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The 2 skills every primary school student needs to master

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The Victorian primary school curriculum is so jam packed that sometimes it can feel like there are endless topics your child needs to learn each year. From turning mixed number into improper fractions to endless lists of spelling words – it can be hard to know what primary school skills are the most important.

In an ideal world, your primary school child would remember and grasp the key concepts of every topic. But in reality, this is a huge expectation to place on children. To make things easier for your child, prioritising these two key areas will help them more seamlessly transition from primary school into year 7.

What are the two key skills every primary school student needs to enter year 7?

1. Times Tables

2. Reading

Times Tables

The times tables underpin so many topics in high school maths. For instance, turning mixed numbers into improper fractions, finding factors, all require quick recall of tables.

Maths is like building a house – the foundation must be secure to add later furnishings.

Using this example, consider times tables to be the foundation. If a child is still having immense difficulty working out their times tables in year 7 – the more advanced maths topics, covered in years 9, 10, 11 will cause immense difficulty for them.  

Learning tables is easier said than done, though. But it’s certainly not impossible. Here are some handy hints to help.

primary school

1. Repetition leads to mastery

Remembering tables facts takes a lot of time, effort and practice. For children with working memory problems, this is especially true.

To put tables facts into long term memory, your child will require a ton of deliberate practice.

For deliberate practice, sitting down and working through times tables drills each week will be a huge help. Have your child write down all the multiples of the tables first, before working through the worksheet.

2. Spaced Practice

Help your primary school child to do spaced practice – by doing a few tables drills across several nights per week. Spacing the information helps them to learn and for the information to be permanently stored in long-term memory.

Doing a little and often is the best bet to consolidate learning.

There are a variety of useful apps you can download which cover tables drills too. You could do fun activities like play basketball, and have your child take a shot at goal every time they get a times tables question right.

The idea is to keep learning tables fun and challenging for kids. Since children love YouTube, have them watch a few funny American teachers who have made viral times tables songs.

Practising the tables in a variety of ways will strengthen the brain pathways and help your child to remember.

3. Focus on one times table at a time

If you’re helping your primary school child at home, don’t try to cover all the tables at once. Help your child to master the two times tables first, before moving onto the 5s, 10s and 3s.

Once a child has learnt up to the 6s times tables, tables facts begin to repeat themselves. E.g. 3 x 7 = 21, Then 7 x 3 – 21 (repeated again in the 7s). Breaking down learning the tables into smaller, more manageable chunks will make the task of learning times tables less overwhelming for your child.

Starting with the 12s or 9s is likely to be overwhelming for younger primary school students and your child could lose a lot of confidence and morale if you start with the harder tables. Instead, focus on smaller numbers to begin with and work your way up.

primary school times tables

4. Link times tables to division

Primary school students need to link multiplication and division facts before they enter high school. They must understand that 3 x 8 = 24, and that we can use these numbers to divide as well, e.g. 24 % 8 = 3.

Practising times tables drills alongside division teaches children that multiplication and division facts are relate and fit together.

This will make adding, subtracting and dividing fractions much easier in year 7 when students must find factors.

primary school division

Reading

It is hard to think of a single high school or primary school subject that doesn’t require solid reading skills.

Students must read books, information reports, their textbook and make sense of and summarise huge swathes of text across English, Literature, History, Geography and maths.

If you child cannot read fluently or sound out words properly, they will find it incredibly hard to make sense of what they are reading and to do the required work.

Your child will be on the back-foot from the get-go in year 7 if they don’t have solid reading skills. intervening early and making reading an absolute priority in the primary years is essential.

1. Decoding words

Decoding words involves applying the phonics rules of English to correctly sound out a word. It requires knowing that certain letter combinations stand for one sound. A phoneme (sound) can be represented by 1, 2, 3 4 letter combinations.

For example, to read with confidence, your child must understand that “ci” makes the “sh” sound in the word optician – op-ti-ci-an. This is decoding in action.

By the time they start year 7, your primary school child should confidently be able to read the more complex symbols (graphemes) and the corresponding sounds that go along with these.

This way, your child will be able to focus on more high order reading skills, like comprehending the meaning of the texts they are reading.

2. Comprehension skills

Comprehension is truly the reason for it all. It is why we read – to learn, to make sense of and to understand what the author is trying to say.

Comprehension is about being able to find meaning through reading. Comprehension involves extracting meaning from text using knowledge of words, concepts, fact and ideas.

Good writers write to entertain, to persuade or to inform. Understanding what the text’s purpose is allows your child to summarise information, take good notes, answer questions and to construct meaning.

3. Improved Vocabulary

Children who read regularly and read for pleasure have a much wider vocabulary than students who do not read regularly. In fact, this difference starts at the very beginning of school.

If a child was read to every day as an infant – they will have been exposed to 290,000 more words by age 5 than those who don’t regularly read books with a parent or caregiver. These children are likely to pick up reading skills more quickly and easily in primary school.

This difference in the number of words a student knows and is exposed to, compounds throughout primary school. There can be a huge difference in the number of words known by year 7 and the gap between the language-rich and the language-poor grows over time.

A wider vocabulary equates to general world knowledge and greater intelligence.  

primary school reader

Better Writing Skills

A wider, richer vocabulary helps a child write more interesting sentences. Writing essays and narratives will be easier for your child – as your child has a bank of words in their memory to draw from to make their sentences more detailed.

For example, instead of writing “The man was very sad,” a child with a strong vocabulary may write “The tired, miserable man was grief-stricken.”

Good writers regularly add to their writing descriptive adjectives and adverbs. Reading regularly will expose your child to many different words which will have the benefit of improving their narrative and persuasive writing skills as well.

primary school

Conclusion

Making the transition to high school is a big step up, socially and academically for many children in year 6. Forming new routines, making new friends and the demands of the school curriculum all dramatically increase in year 7. Your child will go from being the top of their primary school school to being a small fry in a big school again.

To make the transition easier, focusing on the two core skills of reading and times tables will help your child to tackle the academic challenges of year 7 confidently.

6 Tips for Boosting your child’s working memory

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Quick facts

  • Working memory refers to working with information stored in short-term memory.

  • It’s keeping in mind anything you need to keep in mind while you’re doing something.

  • Kids use working memory to learn and complete tasks.

  • Working-memory boosters can be built into your child’s daily life.

Working memory refers to being able to use and manipulate the information that short-term memory stores. It’s a skill kids need and use to learn. 

It’s needed for tasks like following directions with multiple steps or solving a maths problem in your head.

Tutoring Works uses strategies like this to boost working memory in kids and teens. You can help your child improve this executive function at home by building some working memory boosters into his or her daily life.

Work on visualisation skills

Encourage your child to create a picture in his or her mind of what has just been said. For example, if you have told your child to make their bed in the morning, have them come up with a mental picture of what their room should look like when they have finished cleaning. This works really well for maths problems too. If your child needs to use comprehension skills to work out whether a maths problem is a take away or an addition problem, visualising the story will help them work it out.

Have your child teach you

Being able to explain something to someone else means a child must have made sense of the information and mentally filed it. If your child is learning a new skill, like how to do maths a certain way, ask him or her to teach it to you. Even if you know it, your child is getting an opportunity to use the information right away, rather than waiting to be asked. Teachers use this strategy all the time by putting students into small groups and pairs.

Encourage active reading

There’s a reason stationary at Officeworks is so popular! Colour coding text, underlining and highlighting can help kids keep the information in mind long enough to answer meaningful questions about it. Talk with your child out loud and ask questions about the taught material to reinforce what they are reading. Taking notes is another useful tool. Regular active reading can help to strengthen the neural pathways that form long-term memories as well.

Chunk information into smaller bits

Give multi-step directions one at a time. Running through the 5 activities your child needs to get done will simply overload their brain and mental capacity. Keep this in mind when you need to give your child multi-step directions. Write down the things you would like them to do or give them instructions one at a time. Your can also use organisers and mind maps to help your child break larger projects and assignments into more manageable pieces.

Make it multisensory

Processing information using different brain pathways can help information convert into long-term memory. Some kids learn best with information they hear. Others may find it easiest to learn by seeing something. Using multisenosyr techniques helps your child to engage more than one sense at a time, increasing the likelihood that they will keep the information in mind long enough to use it.

Write tasks down so your child can look at the instructions. Say them aloud so your child can hear what is expected of them. Play down ball or dance while you discuss a topic. Expanding teaching beyond listening and seeing stimulates new pathways and opportunities to remember.

Make connections to previous information

Help your child form connections that mentally join the information he or she is learning. For instance, mnemonic devices are one of the best ways to teach your child to spell tricky words. A mnemonic device is a memory tool that helps a person to remember larger bits of information—or tricky-to-spell words—with something easier to remember such as a phrase or rhyme.

For example, spelling the word dessert could be taught using these fun trips.

  1. There are two ‘ss’ in the word dessert for two scoops of ice-cream
  2. Desserts spelled backward is stressed – and maybe you eat dessert when you’re stressed.

These associations make it more likely that the information you are teaching your child will stick.

Key Information

  • Visualising is a great working memory booster
  • Mnemonic devices and fun sayings help to improve working memory
  • Using multisensory strategies activates multiple brain pathways – increasing the chance your child will remember

How you can help your child develop better maths skills in primary school using number sense

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Is your child having trouble skip counting, estimating or telling the time?

They may have trouble with number sense. Number sense is the skill that allows kids to understand and work with numbers to complete maths problems. 

Maths skills in primary school focus on the ability to understand numbers and work with them in fluid and flexible ways. Number sense is a key skill which Tutoring Works helps primary school students develop in maths which allows your child to determine things like how things rank in order and how things compare in size. This is the ability to understand how much a number is “worth,” and using numbers as a way to solve problems.

  • Number sense is the mind’s ability to form mental images of patterns and associate them with a number
  • Kids with maths issues, such as dyscalculia – often have weaknesses in these skills and require plenty of repetition to grasp the concepts
  • Number sense is a skill that can be developed and honed over time – Tutoring Works emphasises repetition to improve skills in primary maths

These include the ability to:

  • Understand quantities
  • Grasp concepts like more than, and less than, larger and smaller.
  • Understand that symbols represent quantities (e.g. 8 is equivalent to 8)
  • Make number comparisons – 22 is greater than 20, and 6 is half of 12)
  • Understand the order of numbers in a list 7th, 8th, 9th
  • An awareness of number patterns including recognising missing numbers
  • Strong number sense skills come before learning maths operations – such as adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing.
  • Maths operations aren’t the only area impacted by number sense difficulties. Your child may have difficulty with other concepts that use numbers to symbolise amounts, like measurement, distance and time.               

What teaching strategies promote number sense?

By the time children leave primary school, we would like them to have a well-developed understanding of number sense and place value. Children with problems in this area should focus on:

  • Ordering – comparing numbers with each other
  • Practice counting and grouping objects – adding to, subtracting and multiplying the groups to practice maths operations kills.
  • Place value and position – understanding how the place of a digit affects its value
  • Amount – knowing what the symbols in maths represent
  • Get a lot of practice estimating: Building questions into everyday conversations, using phrases like “about how many,” or “about how much.”
  • Match number symbols to quantities
  • Work with manipulatives like blocks and rods to understand the relationship between different amounts 

Multi-sensory techniques for teaching primary students maths

The use of sight, tough, hearing and movement can make it easier for your child to understand what numbers and symbols represent. Multi-sensory instruction activates several neural pathways in the brain, making later retrieval easier. 

Here are some multi-sensory maths activities that may help your child develop number sense

1. Visualising with beads, lollies or cereal

Using objects or manipulatives they can touch and move around can make it easier for children to learn concepts in maths and other subjects. For example, kids might solve a division problem putting lollies into groups and seeing how many lollies are left over. These props can also be used for addition, subtraction and multiplication problems – helping your child to practise their maths operations skills.

By moving these things around and seeing how they can be manipulated and changed, kids have a concrete way of understanding how these operations work.

2. Drawing maths problems

Drawing a maths problem to visualise and interpret it is especially helpful for younger students as they begin to grasp multiplication, division and fraction problems. For example, a teacher may ask a child to solve the multiplication problem 3 x 8 by drawing 3 groups of 8 oranges. They’ll then be able to visualise how adding 3 groups with 8 things in each group, is equivalent to multiplying, helping to solidify this operation.

3. Building with place value blocks

A teacher give the number 125 and ask the child to build it using the blocks. The child would need to create one 100- block, two 10-blocks and 5 ones’ cubes. This helps children with understanding place value.

4. Building with coloured tubes or blocks

Using blocks is an excellent aid when teaching children number patterns and operations between numbers. For example, you may stack the coloured blocks in 2, 4, 6 and 8 and then ask the child to complete the next three stacks in the pattern (adding two each time). This helps the child make a connection between the items and the numbers they represent.

5. Using Pizza Slices

Cutting a paper pizza into slices is an excellent way for children to “see” fractions like a 1/8 or ¼ and visually understand how fractions can be equivalent. It also helps them see how a fraction is an equal share of something and reinforce number sense skills like more than and less than.

6. Creating a number line

Creating a number line and plotting numbers in place along the line is a visual strategy that helps teach concepts of counting and placing numbers in sequences. A number line app can also support solving problems using a number line.

Key Takeaways

  • Number sense refers to the understanding of quantities as a concept

  • Multisensory learning and using physical objects is crucial for primary school children developing number sense skills

  • Number sense develops gradually over time by exploring numbers and visualising them

  • Strong number sense skills come before solving maths operations – such as adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing

  • Number sense can be supported by giving primary school students opportunities to make sense of, and reason about, number.

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