing a different type of relationship. We hope that the word `critique’ implies that your child is being offered advice or a commentary. A mother or father presenting a critique of their child’s work is not always setting out to be rude or uncomplimentary –it is just mum or dad offering an opinion. Whatever your ten year old thinks, mum and dad can offer opinions!

So the next time ……. Try questions, use different language, and start with the words: “We are not trying to blame you, we are just trying to help. How else could you have done it differently?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

A Better Chance

Top sports people from all walks of life go to experienced coaches for help on how to improve. In this era of video cameras, computer analysis and high tech investigation, everyone has to have access to an `expert’. Coaches help us to build power and strength and an attitude to winning. At a certain stage in a sportsman’s development the coach also concentrates on how to help their protégé to `look good’.


It is no longer good enough to be just the best. The money from the marketing depends on image. The right clothes are important fundamentally important. Time too needs to be spent on hairstyles and grooming.

You can see now where we are going. Our eleven plus child needs more than intellectual ability and a slow heartbeat during the examination. They need to look the part. New clothes, the right shoes and trainers will all help to build self esteem.


Remind you child to `walk tall’. It is important to walk confidently into the examination hall. Draw parallels on how people with `attitude’ stand and strut. Comment on how a world champion approaches the ring on his way to a title fight. Explain to your child how you felt as you walked down the isle when you too were a `winner’. Draw a distinction between how the body posture changes between shopping in the local super market and shopping in Harrods. In the one scenario you push a trolley down isles – gathering essentials. In the other you are carrying bags with distinctive logo – you are buying luxuries – and feeling good.


Discuss when to turn the power on and how to ignite the after burner. Go over the impact that substitutes have on turning the course of games. Bemoan the fact that eleven plus examinations will not allow a fresh and fit substitute in the last ten minutes of the examination. Work on stamina to try to ensure a powerful and confident ending to the examination.


Tempo is such a hard thing to learn. Encourage your child to `Think Smooth’. The examination is not going anywhere. Try to maintain a smooth tempo to your examination preparation. Practise fighting the blood rush to the head rush that can sometimes occur in the panic of the final ten minutes. Remind your child that a smooth tempo will bring results.


When you look at your child in your role of examination coach – rather than as a parent - develop a strategy for ensuring a balanced life. School, work, sport, leisure and family time all have to be balanced. Allow, and even demand, breaks in the routine. You want to keep your child interested and motivated. In sporting terms: `tuned and toned’.


Say to yourself: `I am a winner. I can do it I can help my child to do as well as possible in the eleven plus examinations’. Now work hard to transfer that confidence to your child. Use the right vocabulary. Develop the right attitude. `I am a parent. I can do it!’

So let us summarise. To be a winning coach you need, for yourself, the right image, posture, power, tempo and balance. If you can get it right for yourself then your child will have a much better chance.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Advice from Friends.

“My daughter was quietly confident at this stage of her eleven plus preparation. My son `talks big’ but I don’t think this he is as confident as she was. She was always prepared to go straight to her desk and start working. He, on the other hand, leaves everything to the last minute and rushes through it. I’m not quite as confident about him passing the eleven plus as I was with my daughter.

I asked my friends – and they laughed.”

`Boys will be boys!’ they chorused.

It seems fine to listen to friends – because they can always be relied on to give support when you need it. Friends see us in a different light. We all have our own fears and insecurities – even as adults – but straight talking from a friend can do wonders for our morale.

Whatever bravado is displayed, or even preening, ten year old children still need their parents to be suitably strong and firm. Children can not envisage a parent lacking in self- esteem or displaying a lack of self-confidence. So how then do parents maintain this façade when they have their own self doubts?

The great thing is that most ten year old children are usually tolerant of our mistakes. They know that we do not know all the answers. Sometimes even boys are charitable about our misconceptions. But a boy will defend to the death an assertion that he is not as mature as his sister was at the same stage.

Parents may sometimes be able to reason and cajole their daughter into understanding a new situation or change in circumstances. The young `Alpha Male’, however, may need rules, definitions and a carefully charted path.

So listen to your friends, ask their opinion on how you can help your son to understand your point of view. Ask them if they can comment on your behaviour towards your child. Your friends may give you insight into how you can build a strong and confident relationship that will lead to success. Your friends may be able to give you the strength to be able to take decisive actions rather than hoping that the problems will just go away.

When you ask your friend’s advice you are hoping that they will help you to understand yourself so that what you see as a highly stressful time with your ten year old son is no more than a matter of interpretation and measured response. In the end, however, you may just be driven to say: “I have had enough. Don’t answer back. Just get on and do the work.” (And you may feel a lot better about yourself too!)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Mum is always right!

Boys like to be involved in gadgets. A boy came in for a lesson last week asking our opinion about speed in miles per hour and the accuracy of his mother’s `Sat Nav’ system.

He explained that the speed on the family’s `Sat Nav’ system was a little faster than the actual speed shown by the family car. From the heated faces, and the remarks flying around, it seems that the boy had made a remark about his mother’s driving. He was not concerned that he was being ferried to his lesson in a big and beautiful car. He simply thought that his mother could have set the cruise control to two miles an hour faster.

The discussion, as far as outsiders could understand, revolved around the fact that while cruise control had been set to 50 miles per hour, the satellite navigation system showed the car travelling at 52 miles per hour.

The mother’s case was that the two of the overhead `Distance between Two Points’ camera systems would have tracked her digitally – and therefore accurately – so she needed to err on the side of safety.

The boy’s case was that his mother should have trusted the `Sat Nav’ gadget more than the cruise control on the very expensive vehicle. I understood that one of the arguments was that the technology used in the `gadget’ was used in space flights – and therefore needed therefore to be set up correctly.

We were asked to behave as judge and jury.

Was this `discussion’ really about speed and accuracy or did it escalate into a battle of wills? The mum was under pressure on a journey that would have taken a much shorter time – but for the presence of the cameras. The boy was simply a little tired from a full day at school. Mum was on a mission- to deliver her child safely to the lesson. The boy was on different tack – he wanted recognition of his ability to conduct an argument where he felt he was in full possession of the facts.

We took the easy way out. We offered mum a cup of tea before she went off shopping. We gave `our pupil’ a soft drink and asked him if he would like to do some `Speed Time and Distance’ questions.

Neither party mentioned speed to each other after the lesson. In any case mum had decided to go home on a different route. The diplomacy of a mother! What lengths mums have to go to maintain the peace and quiet! I wonder if she muttered very quietly: `Next time I will let him walk.”

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Keeping Our Options Open

Some how or another our ten year olds have to find some strength and wisdom while they are still only in Year 5 at school. At times they have to be single minded and even virtuous as they try to maintain a balance between their studies and the rest of their lives. But what makes a ten year old feel virtuous?

The often quoted lines from Proverbs comes to mind: "A virtuous wife is worth more than rubies." But we must appreciate that this is not quite the same virtuous feeling that we hope our ten years olds will attain.

The word `ruby’ comes from Latin - well it would, wouldn’t it? I was in the lower end of the Latin form at school. I never ever felt virtuous learning Latin. I do remember, however, that a word like `ruby’ in Latin could be Masculine, Feminine or Neuter - and it could even be Singular or Plural.


Some one far more erudite than me would be able complete the exercise - and then go on to use the words in a series of sentence.

Some of our eleven plus children will enjoy reading and learning Latin at school. We know that the numbers of children learning Latin at Grammar School has fallen over the years. There still are some pockets, however, of dedicated teachers who continue to value Latin. I wonder if there are more after school clubs where children can learn jewellery making than there are clubs teaching Latin?

There is another quotation (this time from Job) which says: `The price of wisdom is beyond rubies.” This phrase points out quite clearly the immeasurable value of wisdom. Our ten year olds could certainly strive for wisdom in their lives. I wonder if a ten year old would find it easier to be virtuous than wise?

We can only hope that our children, when they land up at Grammar School, will continue to be both virtuous and wise. We hope that the pressure of the eleven plus examinations does not rob them of their love for learning or even their innocence.

We hope too that one day, through hard work and discipline, coupled with a thirst for knowledge, that they will be able to afford the rubies of their choice. To make sure that your child is both virtuous and wise on the day the examination you will have to make sure they are wearing a pure and thrice blessed ruby. This way you will be keeping a few more eleven plus options open.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Team Building

One of the great problems of the eleven plus examinations is that the examination is aimed at finding individuals who can pass an examination.

Think how much easier it would be for children if they could enter the examination as part of a team. Just think of the manner in which parents, teachers and tutors would be able to change they way they prepare children. The key naturally would be learning to be part of a team.

Instead of your child sitting quietly at a desk ,working steadily through a paper, you would be working together on team building skills.

Instead of struggling over the order of letters in a verbal reasoning exercise your loved one would be sitting precariously on a raft - bouncing down rapids.

You would be sitting with other parents watching a team of seal like children rehearsing a synchronised swimming exercise.

Best of all you, as parents, would be sitting quietly in the lounge of your prestigious local hotel while a top American T.V. star regaled your children. You would be able to tell your family and friends that the weekend’s team building exercise cost over £300.00. Does that not sound so much better value for money than stating that you stayed in while your child completed a sample 11+ paper?

The children would be working together - developing skills they will need for the rest of their lives. Leadership and motivation would be polished and developed.

When this carefully bonded team reached senior school they would work and play together. They would assist each other with homework. They would study together. What a potent force! What a pleasure to teach. What lucky teachers!

So here we have it. A child working studiously through a sample paper or a team of happy and stimulated children enjoying leaning life skills. Deep in your heart - which would you prefer?

Friday, January 19, 2007

Hopes and Dreams

Do you remember the first time you saw a picture of your `Eleven Plus Child’? Do you remember the excitement and wonder as you looked at the results of the first scan? Can you remember taking photocopies of the of the pictures so you could send them all over the world? Grandparents, best friends, family - in fact any one and every one who may or may not be interested.

This all took place around eleven years ago. In all that time you have hoped that everything would be all right. You will have prayed that there would be no major illness or sickness. You will have worked hard to be able to provide food and shelter as well as a warm and loving environment. As a parent you will have had a wealth of hopes and dreams.

At the time of the first scan you is unlikely that you would have been able to work out your child’s disposition or even ambition to work. Your fierce determination to do as well as possible to educate your child will have sustained you over the years.

You will have winced every time your child has been hurt. You will have taken to heart every single piece of warranted praise - and hated every unsought for comment. You will have repeated the positive comments - and rejected any that were adverse and uncalled for.

You will have agonised over which eleven plus papers to buy. You will have worried about stories about one set of papers being harder than others. You will have done research and investigation into methods of teaching. At times you will have longed to interfere but will have held back for fear of compromising the situation.

In all this time you will have been a parent - just doing the best you can. But, and there is always a but in life, the pleasure and excitement you feel is nothing to the thrill that you will be giving to your parents as they think of a grandchild. You have thrown down a marker with your first scan. And as the eleven plus results come in - for better or for worse - just be thankful that you have been able to have had the roller-coaster ride of being a parent.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Who really is the `Clever Clogs'?

We have all played the game `20 Questions’. Various forms of the game exist on radio, television, in homes and schools. In a formal setting the questioner has the name of an article on a card. The players are allowed 20 questions about the article to discover its identity. If the answer is guessed correctly then a point is awarded. At home the word is held in the questioner’s mind. I am sorry to report that this word can be changed in mid game depending on the pressure from the other players!

One of the most helpful questions is: “Is it animal, vegetable or mineral?”

Our average eleven plus child would easily distinguish between these three areas. When questioned about oil, for example, we would say `animal’ because oil is thought to have formed from small marine organisms.

The eleven plus child is, however, sometimes recognised to be a `clever clogs’. So if your loved one suddenly thinks of the word `protein’ do you call unfair? We know that proteins are compounds made from carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen. The proteins are present in small quantities in foods so therefore a protein is _______ .

So when the game breaks up in an uproar, and all around there are sulky faces, harping on about unrecognised genius, as responsible parents we simply pull the plug and start a different game with different questions.

What about: `We need food to grow. There are many people in the world who do not have enough food. There are some rather inhospitable areas on our earth where food is not currently grown. Can you think of any crops that could grow in parts of the Artic and the Antarctic?’

We pose the 20 Questions type of question because we want our children to think, argue, discover and enjoy a game.

The question about crops, food and Artic conditions requires a different type of thinking. If we become so blinkered that we tend to concentrate precious time on completing 50 verbal reasoning questions under specified conditions, then we may be stifling creative thought.

What could your child learn about growing food in cold conditions in the same amount of time as he or she would need to spend writing an eleven plus paper? How are you going to contribute to your child’s social conscience if you spend key growing up time working through papers?

We may not need to have much creative thought to be able to pass eleven plus examinations. We know that the examinations are looking for children who have ability at the top end of the scale. Some adults will live happy and fulfilled lives working at worthwhile jobs, and being wonderful parents, and be perfectly content not to have to solve problems about growing food in the Antarctic.

But as parents we do need to be able to quell a battle in the middle of 20 Questions when we have to argue why `corrosion’ is or is not a suitable word. What about the word `pollution’? Is it animal, vegetable or mineral?

But then we know that all parents are `clever clogs’. All parents know the answers to everything. Parents know how to stop fights and arguments. We don’t need a twenty question test to work out just how clever parents really are.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Little Break!

We went to a family wedding some time ago. There was a happy and cheerful piper who piped the bride into the chamber in the castle and then piped the happily married couple back into the car. The piper also piped during the photographs.

He piped the couple into the reception hall, piped the cutting of the cake and piped the couple leaving.

The piper, bless him, was not allowed to pipe for us to dance the Gay Gordons and less well known reels like `The Wind on Loch Fyne’. It was not in his contract.

You do need to know about pipers because every child who passes the eleven plus examinations has the opportunity of having a party with their own piper.

You are all aware that you, and other parents, have been casting around trying to work out what to do with their now restive eleven year olds. The great majority of the eleven plus examinations are over. Perhaps a little weekend break is due.

You can only be preoccupied with the standardised scores, a mere 92% on an Eleven Plus paper, and the unfairness of the eleven plus system for so long. Rumours about hard papers and questions will only occupy your thoughts for brief periods before your natural resilience takes over.

There is a limited amount of time that you need to rehearse your speech to the appeal panel. I mean what can you say? Was it the type of questions in the test? Your child’s ability to make use of opportunities at school and at home? Was it illness? A reading problem, a mathematics phobia, nerves or even ordinary bad luck?

This is why we need a piper at some time in our lives. The piper makes us think of brave men putting their bodies on the line. We have all seen pictures of lone men standing on a hillside while the rest of the regiment `go over the top’.

Confide your deepest fears to your best friend. Maintain a cheerful façade to your eleven plus candidate. Contemplate taking up Scottish Dancing as an antidote to your occasional blues. Best of organise a blissful weekend in Scotland for the whole family. Go as far as possible from books, papers, telephones and all the impedimenta of every day living. Relish your family and your time with them.

Please, please find a piper because `He who pays the piper calls the tune!’ Remember that this proverb means that if you pay for something you will be able to exercise authority over the events.

So if you pay for the holiday surely the rest of the family can respect your wishes and give you a well deserved rest?

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Going It Alone - Or - Mum is always right!

Every now and again the question of what makes a good eleven plus tutor comes up in discussion. If you want your child to pass the eleven plus examinations you will naturally strive to find the best possible tutor you can.

When you have gone through all the local options – and even the internet based options - you may decide that you would like to do it all yourself. Once you have made your decision – you obviously have the `power’ to change your mind. You may land up working with your teachers at school or a tutor.

So what do you, as a parent, need to be able to do when you start working with your child?

You need some information about the examination your child will be facing. You will find this information through the school, listening to other parents and as a result of your own research.

You are going to have to remember than when you are talking about the eleven plus with your child and your family you will be wearing two hats.

On the one hand you will be mum or dad the provider. You will provide food, shelter, love and attention. In other words you will be a parent.

You will also, however, be mum or dad the tutor. This means that you have to look at your child a little dispassionately at times. You know deep in your heart that praise, reward and recognition will get better results than tears and tantrums. (Here we are talking about your tears and tantrums – not your well balanced child’s reactions to your teaching!)

Now you need to set some goals. You know that a timetable will help with short term goals and organising time. You know that you will also need to set some long term goals.

You will need to be confident about your subject matter, it does not matter that you were taught long multiplication in a different way as long as you understand that you can find out how it is being taught in school – and you can adapt and be positive about what you know. If something `goes wrong’ in your tutor role simply say – `I am sorry I don’t know – but I will try to find out as soon as possible.’ This will work for methods of teaching as well as solutions to hard questions.

Something that may be hard to take on board is that a topic you find blindingly easy may not engender the same degree of excitement in your child. You will, at times, need to display the patience of Jove. Be prepared to teach, revise and re-teach – just like a proper teacher!

It is vitally important that you must be flexible. If your child is bored, or hungry or irritable be prepared to change the topic you are working on. You do not need to make tutoring sessions into a battle of wills. Imagine that you had an outside recording one of your sessions – and that the methods and content of the lesson would be displayed for all to see. Would you continue to use the same vocabulary? Would your tone of voice change? Would you continue to insist that your way was the best? You need to be able to step back.

What ever you do not provide all the answers. Encourage your child to work independently and solve problems. Allow some frustration and challenges. It is all part of growing up.

And finally. Think – if you were paying a tutor – would you allow the tutor to take a personal call in the middle of a lesson? Would you sanction a tutor leaving the room to put the supper on? If you were paying good money to some professional body would you allow them to break off and have a chat?

But more importantly – what an adventure! What a challenge for you and the family. What deep pleasure you are going to get if you and your child achieve the goals you have set for yourselves.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The First Day

The first day at the new school has arrived. In the days before you have talked about the new school. You have driven past the gates on a number of occasions. You bought the new uniform about a month ago. As you look at your child you wonder why you did not buy one size larger – there has been so much growth in just one month.

You have checked the contents of the school bag at least twice. Pens, pencils, scientific calculator, rulers, rubbers – even a very small packet of tissues are counted and recounted. As you walk outside to the car you will be horrified to see your son drop the brand new school bag in a muddy puddle. (If it is too new it won’t look cool.)

You will turn the CD player up as high as you can dare make it go. Good rocking music to cheer your heart. You will share a bite of your healthy cereal bar. Your driving will be ultra careful – you will display unusually good manners. You will let through cars until the vehicle behind starts to hoot in frustration.

As you turn into the school road your first half formed sentences will be forced out.

“Now remember that I will not be here to pick you up today as I am going to see Aunt Mildred in hospital.”

“I hope you have enough to eat in your bag. I know you are going to have school lunches but I put in some extra food in case you get hungry during the day.”

“I am so glad that that awful boy will not be going to your new school.”

“I suppose you will miss your lovely teacher from last year. She did so much to build your confidence.”

“Be careful when you start climbing the bars in the gym. They do look very high. We will need to buy a new swimming costume too.”

“Now remember where we agreed that you would meet your dad, just by the big steps near the gate. Your dad will not be able to park close by – so look out for him. Do not go outside the school gates until you see him. Be careful crossing the road.”

“Oh, I do hope you enjoy your new school. We are all so proud of you. Good luck. See you this evening.”

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Planning Your Celebration

We still have a bottle of Brut Imperial `Moet & Chandon’ Champagne. It is of the 1995 vintage. We bought it when it was still young to be able to have a bottle in the house when we heard the news of our lottery win. Many weeks and years have gone past. We are no nearer to a win. We have eyed the bottle on a number of special occasions. The box is unopened. The bottle is unopened. One day! (We hope!)

Parents waiting for eleven plus results may consider the effect on the family of getting in early with the purchase of the basics of a `big’ party. Naturally it will be a big party. As well as family and friends you will need your child’s teachers and head teacher. Along with sausage rolls and cheese the central piece will naturally be the rather big bottle of champagne. As the guests enter the room your loved one will be standing proudly beside the bottle explaining that the bottle is in fact a `Nebuchadnezzar‘.

He was the King of Babylon between 605-562 BC. Remember the hanging gardens? The story goes that he built the gardens. Well this big Nebuchadnezzar, the centre piece of the party, is worth 20 bottles.

The cost of the big bottle will be between £850 and £900. I am not sure that what they currently cost on ebay.

If you make the outlay and buy the bottle, just think of how proud your child will feel in your confidence. On the other hand if you wait till after the results are out before you make the purchase, then you may be forced to go without.

I think you should get the bottle either way - pass or fail. It should be a good party. It we don’t win the lottery by 2055, our champagne will be a hundred years old. Don’t wait that long to celebrate your child’s endeavour and effort.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

How to Make your Heart Beat Faster

We went to the Science Museum in London today. Once again Apollo 12 captured the imagination.

The Museum has collections covering scientific, technological and medical change since the eighteenth century.

Apollo 12 carried the second manned crew to land on the moon. We can only wonder at the bravery and courage of the men who flew the mission. We do know that the men prepared very carefully. We know they had vast recourses as backup crew. But what did their parents feel when they heard they had passed the selection tests to become the final crew on the mission?

Surely pride must have been foremost - then worry that they would survive. Think how the hearts beats of the different parents must have risen as the time for blast off grew nearer.

The tension would be rather like how parents feel as their children enter grammar school for the first time. Think ahead. Your child will leap out of the car without a backward look. He or she will grow smaller and smaller and then finally disappear through a door. You will be left with your feelings of pride and concern. Your heartbeat will have risen. As you sit there you will try to visualise your child’s reactions to the various lessons.

Thoughts will flash through your mind. Sports equipment, pens and pencils, tissue - did you pack enough drink - little details will concern you.

As you start the car and drive off you will know, deep in your heart, that this is another big step for your child. Your child will never be the same again. What have you done? As you drive away from the school some idiot will cut you up.

You now have a car with no children. You are free. This is your chance to relieve your feelings. You can say the words that spring to your lips - without fear of a bright Year Seven child repeating them to the wrong person at the most inappropriate time. Just vent your anger. Pull a face. Shout loudly.

Think how you will be feeling as the school day comes to an end. Once again you will be sitting in the car. Once again you will feel a modicum of anxiety. This is where you know you will have an everlasting bond with the parents of the Apollo 12 Mission.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Post Examination Stimulation

Many children have now completed their eleven plus examinations. They are eagerly waiting for fresh challenges. The SATs examinations offer the chance of completing Level Five in mathematics, English and Science. Some schools place children in preliminary sets at senior school based on the SAT’s results. There is, therefore, some form of incentive to keep working hard. We have, however, awakened drives and helped our children to set goals. How can we maintain at least part of the momentum?

After `A’ levels many youngsters take a `gap’ year. The gap year for some means earning as much money as possible. Some save the money for university, some for a car and some for travelling.

I met a girl on New Year’s Eve in the final year of her degree who was going to take a gap year after she had completed her degree. She really wanted to go to Africa to build a school. She had done all the research. She knew where she wanted to go and how much it would all cost. More important she knew what she wanted to get out of her gap year.

What would ten year olds do if they could take a gap after their examinations? I should imagine that sport and visits to theme parks would come high on a number of lists. Others would want to give something back. Some, for example, may want to be mentors to younger children in their school.

When I was a very young teacher I used to take the class out every Wednesday morning to look at what kind of jobs or careers were available. One day by chance, on a visit to the High Court, we were there when a skull was raised into the air by the prosecution. You can imagine how this interested the nine to ten year olds!

We went to the local Coca Cola factory to enable the children to see what it was like to have a routine job – checking bottles as they were placed into crates. We visited stone masons so they could see adults working with their hands for a living. The local telephone exchange was also a popular visit – because this enabled children to see the `other’ side of communication.

Our eleven plus children have already reached great heights. The content of an eleven plus syllabus is demanding – and enriching. We want to build on this. Whether it is learning a new language, learning how to square dance or learning to be more rounded citizens any form of stimulation must help.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Hard Questions

A number of our children from the Medway towns remarked that the recent mathematics paper was hard. No matter how much good preparation has been done, the way some questions are presented in an examination can possible make the questions appear to be more difficult than they really are.

A shop sells 2 pairs of shoes of size 3, 3 pairs of size 4, 5 pairs of size 5, 2 pairs of size 6 and 1 pair of size 8. Find the median and mode.

To cope with this question we need to know what the words `median’ and `mode’ mean. To learn the vocabulary of mathematics we need to revise on a regular basis.

In order to complete the question, however, requires a series of stages.

We need to put the shoe sizes in order:

3, 3, 4, 4, 4, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 6, 6, 8

A median is the middle number. After we have put the numbers into order it is easy to see that the median is 5.

The mode is the number appearing most often. So in this example the mode is also 5. More shoes of size 5 are sold than of any other size.

A question like this could be grossly unfair to some children – yet others would relish the challenge.

None of us can believe that an eleven plus test sets out present children with unanswerable questions. The test is trying to select children for one form of senior education. I know of some children who would have smiled with delight to have been confronted by a hard question. Other children would have found it all too much. The great majority of our children would have simply done their best.

We advise our children to say, after an examination, simply that they have done their best. We suggest that the children say that they found some questions easy and others hard. We explain to the children that parents become very worried and concerned - and even anxious. We tell our children that parents also need to be reassured.

"Look Mum, I did my best."

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

When to say Thank You

Two ten years old were sitting side by side yesterday. They will be writing their eleven plus examinations later this week. One was working on revising mathematics and the other on a verbal reasoning exercise. Both asked for help in the time honoured way - by raising their hands.

Two of us moved over to where they were sitting and helped as best we could. As we moved away one child said, `Thank you,’ and smiled. The other did not make eye contact – and did not say anything.

We were in the fortunate position of not having to say, “What do you say?” We had provided a service. The parent was paying for the service. The child knew what to do. End of story.

We are now seeing signs in shops saying: “Thank you for not smoking.” This form of thank you is very different to us even thinking that a child should say thank you.

Some children are naturally gracious and appreciative. Others do not show their appreciation in the same way. As teachers and educators are we in a position to judge?

The child may not have been aware that as far as the teacher was concerned that the topic had been dealt with. The child may have felt that even though the teacher had left there was still more work to be done. The thanks would have come later. Perhaps, even, the topic had not been dealt with to the child’s satisfaction. With an examination just a few days away the child may have been thinking about how to solve a similar problem under examination conditions.

It is very difficult to demand or expect manners if we do not have all the facts.

Perhaps all we can do is be confident that when the occasion warrants thanks and appreciation we know our child will deliver.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Understanding Questions

“I am sorry, but I just don’t understand what you mean. Please would you explain that again?”

“I really have read the question twice, look I have even underlined the key words, but I still don’t understand.”

“Yes I do know what all the words mean. I just don’t know what I am supposed to be looking for.”

“Yes, I really do want to know how to answer the question. I am not being difficult.”

“I do understand that I have done similar questions in the past, I know that I managed them with help, but I don’t know what to do.”

“I actually did go to the dictionary to look up that word – look the page is open.”

“I know you have told me in the past to draw a picture or make sketch – but I don’t see how that will help in this case.”

“Yes, I did read the question very slowly. You have mentioned that before. I know that sometime I read too quickly – but in this case I have read the question slowly.

“Thank you for reading the question to me. It makes a lot more sense.”

Monday, January 08, 2007

10 Nice things to say to Your Child

Lots of children will be writing eleven plus examination in Kent and other parts of the country in the next few days. Parents will be concerned for their children. They will want their children to do well – but not at any price. Naturally you will want to try to be nice as possible to your children as the tension mounts.

You have worked hard for some time and you are well prepared. You have done a wide range of papers. You have simply done your best.

All of us in the family have seen the progress you have made with your work. We can all see that you have tried very hard. We respect the effort you have made.

Your teacher at school has remarked on how well you are doing now. Continue to work hard at school. Your school has done the best they can. All your school can ask from you now is that you do the best you can.

Just take each examination as it comes. You will meet some difficult questions. Just think about the questions you have been able to do. Do not fuss too much over the few really hard questions.

Every one of us is different. You know that are some questions you will be able to do easily. You will struggle with other questions. Every child sitting in the examination will also have strengths and weaknesses. Do not panic, just work through your problems.

You have seen how your new watch has helped you to control the time you spend on questions. When you reach a batch of questions that you may find hard, take a quick look at your watch, just as we have been doing together, and watch your time. You have improved your timing of papers – so it is unlikely that you will struggle.

You are writing the eleven plus examinations to give yourself a number of choices. If you pass you can choose whether or not you want to go to grammar. We have discussed this point a number of times and we know that you would prefer to go off with your friends – but complete the examination to the best of your ability – and when you have the results you will be able to make your mind up.

You will be faced by many examinations in life. You have already coped with many problems and have solved those problems. You have learnt to swim, ride a bike, read, do maths, dance – you are good at so many different things. Be confident of your own ability. Once again think of what you can do well. Do not allow negative thoughts to enter your mind.

Occasionally children who do not pass the eleven plus are given the opportunity to sit a kind of 12+ examination. Gaps and places may appear at the Grammar School. A few of you may be given a second chance for a place in the grammar school. You will need to keep working very hard at school to maintain your progress and the standard of your work. This is especially important when you go to senior school. At senior school you will need to try to be among the very best before the school will recommend you. So after the eleven plus examinations you will need to keep working hard. When you arrive at senior school you will need to keep working hard.

After the examinations are over we will not dwell on the results. We will try to take any pressure off you. We won’t keep mentioning the examinations. Naturally, because we are your parents, the topic will come up occasionally.

If you pass we will love you. If you fail we will love you. As it is we simply love you and hope for the best. Good luck!

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Make an Eleven Plus Wish

We hope that every child writing eleven plus examinations at the end often week will be offered roast chicken today. Roast chicken is not only tasty but very parts of the chicken are lucky.

We all know that when we pull apart the breast bone of a chicken that the person who is left with the longer part will have their wish come true. Many of us also close our eyes when we are making that wish.

Our suggestion for today is that you prepare two chickens today. One to be used for the ritual pulling of the `wish bone’ at the dinner table and the other to be used in the examination room as a `lucky wish bone'. When your child gets stuck on a particularly hard question the wishbone is used. All your child has to do is to call the teacher in charge across, look carefully at the wishbone to make sure that the right end has been selected, close eyes, wish and pull.

The correct answer will come flooding into the mind. Remember, however, to remind your child not to tell anyone the answer because we know that if we do tell what was wished for, then the wish will not come true. (I have it on good authority that a written answer is not the same as telling any one.)

For the rest of us good luck is obtained by being positive and cheerful about the examination. Help your child to try to visualise doing well in the examination.

On the lead up to the examination try to engage in as much discussion as possible on subjects unrelated to the outcomes of the examination. You want your child to arrive feeling relaxed and lucky.

But don’t leave all to chance. Attach the breastbone to a slim gold chain. Make sure that the gold chain costs exactly seven pounds. Try to catch your neighbour’s black cat so that the whole family can spit for luck. After all, the more you prepare the luckier

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Our children really do have brains!

We went to the Horniman Museum this morning. The Horniman Museum is in South London, on the South Circular Road (A205). Entrance is free. This is an extraordinary museum - and is certainly a place where children are welcome.

One of the collections concentrates on the development of man. Naturally animals and birds are also featured. The section of skulls is very interesting because along side the skulls are models of brains. In some cases the skulls have been opened up so that it is possible to see just how big the human brain really is.

As we can imagine the mass of a newborn human brain is pretty small - about 400g. While the mass of an adult human brain is around 1500g. Our ten year olds, writing eleven plus examinations, will have a mass somewhere in between.

Our brains requires a lot of care and attention. We need to feed them the right diet. We also have to make sure that we maintain careful temperature control in order to function properly. Above all we need to try to do our best to stimulate and excite our children’s brains.

The next time you doubt your child’s ability - and the size of your child’s brain I suggest a trip to the museum. Look at how thin the skull really is. Marvel at the actual size of the brain. Try to work out exactly where the non verbal reasoning cells are situated.

Dip your knee in a little prayer - and tell your child that whatever the results you know they will do their best.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Don't Worry Too Much

This is the time of year that our local shops run out of `worry beads’. There are only a few local shops that stock worry beads. Naturally many families have beads from their holidays to Greece and the Arab world. Trips to the attic are called for.

Adults and children alike find the passing of the smooth beads over their finger therapeutic and soothing.

I have scanned through the eleven plus regulations all over the country and have found no reference to a banning order on worry beads. This means that it looks as if it is perfectly safe for your child to take the worry beads into the examination rooms. In fact it may be as well to slip another set into your child’s pocket to offer to the teacher in the unlikely event of concern over the beads.

The boys could have beads cast in the colours of their favourite football teams.

The girls could have sets that match the colours of their mobile phones, ipods and laptop computers.

Mothers would have sets to match the covers of the files sent out at Christmas from their stock brokers.

A father could have a set to mach the colour of the slippers he received at Christmas.

Those of us who have observed a true devotee using the beads on a regular basis will have noted the dream like state they seem to enter. It is that feeling of serenity and detachment that we want our children to achieve. We will naturally need to refrain from trying to motivate our children with stirring words and over generous rewards. We will simply concentrate on keeping our `cool’.

No more words.

Just deeds.

Let the beads do the talking.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

A Fear of Failure

A large number of our eleven plus children will be writing their examination next weekend. Some of them will be concerned about the consequences of failing. We all remember the story about the youngster approaching the examinations saying in a worried tone of voice, “I think I’m going to fail, I think I’m going to fail.”

Her mother tried to cheer her up by advising her to think positively.

“I will fail,” she responded.

This is simply not the moment to tell your child just how great they are or how they are certain to pass.

* Build your child up a lot more thoughtfully.
* Concentrate on the journey your child and the whole family have undertaken.
* Go through the progress that has been made.
* Bring out the more successful elements.
* Talk about the verbal reasoning problems that you solved together.
* Reminisce about the mathematics topics that everyone found hard to start with.
* Mention the good things your child’s teacher has said.
* Go for a long walk together and talk naturally about a wide range of familiar topics.
* Think carefully about food and what is being eaten.
* Discuss how hard it is for some people to accept a compliment.
* Maintain a steady routine.
* Ask a relation in to `have a chat’.

Above all explain that it is all right to fail sometimes. Bring out the point that no one `gets it right' every time.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Creating A Winner

The Problem

JK came to us in April of last year. His father had been in England for the last few years. He had not seen his father for some time. JK’s mother was not able to speak much English. She had been educated to degree level in her own country. JK had a younger sister.

The family wanted JK to pass the Eleven Plus.

The Challenge

JK had been educated in an International School in his home country. His oral English was reasonable but he found it difficult to communicate in writing. He was also prone to a range of Americanised spelling on basic key words.

He did very well on a test on nonverbal reasoning – suggesting great potential in his mathematics and some science subjects. His mathematics showed depth in some areas but it was obvious that he needed to cover a lot of ground. We did not attempt a verbal reasoning test because his reading age was only at the eight year old level.

The Solution

It was obvious that he could not cope with a full Eleven Plus series of lessons because of gaps in his Education. The solution was a course of lessons tailored to his needs. A lot of emphasis was put onto trying to stimulate and develop his vocabulary. He needed to read widely and then discuss and learn the new vocabulary he was exposed to.

On the mathematics side JK was given 11+ mathematics help in key areas.

His parents were very involved on a lesson by lesson basis.

The Results

JK had the advantage of being bright. He also had the ability to set personal goals. If he did not understand something he worried until he had mastered the topic. We had to be very careful to set anything new at the beginning of the lesson because he hated to leave a lesson until he was sure he knew what he was doing.

He attended an eleven plus course in October – and found that he could compete with other bright children who were also set on passing competitive examinations. He began to love the challenge of eleven plus papers and consumed them voraciously. He brought his mistakes to the lessons and simply demanded attention and answers.

Three weeks before the examinations we rationed the papers to twice a week. We asked him to read a chapter at home and prepare a form of book review. We had to read the same chapter to enable us to discuss what he had read. Naturally, as his confidence grew, the seminars ranged over wider topics. We were trying to build his confidence in his ability to communicate.

The Champion.

JK writes his Eleven Plus in a few days time. He is averaging over 96% on a wide range of 11+ papers. In late December, during one lesson, he reached 68% on last year’s GCSE Foundation mathematics paper.

His parents are extremely proud of him. We know that the support he had from his school was enormous. He has had two gifted teachers at his school in a row. What a lucky boy!

We will hear the results later this year.

Congratulations to his parents and the school. What ever happens they have created a winner.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Thank You

Remind your children that when they get married they will have to write a thank you note for any presents. Explain to them that they have several years before they will need to write:

“Dear Aunt Polly,

Thank you so much for the gift of money. We will certainly think of you every day when we look at the Afghan hound we will buy with your generous present.”

The custom of writing thank you notes for Christmas presents has long been abandoned. You will have heard the older ones murmuring: “Thank goodness we don’t have to write Thank You notes for all our presents.”

If your child did receive a really good envelope of money, however, then there is no doubt that he or she will want to write a note. This gives you the opportunity to be able to comment of writing.

We know that some really bright children sometimes lack motivation to want to write neatly. Does you child fit into this category?

As a parent, with examinations approaching, you can comment on writing that is of poor quality and barely legible.

Try to work together to help your child develop a style that does not deteriorate under pressure of speed.

You can also discus the need for speed if the writing is of an acceptable quality but is produced excessively slowly.

Reiterate the need for a good sitting posture. An eleven plus examination can last for some time.

Angle the paper according to handedness.

Encourage your left handed child to take especial care with the organisation of the examination papers of his or her desk.

If your loved one is stuck for something to write about, why not suggest a thank you to mum and dad letter?

Dear Mum and Dad

Thank you for giving me such a wonderful Christmas. The best part for me was that you did not talk about the eleven plus examinations on Christmas day.

I do appreciate the two books you gave me to read. I was very grateful not be given any eleven plus papers this year.

As you know I am your second child. I know that you really love >>>>> better than me but, next year, please can I also have a +++++ and a ******?

Your loving child


Monday, January 01, 2007

The Eleven Plus Sale

Today the count down to the eleven plus starts in earnest. Calendars will be opened and the dates of the eleven plus examinations will circled.

Holidays will be planned. Children will be asked to count the number of days left to the examination. The first utterance of: `We have done all we can. It’s up to you now.’, will be aired for the first time. In fact a day full of promise and anticipation.

Children will smile gently as mum and dad struggle with the new desk from IKEA. Thank goodness that the instructions are only in pictures - and there are no written words. The new lamp is much easier to assemble.

The stage is set. We are all waiting for the curtain to open.

Uncle Hamilton and Aunty Ruth call for afternoon tea. Uncle Hamilton offers the first verbal reasoning question of the New Year:

“What will you find in the centre of Paris, which can not be found in London or Milan?”

Aunty Ruth spoils the question by stage whispering `R’. Everyone laughs.

Aunty Ruth falls off the couch and starts little bubbling noises. Uncle Hamilton ignores her and asks:

“The doctor gives you six tablets and tells you to take one every two hours. If you take the first one at 10am, what time will you take the last one?”

Little Rosie, only five years old, yells out: “Eight pm!”.

The family fall about in shock. Is the right child taking the eleven plus?

Aunty Ruth wakes. Uncle Hamilton helps her to the car. Little Rosie asks loudly: “Why is Uncle Hamilton taking Aunty Ruth home so early?”

Dad asks Mum: “Can we get another one at IKEA?”