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Just as children must learn how to learn, so do students of childcare, and it starts with thinking about how you are going to tackle a course Congratulations. You have decided on your career and you are going to work with children, a worthy choice. But I imagine by now that the full force of your decision has hit home. It's not the easy option it first seemed, is it? 'Working with children - how difficult could it be?' How many times have you heard someone say that?

Just as children must learn how to learn, so do students of childcare, and it starts with thinking about how you are going to tackle a course

Congratulations. You have decided on your career and you are going to work with children, a worthy choice. But I imagine by now that the full force of your decision has hit home. It's not the easy option it first seemed, is it? 'Working with children - how difficult could it be?' How many times have you heard someone say that?

Of course, you find the practical part of it OK; after all, getting messy with play dough, helping children to learn to read, and encouraging the development of language skills is exactly what you wanted to be doing, isn't it?

But then there are all those assignments to write, the one-day courses to attend, the note-taking in class, putting a portfolio together, and all the reading! All this, and you are trying to have a life too.

I always find it strange that we are expected to just 'know' how to study, as if it were a natural process. It's not. It's something you can learn how to do, and once you have the necessary skills and you know how to study, it makes it all so much easier.

WHAT ARE STUDY SKILLS?

Study skills are the tools that are going to help you achieve on your course. Some at first may seem very obvious, such as 'how to read a book', or 'how to make notes'. But don't be put off by the obvious - learn.

Always remember that you are now working towards a qualification that will enable you to work with children, and much of your time will be concerned with their learning. The more insight you have into your own learning, the better you will perform in your chosen career.

There is much trial and error attached to studying, and you need time to find out what is best for you,. Don't expect to be good at everything straight away. 'Becoming a good student is a long-term process of changing habits of working and ways of thinking,' according to Andrew Northedge in The Good Study Guide (see Resources).

WHAT TYPE OF STUDENT ARE YOU?

Maybe you are returning to study after a long period of working or bringing up a family. Maybe you are still working but have decided to increase your qualifications by taking an NVQ. Or you could be a recent school leaver on one of the many full-time CCE, DCE or BTec courses.

This guide has been written for all students who want to do well in their studies. It doesn't matter whether you are a mature student or have just left school, if you are a full-time student or attend only the occasional one-off session - you will still need study skills.

It is often assumed that school leavers will automatically be able to cope with studying, but I have found that this is not always true. It is more likely to be the mature student who has had to juggle work, family and social life who is better able to adapt to the routine of study.

COMPUTERS

There is one advantage to being a recent school leaver, however - most are computer-literate. If you are a mature student and this is one of the skills you lack, it's time you did something about it.

Computers are here to stay and the sooner you become competent, the easier it will be for you to complete your college work. I've seen many computer-phobic students overcome their fears completely and go on to produce stunning booklets, posters and assignments.

You may be lucky enough to be on a course that includes ICT as an integrated subject. If not, then call your local Further Education College and sign up for one.

There are many different types of ICT courses available. Some colleges put on free taster days, so you can go along and find out which course will be best for you.

There are part-time courses such as the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL) and CLAIT that are recognised qualifications. These will both help you in your studies and will be of benefit to you when you are working, as well. Telephone Learn Direct on 0800 101 901 for more information.

TUTORS

The other important thing that you need to do is to make friends with your tutor, or assessor if you are doing an NVQ. These people are the experts; use their knowledge and skills and always turn up for your tutorials. Don't assume they will think you are stupid if you keep asking questions. In fact, it is just the opposite - the more questions my students ask, the more I know they are learning.

EXISTING SKILLS

Before we start, make a list of all the things you can do already. This will include cooking, driving, riding a bike, raising children, GCSEs, speaking other languages, dancing - in fact, everything that you have already learned.

Now divide that list of things you can do into two columns. In column one, list all the things you found easy to learn, and in column two put all the things you found difficult.

Now think about how you were taught those things. Is there a pattern emerging? For example, are you better at learning practical things? Or do you find learning from books is best?

Now read through your list again, and write down beside each entry why you learned that particular thing. Was it because you had to learn it for school? Or did your parents force you into it?Or was it because you wanted to learn?

Now take another look at what you found easy and what you found difficult.

Any patterns this time? Identifying how you learn is an important skill, and we will be looking at this later.

CONFIDENCE

Feeling anxious when tackling something new is to be expected, but do not let your anxiety prevent you succeeding. If you are having doubts about your abilities, talk it over with someone, preferably your tutor or another member of your group.

You will be surprised to discover that even the most confident-seeming people sometimes feel they are not good enough. It is always a helpful idea to form a study group with other students on your course so that you can get together and discuss the work and associated problems.

Make sure you all swap telephone numbers, so you can call each other for help with tricky assignments or revision tips. Most colleges nowadays have counsellors you can go and talk to if you really feel that it is getting too much for you.

ARE YOU CLEVER ENOUGH?

You may be feeling that you are not clever enough, or intelligent enough, to be able to study for a qualification. But what do we mean when we say someone is intelligent?

It was once supposed that intelligence was inherited and that we all had a certain amount of it. In fact, the child development pioneer Jean Piaget spent time working with Binet and Simon to discover ways of measuring intelligence, and they devised a test that gave an intelligence quotient, or IQ score.

It is now believed that intelligence can be developed and that there is more than one way of 'being' intelligent. Gardner (see box, p16), for example, suggests that there are multiple intelligences, but we do not have to stay in the same category all our lives. With the right training, we can develop our skills in other areas as well.

GARDNER'S MULTIPLE INTELLIGENCES

* Linguistic - knowing about words; this includes talking and listening, reading and writing

* Logical mathematical - the ability to use numbers and solve problems and to put things in order

* Visual-spatial - seeing things in 3-D, visualising and recreating images and scenes

* Musical - using patterns, rhythms and tones

* Kinaesthetic - using your body, manipulating objects and learning through doing

* Interpersonal - seeing the world from someone else's point of view.

* Intrapersonal - knowing about you, about your feelings and emotions Reference: Howard Gardner (1993), Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. Basic Books

RESOURCES

Learning styles websites

* www.campaign-for-learning.org.uk

* www.psi-press.co.uk/lss2.htm

* www.gse.rmit.edu.au/rsedc/learn.html

* www.chaminade.org/inspire/learnstl.htm

* There are many more sites on the Internet. Just type 'learning styles questionnaire' into your search engine.

References and bibliography

* Cottrell, S, (2003, second edition) The Study Skills Handbook. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan

* Dawson, C, (2004) Learning How to Study Again. Oxford: How-To Books

* Ginnis P, (2002) The Teacher's Toolkit. Wales: Crown House

* Northedge A, (1990) The Good Study Guide. Milton Keynes: Open University

* Smith, A, Lovatt, M, Wise, D, (2003) Accelerated Learning. Stafford: Network Educational Press

* Smith A, (2001) Bright Sparks. Stafford: Network Educational Press

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