I had the opportunity to express my opinions about the new exam system on BBC Radio Wiltshire today as it is GCSE exam results day. The question about whether the new exam system is working triggered a number of concerns that I have with this new system.
Firstly, I have the utmost admiration for students and teachers who have worked so hard for these exams. Their sheer effort, dedication and determination is not the issue here. The issue is, whether these new exams are really serving our young people? How is it benefiting them and helping them develop their talents and realise their potential?
In my experience as a former teacher, this new exam system is flawed in so many ways. Firstly, the idea that more content and increased difficulty will, miraculously, raise achievement is a fallacy. According to the research and my own experience teaching the new system, summative GCSE Exams are not reliable as a diagnostic tool because they only show a limited aspect of student learning and ability. How can you accurately assess how a student has developed over 2 years or more based on a 2-3-hour exam?
Nor does squeezing more content into an, already, overloaded student equate to depth and breadth. In fact, it does the exact opposite.
Due to the content overload with the new system, schools are having to teach to the exam, cramming in content right up to the last minute. No time to embed learning or understanding, no time for creativity and innovation, no time to support the majority of students who are lagging behind getting increasingly stressed by the unrelenting pressure. No time to help students develop into life-long learners or realise their potential.
Neither does the research support our exam-based curriculum. A study by the Programme for International Student Assessment found that teaching to the exam restricts students because the focus is on short-term knowledge acquisition, which is soon forgotten once they have taken the exam. And the UK is one of the worst culprits.
However, the most worrying knock-on effect of increased content and basing progress on just exams is the increased levels of stress on already stressed students. Statistics show that there has been a 50% increase in students seeking support for exam and school-related stress. Also, schools seeking support for overwhelmed students has increased by a third. Furthermore, figures show that, 85% of 16-year olds have experienced school-related stress.
Perhaps what we need to reflect upon today, is not just the exam results, but the price our young people are paying under the new exam system. Due to the increasing exam pressure and stress facing students, I co-wrote, The Laid Back Guide to Exams and Stress with Psychotherapist, Jennie Caswell. The fact that we now need to equip young people with tools to manage their exam stress and their wellbeing at such a young age is worrying. It is also worrying that education has become limited to just an exam. It is so much more than that as are the students who sit them.
If we are to encourage a love of learning, self-development and growth then we need an Education System that reflects this, not one that limits.
If any of this resonates with you and you would like to know more about, The Laid Back Guide to Exams and Stress, then it is available on Amazon. Alternatively, if you have a book you’d like to publish, then you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
With the A ‘level results out today in the UK and GCSE results due out next week, many young people and their parents will be holding a collective breath in anticipation. In a way, the exam stress they experienced whilst revising and taking their exams, will resurface with a vengeance.
It is likely that the dominate thoughts of the day will be: “Have I passed?” or “What if I fail?”, as well as, “Did I do enough to get into University?”. And this isn’t just the province of students either – their parents and teachers will be right there with them. Naturally, there will be some who fail to achieve the results they want and tears, upset and disappointment might be the only things they end up with.
Consequently, how parents and teachers respond to this, is extremely important. Sometimes, in a bid to be supportive and help them get over it, we can reach for stock phrases like, “never mind, you’ll do better next time” or “it doesn’t matter, you can always retake” rather than taking the time to truly listen and hear what they are expressing, without commenting, agreeing or disagreeing with what they are expressing. In our bid to be supportive, we can often make them feel worse than they already do because we are not truly listening to them. So how can we support our children with accepting and allowing what they are feeling?
The greatest gift that any parent or teacher can give is their time and undivided attention. For those students who have failed, their self-esteem will be at an all time low and they will need to feel nurtured whilst they process what has happened. Some might want to be left alone, whilst others might appear as if they just don’t care. Just gaged their mood and respect their needs. Just being someone they can simply offload to, without offering your opinion is such a gift.
It’s also important to remember that your child’s acceptance of their failure might not happen instantly, this process can take longer. As parents, we often want to fix what has happened, or find the solution for them, so do not give our children the space and time to process failure. It is crucial that your child take ownership for their failure, because in so doing, they will be more open to finding their own solutions. That’s where you as a parent or teacher can be useful, as you can provide them with the tools they need. But, let them do the talking, let them consider what steps they need to take, only offering guidance if it feels appropriate. Let them be the leaders for their own progress and support them on their journey to discover their inner-resources and resilience.
Failure needn’t be the end of the world either. In fact, it can be the making for greatness. Yet it is the one thing that we do not allow room for. We have become so fixated on progress, success, achievement that we fail to see that the road to success isn’t always smooth or straightforward. If we think about the great innovators and risk takers of our society: Albert Enstien, Thomas Eddison, Marie Curie, Steve Jobs, then we begin to realise that failure is the essential ingredient for success. If you look closely at failure, you begin to realise that it isn’t about a lack of intelligence or ability; it is simply information that another approach is needed. It is only our human judgement that failure is bad and to be avoided at all costs that prevents us from seeing the gift that failure brings. So, is it any wonder that our children go to pieces and give up so easily when they are faced with failure?
If we are to support our children to become resilient and persevere in the face of challenge and obstacles, then, we must stop making failure such a shameful outcome. There are no winners here. All you end up creating is a nervous, anxious child who will fear to take risks due to their fear of failure.
Inevitably, we all experience failure at some point in our lives, it is a natural process of life itself. But the gift in being knocked down, is in getting back up and this is a gift we can pass to our children.
The Laid Back Guide to Exams and Stress is available from Amazon: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Laid-Back-Guide-Exams-Stress/dp/1628652756/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1534430032&sr=8-1&keywords=the+laid+back+guide+to+exams+and+stress
If you are reading this then chances are that you’ve got a book, article or blog inside you bursting to come out. Over the last few months, everyone I’ve met has had the same burning question: I want to write a book, article, blog, but I don’t know what to write about? This is closely followed by: Do I have anything of value to write about? Will anyone even read it? It can be confusing, like unravelling a ball of tangled wool.
These are common doubts which we all have. We all have a story to tell. Humanity has been telling stories for millennia, so it’s natural that we all have a book inside of us. Yet the hardest part is extracting it and sharing it with the world. Believe me. I’m there with you because these doubts were alive and kicking when I felt the urge to write my second book, ‘The Little Book of Animal Wisdom’. Yet, like so many, I couldn’t quite grasp what I would write about. At first, I engaged my mind, determine to figure out what I could write, wracking my brains furiously to grasp the elusive strands of an idea. And the funny thing is, that the more I reached for it, getting very stressed in the process, the more elusive it became until I gave up chasing this Will-o’- the- wisp and relaxed into my life.
And, most ironically, it was when I gave up chasing and embraced the moment of my life driving down a country road, windows down, admiring the lush green trees swaying in the wind, the warm, rich smell of the summer breeze playing with my hair, so grateful to be alive, that the idea literally dropped in – no effort required. It was like a file had opened and the contents downloaded, in an instant!
So, the first thing is to relax and get engaged in your life. Writing is a creative process and when you get involved in the creative process of your life, it can act as a catalyst for all sorts of creativity. Slowing down and getting interested in your life is a great way to get right into the middle of the action – after all, that’s where it’s taking place.
The next thing is that you already have the knowledge you need to write your book, article or blog. We know so much more than we give ourselves credit for and discount so much of what we know. I am willing to bet that the skills you already have and take for granted, and might not really appreciate, will be a godsend to someone else. Share your gifts.
At the same time, it’s important to be interested in what you are writing about because if you’re not engaged with it, it will be obvious. Plus, you will feel like you’re dragging your heels, or, in this case, your pen or keyboard finger across the page. Here is where you need to disengage your brain, which might be telling you what you should write about, or what is popular to write about, and engage your passion for the things you’d love to write about.
OK, so what happens after the download?
The most important thing I learnt from my own journey and how I started mapping my book was by asking myself these questions:
• Why did I want to write this book?
• Who was I writing this book for?
• What did I want to write about?
• When was I going to write it?
• How was I going to write it?
These are important questions to consider before you do anything else because they will give you the clarity you need when it comes to planning and writing your book, article or blog. Also, consider your reader in all of this because they are the ones who will be reading it. What journey do you wish to take them on?
From these questions, you will be able to map out your chapter headings, and from your chapter headings, you can begin to fill in the content. The same thing applies with your article or blog.
Finally, remember to have fun with it – don’t get so caught up on whether it sounds right or looks right, simply write what comes to you. The art of writing is re-writing and if you’re looking for the perfect moment to start, the perfect moment is write now.
Naz Ahsun x
You can buy ‘The Little Book of Animal Wisdom’ from Amazon. For each book sold, a donation goes to Oak and Burrows Wildlife Rescue Centre.
If you want to find out more about my self-publishing company then visit www.visionmakerpress.com
The United Kingdom has long been known to be a nation of animal lovers. Our acts of human kindness toward animals is incredible! We go to great lengths to help animals who are endangered, injured or homeless. Yet can the same be said when it comes to our homeless human population?
When it comes to animals, we do not judge them, ridicule them nor turn a blind eye to their pain. We are ready to step in and do what needs to be done. Yet the same cannot be said for our homeless population. Far too often we make judgments and have our own opinions about them, which are widely inaccurate; based on our own fears and prejudices.
So, in this blog, I want to share my own experience and insight with our homeless community. By the way, if you’re thinking that this doesn’t relate to your area or your community, then think again. With the rise in rough sleepers for the seventh consecutive year in the UK, there is no doubt that wherever you live, there will be a proportion of your community who are homeless: whether it be sofa surfing, temporary accommodation or one of the growing numbers of rough sleepers.
At the end of last month, I had the privilege of meeting some of the members of Swindon Homeless Volunteers, and through them, met one of the many people they support. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting, but an avid reader of The Game of Thrones and a talented artist was not one of them. This member of the homeless community has grown to become their friend and is polite, respectful and living in a noisy, fumed-filled, bitterly-cold car park. It is clear to me that two additional factors help this friend gain some sense of wellbeing in present circumstance: creativity and kindness.
With the increasing news coverage being given to homelessness in the UK, we are all becoming familiar with the growing issues faced by our homeless community such as: access to basic human needs of housing, food and clean water; the need for social interaction and connection. Yet there is also another element that can have a huge impact on someone who is homeless: the opportunity to participate in a creative activity.
One of the most debilitating aspects of homelessness lies in a lack of creative stimulation. The human mind has around 60,000 thoughts a day. Most of them are exactly the same thoughts that just keep repeating themselves like a well-known song. This has a huge impact on how well we feel in ourselves – our thoughts influence our feelings. So if you are homeless and lost in your thoughts of feeling worthless, of little value and lost, then this will only increase your feeling of pain and suffering. But something happens to these thoughts when you undertake a creative activity. It creates a meditative state, which takes you away from your repetitive thoughts as your mind becomes engrossed in the creative activity, consequently giving you a brief respite from those feelings.
It is clear when I met this friend of Swindon Homeless Volunteers, that reading and drawing supports them, massively. In addition to this is their continued capacity for kindness in the midst of their own challenges. I was really touched to hear about how they have recently befriended a family of pigeons – despite having very little to give, this has not stopped them from sharing the food they have with these birds.
What is even more touching is that Swindon Homeless Volunteers have donated birdseed so that everyone is provided for. In fact, it is clear that members of the homeless community mean a lot to the volunteers and have become more than a faceless, homeless person in desperate need of human kindness; they have become friends.
It seems that our reputation of being a nation of animal lovers rings true. It is also clear that we have the capacity to expand this brief and share our kindness toward animals with our homeless, human community.
If you would like to know more about Swindon Homeless Volunteers then go to their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SwindonHomelessVolunteers/
If you would like to donate to Swindon Homeless Volunteers, then go to their Just Giving page: https://www.justgiving.com/crowdfunding/swindon-homeless-volunteers-march-2018
…there was a young girl who had a passion for reading and dreamt of one day writing her own stories. She grew up lost in the woods with Mole, Ratty and Toad of Toad Hall; going on adventures in Narnia and wondering if princesses really could feel a pea under a tower of mattresses. These are but a few stories that shaped and inspired her, winding their magic like one of Olivander’s Wands on an unsuspecting Hogwarts student.
And the power of story is not to be underestimated; it is a powerful medium that touches a deep intrinsic part of us that thirsts for stories. From the dawn of humankind, we have told stories which have shaped our societies, our experience, our perspectives and our dreams. They have the power to uplift and the power to destroy. Such is the power of story.
Even the word story has significance and is influencing the world of social media: Snapchat offers it’s subscribers an opportunity to create a compilation of snaps and Facebook’s latest story feature includes a short collection of user photos and videos that tell the story of, a day in the life, of its users.
Everyone, it seems, is jumping on the story bandwagon.
Yet what are the ingredients of a really good story? What is it that makes a story so compelling?
Over the years, I’ve explored, tried and tested formulas for story writing. I remember my first attempt at writing a Mills and Boon romance (like so many new writers) eager to get paid for my writing. I read the books incessantly, attended workshops and submitted manuscripts after manuscript. The feedback was good (mostly) yet, clearly, there was some missing ingredient that kept eluding me.
It took me some years to discover what it was – my heart. By heart, I mean me, myself and I. I have begun to discover the power of opening my heart to what truly resonates with me. Opening my heart, my eyes, my ears, all of my senses to the world around me really does help me to connect more deeply with it, and inspire a deeper connection with others. It isn’t quite what I expected; my writing journey is taking me on unexpected, unknown paths which are exciting, quite magical and full of heart.
So, for our stories to resonate with others, the one ingredient to always include is our open hearts, seasoned with our passion, our love, our compassion, our darkest emotions so that each stage of our story resonates with our readers.
There are many books that will be celebrated this World Book Day and, in the celebrating, let us remember the hearts that have gone into creating these powerful stories that will resonate with us, long after the reading.
From my very first speaking engagement at the age of 9, I have always found the spoken word a powerful medium. However, it wasn’t until I published my first book that I was launched, more formally, into this field.
My experience in education, exam stress management and wellbeing, homelessness and writing has given me the opportunity to share my story and experience to many audiences including: at The Best You Expo 2017; schools, community groups and workshops.
We each have a story to tell. Our lives and our experiences are unique. It is from this uniqueness that we can offer an insight, a solution, or a different perspective that supports others and the wider community.
I do believe that we are here to uplift each other on this journey that is our life, increasingly so, as new challenges come our way, requiring a holistic approach, collaboration and new solutions.
If you would like to book me as a speaker, then please do email me for further details.
Book Writing Intensive 101
If you want to publish your book in record time then sign up for our Book Writing Intensive 101 course.
We hold an intensive three times a year where we help you to write your book in just 2 weeks! From there, we take your book to print, offering a professional and quality service so that you have a professional looking book to be proud of.
What can you expect during this intensive course?
Weekend writing retreat (excluding accommodation and travel) valued @ £560.00
Writing Coach services valued @ £2800.00 for 14 days 1:1 coaching
Editing services valued @ £13.60 per 1000 words
Proof reading services valued @ £9.60 per 1000 words
Design and printing services including design of the book cover, pagination, proofing, print cost plus 100 copies of your book valued @ £3200.00
Total Value: £7,256.00
Total investment for you: £1997.00
Limited spaces for 8 people.
A non-refundable £500 booking fee will be required to secure your place. This will be deducted from the total price for the course. There will be a 14-day cooling off period.
Book Writing Intensive 101 2018:
7 April 2018
Other dates tbc