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The Weekend Neos Kosmos : 1 November 2014
10 SATURDAY 1 NOVEMBER 2014 AUSTRALIA The time for parents and stu- dents in year 12 to hit the panic button has come. As the VCE exams set foot on Australia's doorstep, Neos Ko- smos paid a visit to Oakleigh Grammar, seeking some tips that will help teachers, parents and students move through this stressful period smoothly, avoiding the most common mistakes. Students at this age cannot extend past a certain number of study hours, yet they insist on stretching their brain's as- similative ability beyond its invisible red line. They hur- riedly swallow endless new information in the last days before their final examina- tion. What does this act of despair result in most of the time at the sight of the exam paper? A splitting head- ache, hand-in-hand with cold sweaty palms and a tied-in-a- knot stomach. The mind goes blank, numbing the sense of time, while the enthralling endless repetition of the questions finds no render- ing. How can students sur- vive through the final exam? "As we work with students through the year, we always try to ensure that they are taking notes correctly," says Oakleigh Grammar's head of senior school, Sharron Frame. "The biggest problem we have, in the end, is for some to rely heavily on the notes rather than applying their knowledge. If their notes aren't ready at this time of year, they will never actually be able to apply their knowl- edge and do an exam paper. "So, as a VCE teacher, my primary responsibility at this time of the year is to provide them with as many examples as I possibly can. They should be able to carry out closed- book attempts, exam paper after exam paper, so that they become more accustomed to the language of the examina- tion. Practice makes better." The VCE exam is definitely a two-year process (at least). In year 11 students learn some of the skills that they then apply in year 12, but it goes even further. When one starts to spend time pulling apart a question is when one starts to comprehend it. "At middle school, a teach- er should set them ques- tions that they then have to tease apart and realise what they're being asked, what in- formation is given and then set about to answer the ques- tion - figure out what is miss- ing. I call it the 3W's," Mrs Frame says. Most students launch into the question, without actu- ally answering it, ignoring the relationship between cues, getting caught between the rest of the English that's there. "In the first 3-4 lines they will actually rewrite the ques- tion, trying to give them- selves time to think about it, before they answer it. Where- as if they take time and make pencil marks of the question, highlighting what's neces- sary, checking the graphs and relationships, they'll definite- ly feel confident to dive into the exam procedure." There are, however, theoreti- cal teachers who encourage regurgitation, allowing the students to learn everything by heart - a pattern that might deprive them of the ability to grow critical thinking. "Straight memorisation from the book doesn't help anyone. You need to chal- lenge the students, provide them with an opportunity where they are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with the question. Not so that they can actually not answer, but to challenge them. Make sure they can apply the knowledge, utilise it and derive a correct answer, not just recite it," she says. "Whether we like it or not, we are a very visual species and so things that can be put into a diagram are easier for us to comprehend," she ex- plains to Neos Kosmos. "Our mind takes in a lot of information through our eyes, whereas if we have a lot of information on a page, after a while we tend to nod off, we pay less attention and the brain doesn't absorb it. So a lot of the things can be summarised in a one-page diagram. If we have a cue - diagrams are cues - or a flow- chart, we can see linkage. "These are things students can use very effectively to summarise and trigger the memory to come to the sur- face, so they can answer a question," she continues. Moreover, Mrs Frame has shared Oakleigh Grammar's methods of student support. Each twelfth grade student has a mentor in the school, a staff member assigned to them. There's also a pastoral team, a year 12 coordinator and a homework teacher, who works closely with the rest of the team. "We liaise with home quite regularly. If we find that we have some students really under high stress, in need of something that we are not trained for, we have a coun- sellor who will assist the parents and teachers with their strategies. We try eve- rything, but a lot of the time the students just need to walk through the door and just talk to us. So we sit and we listen. I think this is probably the best thing one can do. As a VCE teacher you have to be there. Students in my class- es can contact me 24/7. The students need to know they have the support and that their VCE teachers will go that extra mile. In our school we give freely of our time." Most students undergo a great deal of stress, some- times caused by the parents, who try to push their chil- dren into achieving certain goals. Perhaps reality points in a different direction, re- gardless of their expecta- tions. "Encourage your children to strive for whatever goal they're after. Be realistic about what is achievable and what may not be achievable. Reassure them they have your support. VCE is not an individual journey. VCE tends to be an individual in a fami- ly's journey," is above all what Mrs Frame advises her stu- dents' parents. Students don't need a parent standing on top of them demanding that they do all this study. "I think the biggest message a parent can convey is 'I love you'. The grade is just a num- ber and it won't define you. I love you for who you are and what you mean to me, regardless," she tells Neos Kosmos. That being said, we can- not underline enough that effective learning is not ac- complished while someone is under pressure, but when someone is in an encourag- ing and supportive environ- ment. Only then can a person genuinely flourish. Sharron Frame, head of senior school, surrounded by Oakleigh Grammar students. Coping with the hurdles of the VCE exam Sharron Frame, head of senior school at Oakleigh Grammar, shares some precious words of advice NELLY SKOUFATOGLOU "I think the biggest message a parent can convey is 'I love you' for who you are and what you mean to me, regardless of the grade." "Straight memorisation from the book doesn't help anyone. You need to challenge students." Sharron Frame talking to the school's captain, Victoria Giannetakis.
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