|LETTER FROM THE HEADDear Parents
COMPARISONS AND EXAMINATIONS
“Comparison is the thief of joy,” said Teddy Roosevelt. The sentiment is often true. For example, comparing the Finance Minister and our President robs us of joy. Or if we compare the possibility of Donald Trump as a potential president for the USA to other presidential hopefuls we may feel a terrible sense of hopelessness for humanity. Indeed, “Comparison is the thief of joy”.
So while the world around us whirls, it is probably best to focus closer to home. When we compare ourselves to others, or worse, if we compare our children to other children, albeit positively, we dilute the joy inherent in the individual simply as they are. As we approach exams there is often a tendency to compare abilities and it is an utterly fruitless and sometimes a pernicious exercise.
One thing that all students can do is to prepare for exams intentionally and know that each one has to prepare according to his or her own needs, not according to the needs of others. Everyone learns differently and there is no one methodology that serves everyone equally well. If there were such a quick-fix panacea to studying we would all be imparting the methodology with great excitement. However, some recent research released earlier this year, by the Association for Psychological Science led by Kent State University Professor John Dunlosky, rated ten typical learning tactics and rated their efficacy.
Amongst the worst practices listed by Dunlosky are the techniques of highlighting and rereading as this tends not to lead to long term understanding. Highlighting works for some students but is often simply a methodology to seem to be studying, rather than actually internalising and understanding information. Highlighting tends to isolate information rather than help to link information to make relevant and meaningful connections.
The best learning strategies, with the most evidence to support them, are according to Dunolsky lesser known practices such as distributed practice, for example. Put simply, this strategy involves spreading out study sessions, rather than engaging in one marathon session. *“Cramming information at the last minute may allow you to get through that test or meeting, but the material will quickly disappear from memory. It’s much more effective to dip into the material at intervals over time. And the longer you want to remember the information, whether it’s two weeks or two years, the longer the intervals should be.” Therefore it is best for students to start their learning some time before rather than the night or two before exams.
The second learning strategy that is recommended by the report’s authors is practice testing. Research shows that the mere act of calling information to mind strengthens that which is being learnt and it also aids in future knowledge retrieval and application of that knowledge. While practice testing is not a common strategy — despite the robust evidence supporting it – the one familiar approach which underpins its benefits is the use of flash cards. There are a number of apps that help create flash cards but they do require time to generate and then to be used for revision.
Distributed practice – or learning over a longer period of time – and practice tests were rated as having high utility by the authors and may be useful for students to consider prior to their exams.
Other practical ways to help students to revise include putting phones and social media away, teaching another person the information that has been leant, exercising, not listening to music while studying, and getting enough sleep.
World over there seems to be an increase in anxiety levels and a sense of pressure. Being prepared and understanding that assessment is simply a part of life goes a long way towards normalising exam time. Parents can help by not projecting their own anxieties or fear of exams onto their children. There is a great deal to enjoy about exams – there is a change in routine, there is the hope of holidays and there is the joy inherent in challenge. So while exams may be a few weeks away for juniors, there remains time to begin revising gently and put distributed practice into practice. We wish the Matrics much success with their exams which begin next week.
Besides exams and the learning that occurs before exams, there has once again been much to celebrate in the Somerset College Community. Most joyous is the long awaited arrival of Baby Hill. Mr Hill and his wife are the proud foster parents to Demi Hill who arrived in their home last week. I am sure you all join me in wishing them a happy and special time with their precious little girl.
Other staff news is that Mrs van Zuydam is congratulated on passing her Masters in Mathematics from UCT with Distinction. We are very fortunate to have highly qualified and excellent teachers on the staff.
While sports results are usually reflected in the Sports Department’s news, it would be remiss not to congratulate Vezi Mntungwa and William Sendin on being selected for the SA under 19 squad which will tour to Sri Lanka next month. Very well done to both boys. They have been dedicated about their practising and give hours to ensuring their skills are as sharp and as dependable as possible. Like studying well, practice is distributed over a long period of time and excellence does not happen overnight. I do hope that this is the precursor to long and illustrious international cricket careers for William and Vezi. We are exceptionally proud of them!
Our Junior Debaters have also performed superbly this season and Aiden Renaut, Saurabh Roychoudry and Spencer Wiggins are congratulated on their excellent performance in the final round of the Boland Debating League. Kayla Prothero and Tiana Nauta contributed very positively in the preliminary rounds and I look forward to their future success. Dr Zoia has been instrumental in placing us back on the debating map and together with the support of Mrs Beck and our eager and dedicated debaters it seems that debating will flourish. It is an invaluable skill.
Georgia Faure and Ruby Tinelli have been selected to go on the Africa Young Leaders Programme to be held in the holidays in America. They are congratulated on their success. I have only mentioned the overt triumphs of individuals. There have been many personal and quiet successes made by others. Each person who has made an effort to be better than the day before is successful because there is no point in comparing; each of us has quiet gains and losses as we navigate the wonderful and sometimes wild path of living in this exciting, volatile and remarkably enigmatic country.
The swimming pool is being examined by engineers and various companies are compiling reports on how best to address the concerns. Reports that came in at the end of last term suggest there are some significant problems with the pool’s structure and these problems impact on the quality of the water in the pool. While we are trying to address the issues around the pool, it may be necessary for us to seek alternative arrangements for water sports should the temporary repairs not last for the duration of the summer season. Ideally we need a generous donor to fund a new pool as this certainly is not on the school’s budget as there are some pressing academic needs and we cannot keep asking parents to fund unplanned but necessary projects.
Meg Fargher* Annie Murphy Hall in “Brilliant: The Science of Smart”