Choosing A School

//Choosing A School

Be better informed about this crucial choice. How?

Open Days and School Tours: Open Days showcase the school at its best, but you also might want to see the school on a regular operating day – a tour is great for that. These are sometimes taken by teachers, even better when they are taken by students. Entrusting a tour to its students without teacher supervision says something about the transparency of the school and the confidence it has in its students. Ask questions on tour – don’t hold back – get to know the environment.

Gather your intel: check out the school website. Is it updated regularly? Does it have a contemporary feel? The state and navigability of the site can tell you a lot about a school’s attitude not only to education, but also to technology. Grab a prospectus or handbook: what subject choices are there? Schools can easily supply a list of every subject offered at each year level and if they can’t, then move on. What facilities do they have? Are they being well maintained? Make a list of the things you and your child are looking for and check them off.

Results: it’s not the only thing you look for, but how does the school perform at its ‘pointy end’ – Yr 12? So, make sure you know about the trend data on Yr 12 results – are they improving or declining over the last three years? It’s worth knowing that the school can get a healthy percentage of their students through Yr 12 and into tertiary education. Moreover, good schools can track exactly which courses are being selected, so ask for that information.

What does your child want? Traditionally seen as a purely parental decision, this is an easy one to overlook, but should be considered. Is your choice of school one that your child wants to go to? Does she have friends there? Does he want to take that 50-minute bus ride every day? Has your child expressed any preferences? Have you had the conversation?

Year 11 /12 Subject Selection

Another big choice here. Do I choose the subjects I like? Subjects that get scaled up? Arts? Sciences? Tough choice, but I have to make it. How? 

Go with your interests: we make more effort, engage more and overall tend to do better with the things we are interested in – this is intrinsic (internal) motivation and it is powerful. You’ll be spending two years doing these subjects and they might lead on to a uni program, so it helps greatly over the long haul if you have interest in what you’re studying.

Don’t worry about scaling: if you’re too focused on the scores and whether they go up or down, you’re not doing the subject for the right reasons – this is an extrinsic (external) motivation and is not nearly as powerful as intrinsic motivators in sustaining performance over a long period.

Look at the subject requirements: is it a subject that requires a heavy portfolio load? Does it require a lot of reading? Do you need to write major essays and reports for it? Is it mostly technical? Does it cover what you think it does? See what the subject assessment requires and ask yourself if that’s something you genuinely think you can handle, particularly together with your other choices.

Know your uni preferences? If you know what you want to do in uni then this will guide your choice, especially in prerequisite subjects (ones you need to study for a certain course). Don’t be afraid, however, to choose one subject outside your study area; it broadens your horizons and prepares you for a more flexible future where you learn to consider other perspectives. Many universities have their students choose a subject each year from an elective program which must be outside their field of study.

What if I don’t know what I want to do? The best advice here is to go with a broad range: a humanities subject, a maths, a science and English will give you a good grounding in a range of disciplines while also keeping your options open.

Go with your interests: we make more effort, engage more and overall tend to do better with the things we are interested in – this is intrinsic (internal) motivation and it is powerful. You’ll be spending two years doing these subjects and they might lead on to a uni program, so it helps greatly over the long haul if you have interest in what you’re studying.

Tech Awareness

What can you do now that protects your children for a future that’s increasingly going to be spent in the online space? We all want to be safe in the online environment. How?

Talk to your children: set your expectations clearly about usage of social media and how much they can use it, but also talk about safety on the Net: not engaging with strangers, cyberbullying, the dangers of file sharing, inappropriate imagery or content, and not responding to scams.

Know what kids are doing: be aware of how they are using the internet and how often. Do they disappear into their room for hours at a time, quietly, and not much homework is getting done? Have them use the computer or mobile device in a shared space. Consider setting restricted modes or privacy controls on social media sites they often visit. Set limits on recreational use of tech. No phones at the dinner table is a good place to start.

Let them know you know: perhaps one of the biggest dangers here is parental ignorance. Do a bit of homework yourself on what sites your child is on and how they work. It at least informs the conversations you have.

Explore the positive use of tech: help your child become tech-savvy and reinforce their decision-making resources. Build up ways of researching information on the Net, talk about trustworthy sources, make them aware of the issue of plagiarism, especially as a uni-prep skill, take active involvement in their research – not by doing it for them, but by helping and guiding.

Preparing for University Now

This just happens in Years 11 and 12, right? No, your child can start developing habits and good practices as early as the start of secondary school. Students entering university need to develop the skills to become independent learners as they move from a more structured school environment to one in which they must be self-directed. How? Here are some things your child can do from Year 7. 

Manage your time: start using tools to map out your study activities and commitments. A poster-size wall planner is great for longer term planning, such as when assignments or tasks are due (see the writing process below), when exams are on, and for charting other commitments, like part time jobs or holidays. 

Get used to writing: most programs require writing at some point. Follow a process for producing written work (you can chart this process in your wall planner):

  1. Analyse the topic/question
  2. Form a starting Plan
  3. Read and take Notes directly into your plan (note sources)
  4. Write using these notes (start anywhere in the body, write Intro and Conclusion last)
  5. Edit before submitting (print out to do final read-through)
  6. Submit the paper; make sure you know how to submit and by when. 

Read: the need for reading is a feature of almost every university program. There are two types of reading you can do: academic and leisure. The first is reading you do in your study area – as you get closer to Year 12, do more of this. The second is any reading you do for pleasure – do as much of this as you can; it exposes you to vocabulary, structure, ideas, and importantly, good reading is the basis for good writing. 

Get used to working with others: form a study group or at least have a study partner. Working with others will happen frequently at uni, so start working with others now – discuss assignments, talk about readings, ask each other exam prep questions. Develop a routine – e.g. every Monday you might go to your local library and spend a two-hour study block. You will be amazed how many students you will meet doing the same thing. 

Formulate techniques for revision: start to think about ways to revise exam content that work for you. Make quiz cards, use them with your study partner; practice verbally presenting information to your partner; transform text-based notes into something visual – a flowchart or a diagram. Active, intensive, regular study sessions are better than long hours cramming at the end of semester. 

Know your study preferences: Do you like to study in the morning? Do you prefer absolute quiet or music on? Do you do best in one- hour intensive bursts? Do you like seeing images over text? Get to know how you work best; these practices will also work for you at university.