Search This Blog

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Eleven Plus Emotions

It must appear to an outsider that, at times, emotions run high as the family work together towards the Eleven Plus. Today we need to explore the need to develop an adaptation of a ninety year old test – which we can call the `Eleven Plus Emotional’ test. Each relevant member of the family works on lists of words. The origins of the Eleven Plus Emotional test go back to 1919 (Plessey X-O tests). (This must have been around the time that authors of the first Eleven Plus tests must have been born.)

In the first list the family cross out words that are unpleasant.

Homework, extra study, depression, anxiety, concern, failure

Anger, yelling, co-operation, not listening, turbulence, passing

After crossing out the words each family member then circles the most unpleasant word of all.

In the second test the family will be asked to cross out words which are connected to the first word. The family then circle the word that is closest in meaning to the first words. (This is very close to some verbal reasoning questions!)

ELEVEN PLUS passing, good job, success, misery, lazy, successful

GRAMMAR SCHOOL traditional, friends, university, homework, GCSE, pressure

In the third test the family cross out words which they think are wrong. They then circle the word which describes the worst wrong of all.

Communication, joy, failure, grasping, pushy, permissive

Control, sadness, driving, lies, indulgence

The fourth test deals with the things that worry the family. Again the words are crossed out – and then a circle is put around the most worrisome word or words.

Comprehensive, university, falling house prices, unhappiness, torture

Why me?, too much sport, not enough reading, talking back, ungrateful.

The words that remain will count towards the Eleven Plus Emotional score. A comparison of the circled words could be used to illustrate differences between the attitude of different members of the family to emotional highs and lows.

Over the course of eleven plus preparation there will be some emotional ups and downs. It is likely that a number of parents will be able to add materially to each of the four sections described above. It will be impossible for any of us to be able to separate emotion from the situation. We must just hope that we keep our cool when emotions run high.

Eleven Plus Food Saturday 29/11/08

What do you offer your child on the morning of the Eleven Plus examination? You could offer organic cereal, a fry up or fish. Each food could have some attractive elements to your child on the day of the examination:

The `Nature Path’ organic `Mesa Sunrise’ Gluten Free, Omega 3, containing Flax, Corn and Amaranth cereal may help. There are no Trans Fats, it is low in saturates and is packaged in an `Enviro Box’. This is a Canadian product so has a rather tenuous link with the Eleven Plus examination.

The instructions to prepare read:

Empty two handfuls of cereal into a bowl. Add milk and sugar to taste. Enjoy.

On the other hand your child may prefer a good old fashioned fry up of bacon and eggs.
For those parents who never offer their children anything but `good and wholesome’ food here is a little reminder:

Heat the frying pan with a spoonful of good, wholesome Spanish olive oil. Carefully place the strips of lean smokey bacon in the pan and cook until crispy. The smell of cooking bacon will lift the spirits of your child as he anticipates a full ‘fry up’! Black pudding and tomato are a good addition at this stage. The black pudding particularly has a beneficial effect as it ‘feeds the brain’ …. according to the Scots who are experts in this field. (It also promotes a sense of well being). Finally the eggs must be fried ensuring that the ‘white’ is not runny and the ‘yellow’ is! Your child will be delighted with this treat for breakfast and it will help store up the energy he or she needs to work through the examination effectively all day.

Perhaps you could combine the two?

Many parents may prefer to give their child fish food. Not the flaky bits you offer to your goldfish – but a dish of sardines perhaps.

Take a tin of sardines and warm them up in a saucepan.
A slice of bread, toasted and buttered
Place aforementioned sardines on aforementioned toast
Sit down and enjoy.

Excellent brain food or not as the case may be.

The sustaining food you offer on the day of the examination could make the difference between a pass or a fail.

Eleven Plus Jargon Friday 28/11/08

It seems likely that much of the current `on line’ Eleven Plus materials have been developed by teachers. These authors will have attempted to produce materials that are relevant to the children they are teaching. The internet allows the teachers to become `instant’ publishers. Parents then have a choice of deciding what is relevant to the needs of their children.

In the early days of the Eleven Plus there must have been far fewer published materials for children, parents and teachers to work through. It must have easier for parents to look at a limited collection of Eleven Plus materials – and select the one that they thought would best suit their needs. When a mother or a father walks into a large book shop today, in one of the Eleven Plus areas, then he or she will be faced by an extraordinary selection of books and materials.

Determining what to buy will be aided by a variety of factors including price, availability and recommendation.

Mum and dad will need to develop a new Eleven Plus jargon or argot.

The term argot is used to describe the secret language used by French beggars and criminals during the seventeenth century. At times some parents must feel that they are falling into a secret Eleven Plus minefield. Some parents will happily pass on the name of the favoured tutor. Other parents, recognising the competitive nature of the examination, will only utter guarded responses to direct questions like: “Who do you send your son to?” (To whom do you send your son?)

Jargon, however, is often used as a label for a vocabulary peculiar to a field. Thus when a group of mothers discuss the eleven plus, they could, at times, communicate with each other in ways that would be utterly confusing to the uninitiated.

Cyberspace, forums, the internet, Face Book and Twitter all allow rich opportunities for parents to employ secret messaging. Some jargon could be deliberate and implicit – while others less implied.

This blog, therefore, given me the ability to develop a new eleven plus word. Perhaps one day the word will find its way into an online dictionary.

The `Elevenpluser’. An `Elevenpluser’ is a parent on the eleven plus journey. Confused at times, focused on success and willing to do almost anything to win a place in a grammar school. I have added the word `Elevenpluser’ to my dictionary. I hope it become part of your eleven plus jargon.

Eleven Plus Listening Thursday 27/11/08

During the pre Eleven Plus year parents learn to communicate with each in new and varied ways. Children have to accept that, at times, `mum knows best’. Children also need to learn that they have to talk to their parents – and during the conversation offer opinions and ideas. Both parties will need richer and more complex language skills.

Most of us will have watched animal programs on T.V. and will have seen powerful relationships developing between mothers of some animals and their young. We have seen, for example, apes communicating with each other. However close the links between animal parents and their offspring, an animal can not pass the Eleven Plus because an animal does not have the ability to develop language.

In humans some language is located in the left hemisphere of the brain. There are, as we know, sex differences between girls and boys. Girls appear to have better verbal ability than boys. Boys appear to better than some girls at mathematical and spatial tasks.

“Go and ask your father,” will work for some eleven plus exercises.

It is likely, however, that the mother of the family will appear to answer some eleven plus questions using a greater range of words and employ much longer sentences. There could possibly be an element of truth in the assertion made by some eleven plus children that dad will be more likely to interrupt while mum will allow their child to finish sentences. I wonder too if a mother will allow more time to listen? (Only a thought!)

During eleven plus exercises some parents and children may have to learn to take turns in listening to each other. When parents are looking at an eleven plus question with their child their joint attention is focused on one topic. As all the parties talk through the problem or process, all concerned may have to use richer and more complex language than in normally used in a typical family setting. Clearly all the family can not talk at the some time. Clearly too the eleven plus child will need to pay attention when spoken to. The child has to co-operate.

As the examinations grow closer parents and their children will have developed new and varied ways of solving problems and talking to each other. It does seem likely that new boundaries of social interaction will develop. A possible benefit of Eleven Plus preparation is a close and supportive family.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Eleven Plus Joy

We are coming up this weekend to an event almost as important as the Eleven Plus examination. England have just been soundly thrashed by the current world champions, South Africa. On Saturday England take on the might of the All Blacks at rugby. The All Backs are currently Number One in the world. England are a more lowly fifth.

We know that rugby owes a lot to Rugby School. The Doctor, who was the head in the days of Tom Brown, offered the following sermon:

`The meaning of life – that it was no fool’s or sluggards paradise into which he had wandered by chance, but a battlefield ordained from old, where there were no spectators, but the youngest must take his side, and the stakes are life and death….’

To pass the Eleven Plus your child can not be:

A sluggard or a fool.

It would be a very difficult examination to take by chance.

The Eleven Plus is not a physical battlefield – but can be a mental battle field. There are, however, winners and losers.

There can be no spectators in the actual examination. The child is on his or her own.

There is, however, one vital difference. The Eleven Plus is not a matter of life and death. It is an examination which some children find easy to pass and other children find extremely challenging.

But if your child does pass the Eleven Plus there is no doubt of the pleasure you will feel. Think of the pleasure that you would have if you could kick the winning goal for England against the All Backs. Think of reaction of the 80 000 strong crowd. Think of the millions watching.

We need to return to Tom Brown:

`There it flies, straight between the two posts, some five feet above the crossbar, an unquestioned goal …’

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Eleven Plus Pass

A mother explained in great detail to her daughter, and to me, that her much loved daughter would land up in boarding school if a top Eleven Plus pass was not achieved.

“If you do not pass you will go to boarding school.”

You will no doubt remember reading about boarding schools in Nicholas Nickleby:

A Mr. Wackford Speers Academy, Dotheboys Hall, at the delightful village of Dotheboys, near Greta Bridge in Yorkshire,

Youth are boarded,



furnished with pocket money,

provided with all necessaries,

instructed in all languages living and dead.


twenty guineas per annum. No extra, no vacations and diet unparalleled.

I just hope that the mum can afford today’s boarding fees.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Eleven PLus Learning

Parents sometimes seem to have difficulty in following the thought processes of their children. To try to throw some light on this statement we could take a topic that is unlikely to be taught in the Eleven Plus. If we looked at Quadratic Equations with your child, for example, it is likely that you would be covering ground not yet taught at school, or covered in any detail by your child’s conscientious tutor.

Solve the equation:

X2 – 7x = 60.

You would then explain it something like this:

X2 – 7x - 60. = 0

(x-12)(x = 5) = 0

X = 12
X = 5

Since this is a new equation your child can not solve this from memory. As you explained the process there would be some new and some familiar elements. You could explain the processes in such a way that your child could learn the steps by heart.

Your child may see fairly easily that x times x = X2.

You may or may not need to point out that 12 times 5 = 60.

If you have working with your child using a problem solving approach then you child may arrive at an understanding – and may be able to apply the method the two of you worked out on other problems.

If you simply recite the lines – and then expect your child to know what to do when faced by a similar problem – you, and you child, may or may not achieve the desired result.

Why did you expect your child to see that 12 times 5 = 60 or that 12 and 5 both go into 60?

How do you expect your child to remember that x times x = X2. and not 2x? After all x plus x = 2x and 60 + 7 = 67!

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Eleven Plus Exam Technique

Parents could gain considerable insight into the eleven plus performance of their children if they tried to distinguish between voluntary and involuntary acts.

A voluntary act is a fully conscious act. We saw young Tom Daly, and other divers, at the last Olympics (2008) rehearsing their dives. The divers stood, almost without exception, poised for moments – obviously running through the complex moves. Sometimes a diver would seem to make a little movement – as if he or she were about to launch into space. The diver had probably reached the spot in the sequence when he or she had reached the end of the spring board.

There can’t be much time to think while the body is in the air performing a complex routine of twists, summersaults and turns. Once the diver is standing on the side of the pool he or she should be able to review the stages of the dive. The score is usually presented within seconds – giving immediate feedback.

There was a lot of rugby played over the weekend with selected northern hemisphere countries playing `friendlies’ against southern hemisphere teams. It was very evident that many of the kickers at goal were running over the steps to scoring points. Once the kicker has started on his run towards ball, he then needs to be able to visualise the ball soaring between the posts. If points are scored the smile could be either voluntary or involuntary. In the same way, if the ball misses there could be an involuntary grimace.

When the kicker rejoins his team, and his team mates praise his prowess, it is likely that his response would be involuntary. He would hardly have to stop to think to smile and say `thank you’.

Our top football teams are now largely international. Some of the coaches are coaching in a foreign tongue. If one of the players scores a goal – and is congratulated a united nations of language- then the goal scorer may need to have to hesitate before he says thank you in the requisite tongue. A possible hesitation could be involuntary as the goal scorer searches for the right word or words.

Parents need to help their child to realise that reading a question a second time should be an involuntary act – and not one forced by choice. If every time a parent helped their child with a question and the parent then read the question twice, the child would realise the need to react accordingly.

In multiple choice questions we want the child to look at the four or five options and then automatically reject the answers that can not be right. In the examination, therefore we want the child to react automatically to reading questions in prescribed and sensible ways. This then is where the distinction between an automatic and a voluntary act become virtually inseparable.

Parents can then hope that all their endeavours towards helping their children do well in Eleven Plus examinations result in conscious habits developing into automatics action.

Watch the time.
Read the Question
Re-read the question.
Eliminate answers than can not be right.
Read the question and the selected answer again, before moving on, to make sure that the answer makes sense.

There must be many more `drills’ that teachers, tutors and parents try to inculcate. This is where the true value of the Eleven Plus examination can be demonstrated. Surely it is easier to help a ten year old acquire good examinations techniques than let the child learn then painfully at the `A’ level stage?

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Eleven Plus Calculation

A bright and cheerful nine year old explained in consummate detail, yesterday, how she learnt her tables. She is attending a dyslexic teacher – and coming to us for Eleven Plus enrichment. (The girl is dyslexic – not the teacher!)

We know she still has some problems with sequencing – and remembering her tables - but her teacher had suggested a solution to her problem. She explained it to me. I did not quite grasp the method immediately – but the girl’s mother reiterated the following steps in almost identical words. I wrote down a summary. If there are gaps please let me know and I will fill them in.

Hold your hands out with the palms towards you. (This is where the girl laughed: “Make sure your hands are clean.”)

The thumb on your left hand, and on your right hand, is the number six.

Your index finger is the number seven.

Your middle finger is the number eight.

Then the fourth finger is the number nine.

While the fifth finger, the little finger, is the number ten.

If the sum is 8 x 7, the third finger of one hand is the number 8. Place this against the index finger of the other hand. This finger represents the number 7.

The figure for the tens column is given by counting the number of fingers – including the two fingers that are touching. In this case it is the number 5.

The units column is obtained by multiplying the remaining fingers on one hand by the remaining fingers on the other hand. This gives 2 times 3 which is 6.

The answer is 56.

A very large proportion of Eleven Plus children will be able to remember their tables fairly easily.

7 times 8 = 56
8 times 7 = 56
56 divided by 7 = 8
56 divided by 8 = 7

I did not like to ask how the little nine year old mentioned earlier would cope with the division facts when she used her finger method. Difficulties with calculation must, at times, make life complicated for a dyslexic child.

The rest of us need to be thankful for small mercies!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Eleven Plus Co-operation

How do you know if you are putting too much pressure on your Eleven Plus child?

You may be given an oblique message that your child no longer enjoys school. This could be a message to you to examine how you work with your child. Lessons and Eleven Plus work should contain elements of fun and happiness.

If your child occasionally appears to be cranky and tired – then it may be time to take a little pressure off. Equally there could be a number of reasons for signs of fatigue – staying up too late, for example, could be a more potent force than a parent nagging over an eleven plus paper.

If you child suddenly loses interest in the creative side of his or her life then he or she may feel that these aspects are not being valued as much. There may not be enough time in the day to engage in music lessons and practice, dance, and ice skating. Introducing a little time table may pay dividends.

If your child stops reading for fun, he or she may have grown out of the present series of books. After all if your child, as a bright, literate 9 year old, read all of the Harry Potter series, then it may be time to try to introduce a new set of literary challenges.

If you start each session with your child feeling ill prepared and unready for the challenge, then you may have a case for being able to share at least part of the burden with another member of the family or even a relative. Some grand parents, for example, still can `do it’ if challenged!

It is probably a little too early to contemplate taking your child out of school for intensive one to one home schooling. You may, however, be able to build an immense store of Eleven Plus information and contacts. You could consider sharing your expertise with other parents.

We are continually reminded that the easiest way out of stress is exercise. It is a pity that it is so difficult to be able to hire a `Eleven Plus Dog’. After all if you and your child could take your eleven plus dog for a walk on a regular basis, all concerned may feel more amenable and a lot more co-operative.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Eleven Plus Algebra

We were doing a little algebra yesterday with one of our year five girls. She had been set some homework from school where she was asked to find the length of one of the sides of a square. The given area was 64 centimetres squared. There were a number of ways of approaching the problem. One to write down the formula:

A = b x h.

If the shape was a square, one side needed to be the square root of the area.

The girl picked it up very quickly. Naturally the temptation was to help the girl to do all her homework. I was reminded of Fran Lebowitz’s remark:

Stand firm in your refusal to remain conscious during algebra. In real life there is no such thing as algebra.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Managing Eleven Plus Time

You may sometimes need to admonish, or even remind, your child to watch the time. You will, naturally, have provided a watch with a large minute hand. You will have done a variety of eleven plus exercises where timing was an important element. What you may not understand is why your child, sometimes, does not seem to understand the words: “Time flies!”

Look at the minute hand of the `Eleven Plus’ watch from ten centimetres away. Now look at the minute hand from two metres away. Yes, you are right, the minute hand does seem to go faster if it is further away. Experiment with your child so that when he or she sits down to take the examination, and places the `Eleven Plus’ watch on the table, you know the watch will be in the right position.

You are on the M road. A car comes up behind you travelling very fast. (This could feel like sixty miles an hour faster than you are driving.) The offending car will seem to be travelling very fast as it goes past you – but less quickly when it is far away.

A ship on the horizon seems to be stationary – but place yourself in the rowing boat in the path of the self same ship – and it is likely that your heart will beat a little faster.

Approach a large roundabout in Paris. The one at the Champs Elysees springs to mind. As you drive through this in the rush hour you may be aware of the movement of the cars before you are actually able to focus on a particular car.

You simply want your eleven plus child to receive a physiological charge when time seems to be slipping away in the examination. You want the already charged eleven plus brain to feel stimulated and excited. You want your child to manage time. Can someone in the family please give a special Eleven Plus watch for Christmas?

Monday, November 17, 2008

Eleven Plus Taste

It is a pity that taste does not play a big part in the Eleven Plus examinations. We know that examination preparation demands good sight and hearing – but there does not seem to be much of a place for taste. Taste and smell are thought to be tied together.

We know that taste buds are scattered irregularly over the tongue, epiglottis, the larynx and parts of the throat. Children are supposed to have more taste buds than adults. Our taste buds can distinguish between different types of taste:


But life is a bit more complex than that, sweet chocolate can be a combination of sweet and bitter. A salad can have a whole variety of tastes. Years ago we all enjoyed a sweet that exploded in the mouth – with a cascade of tastes and sensations.

We know too that the tip of the tongue is often used to `test’ a taste.

The learned and often highly vocal `experts’ we see smelling and tasting wine teach us that it is possible for the palate to be able to make fine distinctions between similar flavours.

The Eleven Plus suggestion of today is to introduce cookery into the Eleven Plus syllabus. Learning to cook and taste `good’ food could be more useful in the long run that studying how to do analogies and codes.

On the day of the examination each child could be offered 60 different dishes. Each child would be offered a disposable spoon at each tasting point. The children would need to grade and categorise the sixty different flavours.

There would be massive benefits to society – and to you - from an examination of this nature:

We would know which flavours eleven plus children enjoy. (This would make the task of the school canteen a lot easier. The cooks would know what type of food to offer the Year 7 children.)

The child could also become wine connoisseurs – and this must help socially in later life. (You enter a restaurant. A bottle of wine is £28.50. Your sommelier hands you a glass for you to taste. You pass the glass to your Eleven Year old – who advises: “We can keep this one. 1978 was a good year.” The Eleven Plus candidate may also advise: “Rather corked. Not up to your usual standard.”

A further benefit of the Eleven Plus examination having a taste element is that you may never be forced to cook again. After all if you have a bright expert cook in the family then it could be easy for you to relegate yourself to `bottle washer and dishwasher filler’.

Finally if your child appears to wander around sticking his or her tongue out at the world you will know that he or she is merely adding to sensations and experience.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Eleven Plus Focus

It is Sunday morning. The washing up is done. The house is tidy. The dog has been walked. The pre Eleven Plus candidate bounds up to you and says: “Oh Good. It is time for our eleven plus fun. I did enjoy our work together last week.”

You look at your child with just a degree of reservation. Is this the same child that announced last night that university was for boffins? Then comes a little glimmer of light in your brain. Your much loved child is in a good mood. It is time to play!

Start by giving your child a problem that has to be solved mentally. After completing the task ask your child to try to describe to you the thought processes involved. Try to avoid building a concrete visual aid. We want the whole exercise done in the head – if possible.

Imagine a 3 cm cube pointed on all sides. If this cube were divided into smaller cubes of 1 cm each, how many would have:

Paint on three sides

Paint on two sides

Paint on one side

Paint on none of the sides?

It must help to have a clear visual image of the large cube. Being able to work out the nature of the sub divisions is also essential. Some parents and children tackling the task will use a form of motor imagery where they will be able to almost `pick up’ the cubes and turn them over looking at all the sides.

The problem can also be solved by mathematical means – where the solution is talked through.

Some children (and some parents) may it difficult to solve the problem by any means – as they become distracted. “Focus, dear. Focus!”

Talking through the solution to the problem will help you understand the imagery involved in solving the problem.

Just think how you will feel if questions 57 to 61 on the actual Eleven Plus reasoning paper are to do with calculating the number of painted surfaces in a 4 cm cube.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Eleven Plus Extremes

“Thank you for bringing me to the lesson. It was fab. I really enjoyed the verbal reasoning.”

“It is a pleasure. I like the way you are interacting with the teachers and assistants. Do you mange to go over those questions we worked on together on Thursday?”

“Oh yes, thank you. I often seem to get confused when doing the codes questions. I was shown a different way of doing the questions. You know we usually draw lines along the alphabet to show the connection between the letters and the numbers, well today we wrote the letters on one line and the numbers on the next. On the third line we wrote down the difference. This really seemed to help.”

“We will look at together when we get home. I can’t look now because I am driving but I look forward to seeing your work. What else did you do?

“I met something new today in mathematics. I know how to work out area – that is easy. It is volume that I struggle with – but as soon as I copied out the example everything seemed to become clearer. Then I tried to do the volume of a pyramid. Fitting the numbers to the formula is fun. I was told we would not see a question like that in the actual examination – but it was good fun to do something new.”

“Is that all you did? I sat here in the car waiting for you and you only did three exercises. What a waste of my time.”

“We tried to go over codes and I was shown a new ….. “

“If I have told you one I have told you ten times. You need to do more in the lessons. Concentrate. Work faster and ask for more help.”

“The maths was easy. We did volume.”

“I hope you learnt it. That means you won’t have to waste time and do it again. It costs a lot of money to send you to lessons.”

“Sorry mum. I will try harder next lesson. Where are we going now?”


These encounters between parents and children are important. The truth is somewhere between these two extremes. The Eleven Plus syllabus is necessarily narrow – but occasionally parents need to understand what happens in a lesson from the child’s point of view. After the Eleven Plus examination is to do with the total education of the child – rather than with marks and attempting to appease parents.

Friday, November 14, 2008

The Eleven Plus Dream

Along with reminding your child hope to cope with analogies and series you could also, occasionally, remind your child of Thomas Edison. Back in 1893 Thomas Edison invented the Kinetoscope, which was a wooden cabinet through which light was projected onto a screen.

It was left to the opening of the first nickelodeon to make an invention into a commercial success. The price of admission was 5c (thus explaining the name). The price was kept down by stripping the theatre venue to bare essentials. He opened from eight in the morning until 12 at night. By 1914 the nickelodeon had seven million daily admissions.

By the mid 1980s the spread of videocassettes and satellite and cable television had reduced movie attendance. The introduction of megaplexes helped to raise attendance.

We now have the internet and wide screens – so that our aspiring Eleven Plus children can live the Eleven Plus dream 24 hours a day. Our eleven plus children can watch explanations of mathematics problems, have their verbal reasoning questions explained and learn when and where they are in the mood.

Parents can look up answers to the more complex questions – and share their problems and concerns about the Eleven Plus with other parents. The cost of communicating on an online forum must be much less than a telephone call or a postcard.

A day must be coming soon when more children can have access to the new world of communication. (At this stage you must feel an Eleven Plus mathematics question emerging.)

The dollar has fallen to a new low - $1.48 to the £1.00. The nickel is the five cent coin of the United States. The nickel is one-twentieth, or five hundredths, of a dollar.

How many nickels to the pound?

How many nickels will it cost to buy house with a pool in Florida?

How many nickels will it cost to live, in full, the Eleven Plus dream?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Eleven Plus Pressure

I wonder if any parents have ever used the words: “You will need to box clever if you are going to pass the Eleven Plus!”

Boxing used to be regarded as a valuable sport for youngsters. I remember years ago back in Zimbabwe watching inter-schools boxing. It was the tradition that if a heavy blow had been landed then hands would be raised above the head accompanied by a little dance. One teacher trained all his fighters that if an opponent raised hands and started `showing off’ to the crowd, there was an opportunity to swoop forward and punch an unprotected jaw. Needless to say one school emerged as the winners – to the jeers of almost all the crowd.

If your child questions you about the efficacy of boxing you may feel that you are in a position to list a few points and thus open up a discussion:

No-one is forced to box
No-one is forced to watch boxing
Young men and women can achieve fame and fortune
It promotes sportsmanship, courage and dignity
It teaches the need for law and order
It can be regulated with medical safeguards.

You will also need to discuss the `other’ side:

The terrible potential damage done to the brain

I thought of this analogy while a vital and successful Eleven Plus girl was describing her Eleven Plus route. She has recently passed the Bexley and the Kent Eleven Plus tests. She will be writing the Newstead Wood tests on Saturday. Newstead Wood is a popular and highly academic grammar school in Orpington. There is tremendous pressure for places in the school.

She explained that during one of the tests a child had been caught cheating. She commented that an invigilator had moved between the desks of two children to stop one of the girls looking at the paper of another girl.

I feel sorry for the girl who was caught cheating. She must have put herself under tremendous pressure to pass the examination. Her parents too must have played a part in adding to the child’s anxiety. I was relieved too to hear that the school had `sorted’ the problem sympathetically.

All we can pray is that her parents did not advise her to `box clever’ during the Eleven Plus examination.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Eleven Plus Time

When children complain to their parents that they have no time to play, mothers are perfectly at liberty to retell a little story their children.

There were some fish in a stream adjacent to a railway line. The fish assembled at the times scheduled for the arrival of the trains - when they were fed by passengers. If the train arrived late, (leaves on the line?) then the fish ignored the train. If a train arrived early – and had to wait at the station – then the fish, once again took no notice of the train. The fish made no response to trains arriving at any but the regular time.

It is not only fish that need to think about time – think of a busy mother with children at three different schools, juggling transport, attention and interest. Think too of a mum at home all day with three under school age children. Think of the work she has to do with her commitments to her children – and the family in general. Many mums must, at time, wish they were back at work!

Think too of the mother who has been at work all day – and arrives home to the chorus that the Eleven Plus exercise was not done because there was no time.

Some mothers feel at one time or another, that when there are competing demands, it is easy for the mums to get into a rut and put their own needs last of all.

Lists could hold the key.

List all the things that you, as a mother or father, like doing – but can’t do because of lack of time. Once the list is reasonably complete, organise the list into some order of priority.

Now list the things you do not like doing.

This `NO!’ list could include watching programs on TV that you don’t really like. Changing bed clothes or helping with `hard’ Eleven Plus mathematics questions.

Now swop around some of the `good activities – and leave the rest for a spell.

Some mothers will no doubt pray that at a given moment some unseen physiological element comes into play. As soon as 4.15 strikes your child will immediately’ pick up a previously sharpened pencil and starts on a complex verbal reasoning exercise. This brings us to the well known Eleven Plus Law.

`”Eleven Plus work is most often executed when there has been a structured elimination of environmental cues.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The Eleven Plus Walk

Today’s paper carried a story of how obese parents were going to be paid to walk their children to school. These mothers and fathers will be faced with a new set of images. We must imagine that they will naturally feel conflicting emotions. A flood of images will no doubt pour through them as they walk to school with their children.

When they start of their walk they will need to store images of the route. They will need to remember where to stop and rest, where they need to cross a road and how they feel about the sight of cars rolling smoothly past.

When they have covered the route a number of times – and the roads have become familiar – then bit by bit the need for gathering fresh images will diminish. The parents will be able to walk towards intersections and will be able to turn left or right without much conscious effort.

It is possible that these mothers and fathers will build images of themselves being slim and athletic. They may start day dreams of being picked up and swept off to school in a limousine. They may dream of riches or being able to solve problems at work and at home with superlative ease. They could day dream of having their every word listened to by teachers and other parents. They would become authorities on television on how to walk themselves into good health. Fame would instant.

The parents would also be able to forge new relationships with their children. After all they will be spending time together – and will be able to chat about `stuff’. They may start talking about school and homework. They may discuss work and relationships with teachers.

The walk to school would become much more an exercise in exercise – it could become the catalyst for change.

Here, therefore, is a proposal for a new Eleven Plus feature – called `The Eleven Plus Walk’. This is not to be confused with the Lambeth Walk – the Eleven Plus Walk is a far more cerebral experience.

The walk can take place with the dog as company.

It can be meandering through a busy shopping centre – without buying anything – just chatting and walking slowly.

For the hardy, the walk can take place with back packs and full orienteering maps.

The Eleven Plus Walk could even be around the block.

Parents and children could chat about life in general, the eleven plus in particular, and form a different relationship. There must be many parents who are already enjoying walking with their children – and we would be grateful for any advice they can pass on to others.

Monday, November 10, 2008

We all know what `Hedonic Tone’ is – we usually use a different name. Hedonic Tone has a lot to do with judgements. Hedonic tone varies in a single continuous scale from Very Unpleasant through to Indifference and then on to Very Pleasant.

Judgement Hedonic Tone

Very Unpleasant -3
Unpleasant -2
Moderately unpleasant -1
Indifferent 0
Moderately pleasant +1
Pleasant +2
Very Pleasant +3

With this basic information it must be relatively easily for a parent to establish a current `Eleven Plus Hedonic Tone’. A range of scores can be established. Discuss some of the following with your child. Develop a table. Write down the score for each item. Add the scores at the end to establish your own `Eleven Plus Hedonic Tone’.

Working on Verbal Reasoning Papers

Reading `good’ books

Learning mathematics rules and definitions

Starting on Eleven Plus Work

Attitude of siblings

Listening to parents talk about the Eleven Plus

Receiving rewards for doing good Eleven Plus work.

Keeping the work area tidy

This is not an exclusive list – because so much will depend on your own child. Once you have all the scores together you are in a position to analyse and discuss the results. We imagine, for example, that it must be easier to read a pleasant book than an unpleasant one.

What you are really trying to find out is if it is possible for you to help your child to turn into a mathematician if you offer lots of rewards. Many parents find out that praise acts as a strong reward to an Eleven Plus child!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Pre Eleven Plus Attitudes

Back in 1969 an eminent lecturer called King wrote a study called the “Values and Involvement in a Grammar School”. His work naturally stimulated considerable discussion and interest.

Among his many findings he provided a list of pupil’s interest and activities ordered according to the extent to which they receive teachers’ overall approval and disapproval.

1 Reading worthwhile books
2 Camping
3 Debating
4 Theatre visits
6 Amateur dramatics
Painting and drawing
9 Playing an Instrument
10 Listening to Classical Music
Natural History

The final numbers included:

50 Visiting Jazz Clubs
51 Paper round
52 Wearing teenage fashions
53 Hitch-hiking
54 Ten pin bowling
55 Seeing X certificate films
56 Billiards and Snooker
57 Visiting public houses (legally)
58 Motor Bikes
59 Reading Novel emphasising sex and violence
60 Smoking

We are now in 2009. This is some forty years after King’s work. It would be very interesting take a similar survey of pupils’ interests and attitudes. Books and the theatre back in 1969 were numbers 1 and 4. There was no mention T.V. Classical Music was number 10 – but visiting Jazz Clubs number 50.

Today’s list would probably need to include television, computer games and the internet.

Parents may care to develop a list of interests held dear by their pre Eleven Plus children – and we would be delighted to summarise the results. Please email your findings.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

Which Eleven Plus Paper? Sat 8th

Inherent in any discussion on the efficacy of Eleven Plus tests must be a realisation that a degree of moderation is necessary. The purpose of moderation, at the Eleven Plus stage, is to determine to what extent the examination has been able to select the children who would benefit from a grammar school education.

Questions in an Eleven Plus examination are drawn from a data base of proved and tested questions. If the pass mark in an examination is found to be too easy, for example, it is simply a matter of the computer being given a statistical formula – and the pass rate can be adjusted. Year by year pass marks are adjusted up and down. There is no need for any great swings because the questions come from a reliable source – and the selection criteria does not change all that much.

A problem could possibly arise when there are big changes in selection criteria. In Bexley, where large numbers of children sit the Eleven Plus tests, children were only tested on Mathematics and Verbal Reasoning. In previous years English and Non Verbal Reasoning were also tested.

Tests like mathematics and verbal reasoning can be designed to be `content free’. In Eleven Plus terms this can mean that just because NFER sets the test it does not necessarily mean that sitting at home and gaining 100% on an NFER paper will guarantee a pass at the eleven plus. The same must apply for any other paper. Thus the NFER statement that it is useful to buy the NFER papers because NFER sets the examination is suspect. It could help to use the papers – but the items in the examination may not be the items found on papers.

Eleven Plus Children Fri 7th

A generation of adults thought that the introduction of National Service was the `making’ of many young people. Sergeant Majors were charged with transforming young adults. The methods that were adopted are no longer acceptable – largely because of social changes.

So when an Eleven Plus child becomes, for a brief moment in time, rebellious, sullen or apathetic, it is likely that parents have to confront the situation in a thoughtful and practical manner.

It is extremely unlikely that a bright Eleven Plus child will be hostile and threatening for longer than a few seconds. Most Eleven Plus children will be able to face the pressures of examination preparation with considerable equanimity and fortitude.

When a parent sees manifestations of worrying changes in their child’s behaviour they need to be very aware of the need for thoughtful monitoring of the situation. Trying to establish a dialogue may be difficult at the time – but listening without commenting may help to speed the process of communication.

If there are problems at school or with factors other than Eleven Plus preparation, then the child needs to be treated with respect and dignity. Challenging behaviour, however, still needs to be confronted.

The bright Eleven Plus child may also want you to be able to accept a set of changing circumstances without feeling that judgement is being passed.

An Eleven Plus Code Thr 6th

What does an Eleven Plus child demand from parents? Is there any room for an Eleven Plus Code? What could be in the code? Do parents also need a code – or just the children? Some suggestions:

When doing Eleven Plus work parents need to be approachable and friendly – but not friends.

Children must expect parents to be strict at times – but they can also demand fairness and consistency.

Children need to understand just what it is that they have done wrong and must be given the opportunity argue their case.

Children must understand that parents do have a right to be able operate sanctions.

Children must also realise that parents can alter their minds without it being seen as a sign of weakness.

Eleven Plus children must realise that they are responsible for their actions. They have to work within the confines of the family.

Children must be allowed to inform parents if a lesson or a session is boring and uninteresting.

No Eleven Plus child wants to be embarrassed by the bright younger sibling who knows the answer.

An Eleven Plus child is old enough to realise that they will work better for a smile than a frown.

Parents must realise that an Eleven Plus child may want to use humour to diffuse a tense situation. Equally the same child will probably react strongly against sarcasm.

Investing in the Eleven Plus Wed 5th

Why do parents want their children to do well in the Eleven Plus? For many parents the whole Eleven Plus round is an investment in terms of time, money and effort. Because of this massive investment parents, and some children, will no doubt want a return.

Some parents take their children to Eleven Plus lessons. Some will wait in the car while others go shopping.

Some parents will happily sit with their children working though Eleven Plus papers – when they have time.

There is naturally a cost in terms of books, papers, time, fees (for some) and emotional strain.

So what dividend can parents expect?

A pass at the Eleven Plus offers the opportunity, to some, to obtain good GCSE and A level grades. A good education could lead, if desired, to some form of professional training.

We know of parents who attended a grammar school and left without going on to university. These same parents are now likely to argue vociferously if their grammar school children do not wish to take up the benefits of a university education.

Years ago it was worked out that a young person could catch up relatively quickly on the missed earnings lost through attending university. Many of today’s university students will also end up leaving university owing large sums of money.

The loving parent who sits in a car waiting for a lesson to end is a true investor in education.

Parents and the Eleven Plus Tue 4th

Parents and Eleven Plus children sometimes argue about how to solve a problem or how to work through an unfamiliar exercise. It is possible that a parent, under extreme duress, could be called upon to say: “Oh God. I have told you that already. Why did you not listen the first time?” When the exasperated mother or father needs to evokes a deity it could be the right time to recall the work done by Thucydides.

Thucydides wrote the definitive account of the Peloponnesian War. He noted that citizens who had been abroad for only a few months had found that the meanings of words had changed. He was also involved in gathering evidence about what had happened in the war. He tried to write his account so that it looked as if actual people influenced the outcome of the war – rather than the Gods themselves.

The question of meanings of words is important. If we think of a married woman returning to teach after a break of ten years it is possible that, for a moment, she may feel slightly out of touch. There have been so many changes in education over the past ten years.

Some parents may all feel a little out of touch. It may be that the last time one of the parents did long division was when they were at school. Some schools have adopted a more informal method called chunking. This is based on how many of us already do division in our head. The Eleven Plus syllabus, if such an animal actually exists seems to expect the more formal short and long division taught years ago.

The well meaning intention of chunking is to encourage children to use mental methods – and provide a shift away from pen and paper methods. Eleven Plus children have to learn that short division is presented in a different manner to long division. Parents have to accept that even if they teach their child in a different way to that taught at school – they may not be wrong or out of date. Chunking is still division. Children still have to know the division facts of tables.

What we are aiming at is trying to guide our Eleven Plus children into open ended learning situations – where the children are motivated to explore and learn for themselves. When this state of grace has been reached then children will stop whining: “We don’t do it like that at school.”

Parents can then, once again, feel valued contributors to the Eleven Plus process. “Yes dear, I am sure you are right. We do need, however, to at least explore an alternative method.” These softly spoken words would probably have made Thucydides happy.

The Eleven Plus and Money Mon 3rd

In today’s world we need to save money. Years and years ago the village teacher was often in a single room school built by the squire – and the salary was supported by parents bringing money, food and offerings. Children often used to have to leave school early to help their parents with work around the home or the farm.

One of the reasons for the Eleven Plus examinations being introduced was to find children from less well off families – and offer them a fast track form of education.

Some of our grammar school children will be ready to take a range of GCSE topics early. They will then have time to complete their `A’ levels early. Some grammar school children could cut a year off their `A’ levels and leave school a year early. This would save grammar schools considerable money.

We see over and over again the rate at which motivated eleven year old children can absorb information. We sometimes wonder too at their ability to retain facts and methods. Some children are able to demonstrate, very early on, that they can use and apply what they have been taught. The grammar schools are able to absorb these bright and motivated young people – and continue to stimulate and engage them.

There are 168 Grammar Schools. Around five thousand pounds a year is being spent, at the moment, on each child. It would fall to an `consultant’ to be able to work out just how much money could be saved.

New Eleven Plus Methods Sunday 2nd

The proliferation of free Eleven Plus papers is a relatively new phenomenon. For years teachers, parents and children relied on the papers from well known and highly respected publishers and authors.

The internet has allowed any one to become a publisher of Eleven Plus materials. A web site emerges and then a range of free papers is offered to drive traffic to the site. This is the beauty of the World Wide Web. Who is to say that a paper written by a teacher who is preparing children for specific schools is not as good as a paper offered by one of the `big boys’? If the teacher has good local knowledge of preparing Eleven Plus children for specific schools then his or her free paper could be incredibly valuable.

The problem comes when the results of the free paper are compared with the results on a more traditionally recognised paper. 80% on a free paper may not compare easily with a similar mark on a paper designed for national consumption.

It is difficult to make precise generalisations about the comparability of the papers unless some simple information is gathered. The free paper may have been used by a hundred children, while an established national paper could have taken by thousands of children.

Measurement in education is represented by marks in tests and examinations. A mark of 45 on a free paper does not necessarily mean that a child will not pass the Eleven Plus. In the same way a similar mark on an established national Eleven Plus paper does not establish absolute eleven plus ability. The mark of 45 may come about because the test was given at the wrong time – or it could have been the wrong test.

Do parents need to fear a free online paper? Of course not. The wonderful thing about education in general – and the Eleven Plus in particular - is that there is an ever changing canvas. New ideas will emerge. New methods of teaching will come along. One grammar school is already testing candidates on computers.

Eleven Plus English Sat 1st

We have spent the last week developing a different way of looking at GCSE English papers. Once a GCSE paper has been marked the results have to be analysed and then work needs to be prepared for each child.

The AQA paper of 2008 was made up of two sections. In Section A (27 marks) the candidates had to answer all the questions. They were advised to spend around an hour on this section of the paper. The marks for questions were shown in brackets. The instructions included a reminder for the need for good continuous English and clear presentation of answer.

Section B covered writing to `Argue, Persuade or Advise’. There were 18 marks for answering the question – with 9 marks for spelling, grammar and presentation.

The mark schedule did not allow many marks for grammar. Grammar itself is not as important as the ability to answer clearly and thoughtfully. KS4 pupils are not expected to remember that `To have’ takes after the Past Participle while `To be’ can be either a `Past Participle or a Present Participle’. It would help some KS4 children, however, to remember that a Complex Sentence has a Principal Clause and one or more Subordinate Clauses.

Eleven Plus children are expected to be able to write Simple Sentences (one Subject and one Predicate) and Compound Sentences (two or more Principal Clauses). When parents are reading their child’s work they could be encouraged to remind their children that a Principal Clause is often called an Independent Clause – because it stands on its own.

We started our review of the way we teach our Eleven Plus English by looking at KS4 English because it is an unwise teacher who only prepares a child for an examination. The English our children produce at the Eleven Plus stage must have some bearing on the English they write at GCSE.

It is not, however, our intention to teach our Eleven Plus children some general analysis with:

Please let me know (Principal Clause) where the clothes shop is (Subordinate Noun Clause) with all the beautiful wedding dresses. (Subordinate adjectival Clause).

Some children, however, will love the beauty and the sense of purpose of the grammar. The love of order will enthral some children – and lead them to a university course that will meet all their emotional and intellectual needs.

Eleven Plus Listening Skills Fri 31st.

We sometimes have to exhort our Eleven Plus children to listen carefully. Some bright and able children seem to grow out of the habit of listening carefully.

Some examining boards run Listening Comprehension examinations for their students. A cassette recording is usually heard twice. There could be one speaker or a variety of voices. Usually a variety of accents are used.

The pieces could include extracts from broadcasts, interviews, conversations, announcements and talks.

The questions types could include filling in information, completing sentences, answering multiple choice questions and indicating whether statements are true or false.

Imagine how a listening comprehension test would broaden and extend the range of the Eleven Plus. Children would be encouraged to take an interest in current affairs. They would need to learn to listen to programs like the news and recorded excerpts from Question Time.

Teachers and parents would have to change the way they thought about lessons. The need for a verbal reasoning lesson starting with the words: “Let us look at page 23 on Analogies again” could die away. A family could huddle round the radio, once again, listening to current affairs programs and enjoying in-depth discussions.

Eleven Plus authors and publishers would find new markets opening up.

Sales of interactive story books would soar.

The net result of all the change would, hopefully, be a collection of Eleven Plus children prepared for a world where good listening skills are measured and valued.

Post Eleven Plus Work Thursday 30th

Some of our Eleven Plus children have stayed on for lessons after the Eleven Plus examinations. In some Eleven Plus areas children do not need to be able to write good English to be able to pass an Eleven Plus examination. The children and parents have thus opted to keep having lessons. Work on reasoning skills has been abandoned for enriched English, science and mathematics.

The act of passing the examination seems to bring peace of mind to the children and, to some, a great sense of humility. The children have proved themselves against the odds. They have made their parents, teachers, and schools happy.

These successful children are often highly receptive to taking on challenging work. A few clamour to use Key Stage 3 text books – because they will meet Key Stage 3 work in Year 7. In a sense the children want to personalise their learning. An individualised learning plan can help.

Examinations at KS3 are abandoned. New ways of looking at assessment are being explored. `Assessment for Learning’ has taken place in good schools over the years. There will still need to be a place for assessments within subjects.

QCA has suggested that new assessment methods will include:

Demonstrating ways of collecting evidence of pupil’s knowledge, skill and understanding.

Providing examples of collecting evidence

Exemplification of subject standards.

While our bright and able Eleven Plus children are waiting to start in their new grammar schools they could be stimulated and challenged if they were involved in the trials of new methods of assessments.

Eleven Plus Comprehension Wed 29th

Parents and children often think of comprehension as being reading a set exercise from a book and then answering series of questions. Do you remember these words?

“Mind that you answer in full sentences.”

To some children working through a comprehension exercise must be highly frustrating. There could, for example, be difficulty in retaining what has been read. This could mean that a child could read a passage and, by the end, be unsure of what has been read at the beginning.

A number of comprehension passages are based on classics of yester year. The content would therefore be exercises taken from extracts from books long out of print. The subject matter may not be pertinent to today’s world. Other passages, however `old fashioned’, may appeal to different children. The words may evoke imagination and stimulate the mind. (One man’s meat is another man’s poison.)

I have the privilege of seeing GCSE English scripts on a regular basis as children write GCSE Foundation and Higher papers before starting lessons. Some children (even those at grammar school) have difficulty in working out what the passage is about. Some grammar school children have difficulty in establishing what a GCSE question is asking. The basis of good comprehension skills can be built on at the Eleven Plus stage.

Children working on verbal reasoning exercises need strong comprehension skills. They need to be able to read a question and work out what is expected. With multiple choice verbal reasoning exercises the child also needs a good reading vocabulary.

Parents could try discussing the passage to be read in terms of where the selected words sit in an overall story. (It helps if mum or dad has read the book!) The style of writing can also be discussed to try to bring the passage alive. Finally the passage could be skimmed for hard or unfamiliar words. These new words could be discussed.