Archive for April, 2016

Exam Season: hints for home support – helping the helpless!

April 30, 2016

Exam Season: hints for home support – helping the helpless!

In the jolly old UK as summer tries to get out of bed and rise and shine it is the dawning of the insanity that is exams season here. GCSE’s start pretty much now. A-Level practical subjects have been running for a bit.

For thousands of year 11s Tuesday – thoughtfully after the bank holiday weekend – will be their iGCSE English Language exam. This two hours on Tuesday afternoon is worth 40% of their mark. So, many of them know exactly how many marks they need to get their magic C or better. Providing the moderators don’t downgrade their internal mark and the examiners don’t shift the grade boundaries up again. Which, as many of us know, happened last year.

Pal's pals@GCSE

Passing exams in this country is a bit like playing Russian Roulette – you never really know who is holding the gun and which barrel is loaded and pointing at you. But this year is the last year that year 11 students will have as little as 40 – 60% of exams to pass for English, and other subjects. Next year the world shifts back to the dark ages and we enter the abyss of 100% external exams. (All hail Michael Gove who knows more about education and learning than anyone else on the planet.)

Those of us who know anything about learning know that this is a recipe for disaster, just like starting school at increasingly younger ages, and the relentless desire to test, examine and measure. Next year brings a whole heap of trauma to parents of the youngest and the oldest, not to mention to the poor child and the hapless teacher who now has ridiculous targets to meet based on something that has yet to be tried, let alone tested.

Let’s return to this year – to students needing to pass, to parents who want to support them. Yes, it’s not all down to the teacher!! Ten years ago I published an article in an Australian magazine offering advice to parents to help them help their year 12 child survive and thrive during their final year at school. It was based on personal experience and most of the advice holds up today. So, here are the more relevant parts of that article.

Co-operative Relationships between Home and School

Ask any teacher and they will tell you that when parents, child and school are all working towards the same goals then success is invariably guaranteed. Teachers are highly focussed on achieving the best results for each student in their care. Expect them to know their subject area inside out and have a very clear view of your child’s ability and possible final grade.

If you want regular contact for any reason then let the school know. With e-mail it is easier than ever to have on-going contact. Schools prefer it when you get in touch before a problem arises. Usually issues can be worked out quickly and positively.

Being Informed

The best way to help your child to be as informed as possible. This seems too obvious but many parents ignore Information Evenings, course handbooks and never attend parent-teacher evenings. Make sure you are talking to your child about their subjects. Get in touch with teachers if you are concerned or think they need to know something. Look up courses on-line. All exam boards have sites accessible to the public. There is a plethora of web-sites about all things educational – texts, exam techniques; Youtube has tutorials on everything you can imagine

Health and Well Being

It doesn’t matter how clever your child is if they get sick or suffer any range of anxiety induced disorders then their year will be a nightmare. This is where you can practically support your child. Make sure they eat properly, get enough sleep, keep playing sport and don’t spend every minute studying or, at the other end, socialising such that they never complete assignments.

Stress is a major part of education now, especially during exam season, both for your child and you! Try to keep the house calm. This is not a good time for divorce or too many temper tantrums from younger siblings. It’s helpful if all family members are aware of the challenges and support the chosen child. After all, it will be the younger ones’ turn soon enough!

A wise parent keeps an eye open for substance abuse. During stressful times crutches are used and your child may be suffering more than you realise. Remember to keep an eye on all electronic devices – shut them down and remove them for specified times of the day, otherwise there will not be any sleep and there may be other disturbing things going down. Watch for changes in behaviour, mood swings, weight loss or gain. If you are worried speak to someone at school, your doctor and of course your child. Don’t ignore it.

Your exam stressed out child may struggle with his/her humanity and manners. Be kind, don’t shout at them (too much), take the rudeness/sullenness as a cry for help and take them to Nando’s and a chat. At all times this year keep the communication channels open!

classroom

A balanced approach to school and life – make a study plan!

A student who maintains a balanced life for the year is in the best position to succeed. It isn’t necessary for them to give up seeing their friends, going to the movies, playing sport. In fact, given the proliferation of mobile phones and access to the Internet you haven’t a hope of stopping them communicating with each other. Your best bet is to discuss limits on non-study/school activities. You know your child – do they need a tight lead or a loose leash?

Help get them organised. Don’t assume that the school has taught them about good study habits or organising their time. Talk to your child, point out that a structured approach to life means that they can get their assignments in on time and still watch Game of Thrones and the Walking Dead and spent sometime on-line for part but not all of their day.

We can help our children in so many ways. Cook them their favourite food, do their washing, ensure they have a private, quiet space to study. Read The Crucible with them, proof read their essays, listen to their oral presentations. And when specialised Maths is too much, despite the fact that Dad is an engineer, private tutoring is an option. The essence is to be extra aware of your child’s needs this year.

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Encourage your child to –

Keep up to date with assignments

Seek help when they need it – that’s what teachers are for!

Change subjects early if the need arises

Be organised – draw up a study time-table

Eat sensibly and keep playing sport

Get enough sleep

Have realistic goals

Have a fall back position if the first choice of course or Uni isn’t possible

 

What can you do?

Know what options your child realistically has

Have a contact at the school who knows your child – let them know you care about your child’s progress

Feed them loads of fresh nutritious meals

Watch their health – physical and emotional

Help them organise their time

Get extra academic support if they need it

Keep the home as harmonious as practical

Allow them to opt out of home duties at a suitable time for your child

Keep the communication channels open all year

 

Make a Study Plan

  1. List all the activities your child is involved in
  2. Include sleep, meals and travel time (use it!)
  3. Break the day into appropriate time spans
  4. Week days and weekends will differ
  5. Allow for free time/TV/Socialising
  6. Allow enough time for study for your child –some need more than others
  7. Allow for breaks and exercise
  8. Make sure it’s flexible and workable

dragon -grad

Exams are nasty evil things but passing them is more essential than ever. If you want a good future for your child, one where they are socialised, intelligent, productive members of society then, as a parent you need to put in the effort too. Don’t leave it all to the school with their afternoon sessions and holiday classes. As a parent you need to be involved. It’s your child, after all! Good luck J (Images from Private Collection)

Anzac Pride

April 23, 2016

Anzac Pride.

One hundred and one years ago a collection of young, brave and shockingly naive young men set foot on a foreign shore to protect our home shore. Yes, many of them paid the ultimate price and sacrificed their lives for ours on that skinny strip of sand in Anzac Cove in 1915. But their sacrifice made us into a nation. We may have been united under Federation a few years earlier but it was Gallipoli and WW1 that made Australia into a nation. You may consider that romantic foolishness but it is part of our mythology and I am happy to subscribe to that.

Today I want to consider what that means for Australians. There are no Anzacs left. But we cannot forget Anzac Day – April 25 – and the way I am commemorating it today is by looking at our cultural place on the world stage. Forget politics, forget economic power-house but cast your eyes around music, performing arts, literature and you’ll find an awful lot of Australians at work, doing us proud; doing our Anzac tradition proud.

Koala

Once upon a time in order to make something of yourself you had to leave Australia (and or NZ, if we’re being truly Anzac-y today) and establish yourself OS – usually England but latterly the USA. Thus in the 1960-70s luminaries such as Germaine Greer, Clive James and Barry Humphries (Dame Edna Everage to you) left home seeking more than was to be had Down-under. These people have established loud and large personalities on the world stage, and regardless of their politics or yours they clearly established Oz as more than a place for convicts and surfers.

In Hollywood we had a few who had their toe in the waters early on, but their numbers were few. Errol Flynn, Peter Finch, Rod Taylor, but not Merle Oberon – oh, no, she was never ours. It was all smoke and mirrors to disguise where she really came from. Her exotic skin and luminous beauty hailed from the sub-continent and a sleazy beginning, not from obscure and far-far away Tasmania.

Many of the rock and rollers of the 60s and 70s got as big as they could and tried their hands OS but most returned bloodied and bowed. Who broke through: The Bee Gees (but they were British in the first place); The Easybeats had one colossal hit (Friday on My Mind); Helen Reddy (I am Woman); LRB were quite successful for quite some time; Air Supply did very well; Rick Springfield left Zoot and was a huge hit in the States; Olivia Newton-John was one of our biggest stars – she is forever Sandy in Grease, isn’t she? Peter Allen married Liza Minnelli to help things along, but he was an amazing performer. But our failures were greater.

But things changed, as they often do and slowly but surely there were more of us on the big screen, on the radio and various music channels, TV shows; winning prizes in literature. We were taking major roles, not just character parts; we were headlining tours, filling theatres. Our accent stopped being a problem. We arrived. Being Australian is not embarrassing, we have lost our cultural cringe. We have stepped up to our Anzac heritage in more ways than those young men could possibly have imagined.

 

Who are our world players now?

We have Oscar winners and actors who command some of the biggest salaries in Hollywood. Nicole Kidman may have ridden off on Tom Cruise’s coat-tails but she has stood on her own for years as a fine actress. Cate Blanchett is simply gold – everything she does is amazing – perhaps she is our finest actress ever? Chris Hemsworth and Hugh Jackman earn small fortunes and are two of the best looking men in Hollywood, and reputedly the nicest guys too. We have a string of excellent actors: Hugo Weaving, Guy Pearce, Naomi Watts, Rebel Wilson, Elizabeth Debicki and the wonderful Eric Bana. If we go Anzac, we can include Sam Neil and Russell Crow, who did bag an Oscar and was stunning in Gladiator.

Books2

Kylie rules as our music queen these days but AC-DC are still going strong and as popular as ever. Why else the upset about Axl Rose joining the band? INXS were absolutely huge, as were Crowded House (yes, NZ again but this is about Anzac Day). Yothu Yindi owned the world there for a few years. Neighbours and Home and Away still run home and OS. Priscilla, Queen of the Desert was one of the best movies ever and is now a West End stage production. Jason Donovan still performs regularly and Adam Hills has his own comedy show on UK TV. Ozzies pop up all over the place and these days, because of the amount of talent and ability we have you may not instantly recognise them. This is a good thing – we are as good as the rest.

Books1

Peter Carey and Richard Flanagan are our stellar writers. Both have won the Booker – Carey twice. Both write of our experiences and all manner of things that show that any notion of inferior literature being automatically associated with Australia is a notion that belongs in the dark past. Other writers have international impact, including Christos Tsiolkas and The Slap that sold phenomenally and was made into an excellent TV series. The Rosie Project has been an international hit and of course Eleanor Catton, from NZ, was the youngest ever Booker Prize winner with The Luminaries. Don’t forget other stars like Markus Zsusak (The Book Thief), Tim Winton, David Malouf and Thomas Kenneally who wrote many wonderful things but notably Schindler’s Ark which was made into a harrowing film.

This Anzac Day don’t dwell on the less acceptable side of our nation, the treatment of refugees and Aboriginals; ignore the vile exploits of Rupert Murdoch and Gina Rinehart and their ilk. Ignore the idiot politicians, the division in our society that doesn’t need to be there at all. Remember our fallen soldiers, on that memorable day so long ago, so far away, and all the others who have fought for us, to make us into a great nation. We may not be as good or as kind or as clever as we should but we do have a great deal to be proud of and it is timely to be aware of the good things we are and do.

SDC13984

We have come a long way since April 25, 1915, and indeed we have a long way to go, but we can pause and be proud of our cultural giants. We are no longer lone men riding the outback, surfers or convicts: we are world players. We compete. In fact we really punch above our weight. (Images from Private Collection)

Dreams – gateways to well-being

April 9, 2016

Dreams – gateways to well-being.

The quest for a life well lived is all around us. I sometimes think the constancy of memes with lovely pictures and philosophical truisms from Buddha and Ghandi and Einstein, etc, etc is designed to keep us distracted from the escalating evil and nonsense of the world. It’s a way for us to deal with all the things that make us feel like crap: Panama papers, increased pension payments, idiot politicians, on-going wars, humanitarian crises and a new term where failure lurks, and some ‘expert’ who knows jack-shit about education is waiting to pounce with their latest diktat about what teachers need to be doing.

Well-being isn’t just about physical health, although we can’t under-rate that. It’s about the whole person: the mind, body and spirit interface. Well-being is at heart your ability to know yourself and heal yourself. It means listening to your body, trusting your intuition, knowing what works for you in all parts of your life. So many of us have given up trusting ourselves that we end up miserable and unhappy with wretched lives.

road to ...

There are many pathways to well-being – meditation, retreats, education, action. But one of the simplest ways back to yourself, to enhance well-being, is through your dreams. Laugh not: dreams are the window to who you really are. Freud, for all his lunacy, was onto something – dreams are the gateway to the truth, to who you are and how you could be living your life. Freud said that dreams were “the royal road to the unconscious.” His theories on many things have been rejected, but some of his thoughts on dreams still have relevance. He suggested that during dreams, the preconscious is more relaxed than in waking hours, but still alert so images in dreams are often not what they appear to be, and need deeper interpretation if they are to inform us on the structures of the unconscious. He also floated the idea that one simple symbol or image presented in a person’s dream may have multiple meanings. He went onto divide dreams into three sorts, but the one that is most useful in our quest for well-being is the symbolic dream which requires deeper interpretation.

Yes, we all dream: some of us simply don’t recall them and/or aren’t that interested in what happens behind closed eyes. You just need to know how to tap into all that wonder and magic tucked away inside your head, deep in your subconscious, buried in your dreams.

Many years ago during my first degree I majored in Psychology as well as English and the very best part of my degree was the third year Psych unit on Dreams. It was magic. We skated across Freud and Jung and learnt how to retrieve and interpret our own dreams and I am here to tell you, dear reader, that you too can do this and cast a bright light on your own deepest feelings, fears and desires. This will tell you more about yourself than any other sort of pop-psychology ever can!

dreams book

Dreams are our sorting-house. Dreams help us solve problems and find solutions. There are many stories of people finding solutions to areas of their life and work in dreams. I blogged on this aspect of dreams some time ago. If you are open to your subconscious, and able to catch and keep your dreams you too can solve problems and understand yourself on a whole new level.

We dream several times a night, usually on a 90 minute cycle and usually during REM sleep. If you awake after one of these periods then you are likely to remember your dreams. Often in the morning you will wake with several threads in your head, making little sense. But this is because you are recalling the trails of several dreams, not just one. But dreams do not necessarily make sense, they’re not neat well structured stories popping out of your brain’s type-writer. They are messy and confused and sometimes scary. But they are all about you. Some facet of your life, your day is in there. Your head, your dreams: you are the star.

 

How do you access your dreams and their message?

1.You have to practice – you have to actively try to keep hold of your dreams, you have to train yourself to remember them. Once you have the knack of capturing fragments you will find that usually the full dream follows. It’s a bit like hooking a fish and then reeling it in – slowly, steadily, stealthily.

2.Keep a dream journal – this is the only way to capture dreams and interpret them sensibly. Get yourself a lovely little note-book and keep it beside your bed. As you wake, before you get out of bed, keeping your eyes closed, try to recall your dreams. Usually they come in fragments, but that’s fine, it can be enough. Usually there will be little sense when you begin but you must persevere.

3.Note your recurring symbols – people, places, things – this tells you a great deal and your own symbols are far more important than a generalised book of dreams full of symbols: for example, my baby girl always means joy, if my mother appears then I know things will be all right, if I am on the water then I automatically feel okay and there can be no danger.

4.Note your feelings during the dream and especially on waking – this part is the key to understanding yourself – take the feeling from the instant of waking, then examine it later in the day – does that feeling stand up – why did you feel like that? Feelings can be warnings, don’t ignore them.

5.Keep your journal regularly to build a picture of what you dream about – are there patterns; do you have reoccurring dreams, do the same people re-appear? Be aware of key dates in your life – do your dreams reflect these times?

5b.The only way to fully interpret your own dreams is through building up a regular picture over time so you understand and know your own dreamings, your own patterns of making sense of your world.

dream journal

After a while keeping hold of your dreams will come naturally to you. You will find too that as you write down your dreams (or tell them to a sympathetic soul) that they make sense. A brief interrogation of your dreams, your subconscious, will tell you all sorts of things – what you are worried about, what you fear, what makes you feel good, how you can solve problems. It’s a neat trick to go to sleep with something bubbling that you can’t quite fix in your waking life and let it do its thing there at the back of your mind, your deep self looking after your day to day self.

 

Here’s an example of a dream from this week and how I came to its meaning.

I am on top of a large shelf, it is broad and very high up. I am a bit uncertain about why I am there, especially as I’m not keen on heights. In the corner my beloved sleeps in a comfortable bed. But I am working – directing people below to do things, fetch things for me. Mostly books it seems as I am reading beautifully illustrated stories and then arranging them on a high shelf opposite where I am on my high ledge. I was worried about getting down as it was so high but when I wanted to return to the ground I got down all by myself in a couple of easy steps.

Hm… I thought when I woke up, what was that all about? I examined who was there, only my husband who was safe and tucked away: the people below me were faceless but benign. I seemed to be working and happy in my work, but it wasn’t a place I knew – and I have particular places that represent work, so I knew it wasn’t one of the ‘real’ work places of my dreamscape. Then the feeling came to me: I was fine, I was on top of things – literally and then of course, metaphorically. This is clearly a good message and was quite reassuring to a person juggling quite a few things.

bed

Your dreams are as Freud said, the road to your self: to your deep self, your true self who, like a friend tells the truth when they are drunk. Your dreams tell the truth about yourself when you are asleep. Tap into this vast reservoir of knowledge, wisdom and wonder and you will find many ways to live a better, more authentic life. You will be more buttressed against the evils of the world. Your well-being will be enhanced. (Images from Private Collection)

Reading Takes You Many Places – Forgotten & Reclaimed

April 2, 2016

Reading Takes You Many Places – Forgotten & Reclaimed

In the midst of holidays one should be in the midst of reading but I am struggling with books these days – not a confession a writer and English teacher should make! However, as I re-opened To Kill A Mockingbird last night I was reminded of many things, not the least being what a fabulous book it really is and why I do not want to read Go Set a Watchman.

Moreover I was taken back to a previous time of reading. To a place I barely remembered but on beginning the novel I found myself in a sparse room in Larrakeyah Lodge on Myilly Point in Darwin, on one of my first trips into Darwin from Nhulunbuy. Larrakeyah Lodge had many incarnations – then it was a hostel type accommodation for visitors from far flung parts of the NT – usually teachers on PD courses. Then it became the student accommodation for NTU, and now it is gone – well it has been gone for many a long year, in the name of progress and expensive town-houses. But I remember lying on my single bed in my stuffy room reading into the night, reading about an equally hot and stuffy place, troubled by racism, trying for justice in an unjust world.

Illywhacker

So I got to thinking that this is not an uncommon phenomenon. If I think about Peter Carey’s Illywhacker I am instantly transported to my verandah on Klyn Circuit in Nhulunbuy, sitting in an old cane chair, behind the privacy of the cannas and tomato plants reading one of my favourite books of all time. I am hot and sweaty, but still and happy as I read and sip iced water and escape to Bacchus Marsh and a 137 year old liar. If I recall Oscar and Lucinda (also by Carey) then I find myself poolside in a Bali resort, my baby boy splashing at the edges of the pool with his father, while I’m on a barge with a glass church in outback Australia.

Monkey Grip by Helen Garner is a modern Australian classic and something about Melbourne, not just the setting resonates in my head as I read. I suspect I was there for the first reading of the novel. But I read it again when I was in hospital just after having Pallas. Indeed her name came from the novel – a small section where Pallas-Athena was mentioned and the name hooked and took and so our baby, who very nearly became Paris, ended up Pallas-Athena, all from reading in Darwin hospital in the quiet time between sleeping and feeding.

Monkeygrip

If I think of The English Patient then as well as the locations of the novel – pre-war desert and war riven Italy – I am in Shanghai at the time when Hong Kong was handed back to the Chinese. Re-reading the novel takes me there, as does any thoughts about Schindler’s Ark – so many rats in the book, so many rats in the school!

As you would expect I read a great deal at uni – well you have to with an English degree. Two sets of reading stick in my head. DH Lawrence’s Women in Love and The Rainbow. I loved those books – dense and intense, full of fecund images and words and when I think of reading them I am at ‘the farm’ – a family place in the deep south of Tasmania, on the banks of the wide deep blue Huon. Then it took some time to get there; there was no internet of course but also no telly and only a scratchy radio. I’d set the fire and read for the weekend, late into night, barely able to tear myself away from the intensity of the relationships in the books. I had a boyfriend who promised to visit me there. He never did, but like Ursula and Gundrun I believed in the centrality of love and passion in my life.

At the end of every year at uni I read The Thorn Birds. It was a guilty pleasure, but one I indulged for several years. It was summer, exams were over, the sun was out and the cricket was on. I’d set myself up on the banana lounge, slather myself with sun-cream and settle for a day of indulgent reading, another story of passionate love but not so intense writing. I figured a bit of pulp fiction was deserved after the year of reading academic and classic fiction and writing less than wonderful essays.

venice

And I did read Death in Venice when we went to Venice and it felt the right thing to do. I certainly recalled the large cold rooms of HMC (Hobart Matriculation College) as I re-read the slender volume. But it was quite wonderful to sit on the beach that von Aschenbach had sat on to gaze upon Tadzio and be reminded of his desperation, his unrequited but deadly passion. So now when I think of the novel I am again in Venice and it’s a beautiful place to be.

When I finally go home a large list of books will take me to France, because that seems to be my main reading place these days, not just books for study but a bit of Agatha Christie, Geoffrey Eugenides (you must read Middlesex) and the wonderful Night Circus. Of Mice and Men will forever take me to classrooms and a variety of students, as will Macbeth and bloody Romeo and Juliet.

bookcase

Books are transport machines – inside them you are in different worlds in different times, exploring, experiencing, imagining. Outside, the where you were when you were reading is another place you travel to as well – a place where you remember who you were, what you were doing and feeling at the time of reading. Who’d have thought a book was better than the Tardis? (Images from private collection).