Setting Students Up for Exam Success at KCS

Imagine you are sitting in a rowboat all by yourself. You’ve been told you need to get to an island in the middle of a lake. But there’s one small problem – you have no oars. So, you struggle to travel in the water, splash aimlessly, and ultimately end up frustrated with your goal still out of reach. Having the right tools can make all the difference in feeling prepared and in control of working toward our goals. This was just one analogy shared during out exam preparation sessions with Study Spot, one of our many learning partners, this fall.

At KCS, we want to ensure that we have done everything possible to set our students up for success. This means we don’t just teach students what will be on an exam – we also teach them how to prepare for an exam.

It begins by embedding backwards planning into our grade 6-8 program as a way to build and develop exam preparation skills long before anyone sits down to write an exam. This year it also began by having the grade 6 and 7 students work with one of Study Spot’s academic coaches, where students and parents learned that preparing for a big test such as an exam begins with establishing study and organization routines that stick.

During these coaching sessions, the students are introduced to many exam prep strategies, such as making a plan, sticking to a schedule, self-testing, and maximizing the “spacing effect” (the phenomenon whereby information is remembered longer when studying is spaced out over time). They also talk about the importance of work/life management, the importance of sleep, and managing screens and distractions. Finally, they are provided with a wealth of planning materials, including study schedule templates, an action priority matrix, weekly planners, and guides to the pros and cons of different visual organizers and information capturing tools. (FYI – all of these materials are available for download on the Parenting Resource tile on the KCS website.)

Continued throughout the year, our teachers design their program in a thoughtful and intentional manner, as we know that it takes careful planning to teach kids how to thrive at school and in life. Our students will be writing exams throughout high school and university, so we know that now is the time to teach them these essential study skills and organizational habits. And even though exams aren’t a regular part of adult life, those skills and habits carry over in different ways. Exams teach you to be organized, deal with pressure, persist, ask for help, identify key points, and sift through large amounts of information – all useful lessons for adulthood.

We know that even after all this preparation, exams can still be scary. But that’s okay. When we’re scared, we rethink our habits and apply them in ways that make us better equipped to handle the unexpected. Every time we try something new or challenging, we get better at handling it. The exam experience helps our students become more organized, pay closer attention to their homework, and learn to prepare for future challenges. Many students feel a great sense of accomplishment as exams wrap up.

Our hope is that by the time our students leave us for high school and beyond, they will have learned new habits and had many opportunities to put those habits to work. We also hope that because there will be elements of frustration and challenge along the way, they will also leave us with a deep and genuine sense of empowerment and confidence. In the end, we don’t want anyone to feel stranded in a rowboat with no oars. We want them to have the skills and tools they need to take their boat and navigate toward any destination they choose.

-Dr. Matina Mosun

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An Inspired Lunch Hour with Random Acts of Learning

Every Friday at lunch recess, Mme Smith and I host Random Acts of Learning (RAOL) in the KCS Library. It’s a drop-in for any students from grade 2 and up to do, well, random acts of learning. Here’s what happened during last Friday’s lunch hour when 47 students came to RAOL:

  • Three students from grades 5 and 6 met to talk about a leadership project supporting Syrian refugees
  • One brought his Arduino kit to build a machine for his grade 7 service learning project
  • Two others worked on their littleBits ‘keytar’ (their own musical synthesizer)
  • A few others worked on the video games they’re creating themselves
  • Multiple others worked on their own independent projects, just because they want to learn more about something; this will culminate in a class presentation (Habit: Share What You Know)
  • Others are working on writing books, a few of whom are writing to submit a French book in a national contest
  • The newspaper club came to work on their upcoming edition
  • Some older students chose to study for exams
  • Many others just wanted more time to read

That was my lunch hour. How inspiring was yours?

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Studying Isn’t What It Used to Be

StudyingTechnology, like all things in life, has sides that are both yin and yang. Studying for exams with my son in grade 8, I’m loving the yang side of it.

We counsel our students to study for two subjects a night over the three weeks before exams. The other night, my son chose to focus on history and math. For history, he announced with uncommon enthusiasm that he was going to use the Study Wiki that he and his classmates made. A wiki is a collaboratively-built online reference site, the most well-known of which is Wikipedia. KCS teachers are embracing the making and use of wikis as a meaningful tool for students to take notes and communicate learning. The fact that these notes are shared online raises the whole exercise of note-taking to a real-world relevance that it never had before and, with that, the quality of what they produce goes up. I, and many other parents, are familiar with student “notes” that are sparsely or imperfectly done, and of little support when studying. Studying with the wiki, my son worked with thorough definitions and concept maps, and played knowledge games that cover most of the content he needs to remember. This wiki is available 24/7, thus having the added benefit of not needing to be “brought home” and “returned to school”, demands that often sabotage many a well-meaning student.

Then we moved on to math. This year KCS introduced a new online math resource that offers many benefits. For the purpose of studying, the students were sent a collection of review questions. Each question page had a link to the online video and practice questions that the student could go back to if they needed a reminder of how to approach the problem. When my son didn’t understand a question, it was no longer my responsibility to figure it out and teach him what to do – I simply reminded him to go back to the video for guidance. When my son was done, he received instant feedback on which questions he answered correctly, and which were incorrect. Seeing the ones that were incorrect, we went back to the videos to find out where he took a wrong turn.

Studying well requires many things to fall in line:

  • having what you need, when you need it;
  • having quality notes that are easy to read and use, even enticing to use;
  • getting frequent feedback on how you are doing; and
  • having material available in multiple formats.

These are but a few details that make a significant difference. Any tool that makes more of these fall in line is a tool that is most welcome.

Studying at KCS truly isn’t what it used to be. While the ancient Asian concept of yin and yang has these two as complementary and balanced, studying with technology is firmly on the yang side of this balanced equation. And thank goodness. Exams, and the challenge in facing them, otherwise haven’t changed at all.

Good luck to all in grades 6 to 8, and happy (as-can-be) studying!

Andrea Fanjoy,
Assistant Head, Academics
You can follow Andrea on Twitter @afanjoy.

Exams Got You Down? Just PAUSS

The following blog first appeared one year ago. It’s as relevant now as it was then. We all face challenges from time to time, and how we face them makes all the difference. That’s where the KCS Habits come in.

At KCS, it’s our mission to develop lifelong learners with the habits to face and embrace life’s challenges. Many of our students and parents have an extra one of those challenges on their plate right now.

Exams.

Students in grades 6-8 write exams starting January 28th. Love them or dislike them (yes, we’ve had students say they love them!), learning to prepare for and take exams is a challenge we all have to face at some point. Starting them in grade six, with ample guidance and time learning how to prepare, is the best way to start. Though a big deal, exams at KCS are also a safe opportunity to face this challenge, ‘try your best’, and learn from mistakes.

Looking at our Habits poster in my office Friday morning, I wondered which of the habits students should focus on to be successful preparing for exams. Five stood out. When written down, it became clear they made for a nice little acronym – a beacon for calm in the storm of stress that often surrounds the ‘e’ word. The acronym is PAUSS. The habits are:

Persist – this is a marathon, not a sprint

Adapt – old patterns of studying and time management likely need to change

Use past learning – use notes and old tests; use strategies that you already know to work, and avoid those that you know don’t

Show self-control – stick to the study plan; focus on the task; remember to also rest, eat well and get exercise

Strive for accuracy – follow the study keys, test yourself, aim to understand any errors

Exams inherently stir up anxiety. PAUSS, happily, does not.

If your child is writing exams, encourage them to PAUSS. And watch with pride as your child develops habits that matter. Take heart. Dread will soon be replaced with delight, and doubt will be replaced by well-earned confidence. And the unknown challenges to come will face a tougher foe.