Sunday 11 December 2016

Strikes are less than ideal - but students need to make the best of a bad situation

Aoife Walsh

Published 29/10/2016 | 02:30

Teachers on the picket line at Pobalscoil Neasáin in Baldoyle, Dublin Photo: Mark Condren
Teachers on the picket line at Pobalscoil Neasáin in Baldoyle, Dublin Photo: Mark Condren

With uncertainty hanging over the next half of the school term, students, and parents, are likely to be wondering how they can maximise their time, if school life is disrupted.

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While the situation is less than ideal, there are a number of things that students, especially exam candidates, can do to keep the impact of any school closures to a minimum.

Students who are sitting exams this year will need to approach their work slightly differently from those who are not, and younger students cannot be expected to work independently for the same length of time as we might expect from older students.

Next week is mid-term break when all schools are closed. Exam students are likely to have been assigned work from their teacher to be completed over mid-term, such as completion of projects, assigned revision or essays. Mid-term gives students the opportunity to work on tasks that take a little more time as well as doing this work without being exhausted.

For Leaving Certificate candidates, revising fifth year work practice questions will be really helpful. Exam year students should make a plan for the week, which is realistic, and follow it.

For non-exam years, mid-term is about relaxing and recuperating. Rest is essential to allow students to perform to their best next term. However, any student who finds their first term has not worked out as intended may take some time to get themselves back on track.

The question arises as to what students should do if their school is closed for a day or days after November 7.

In the event that schools close after mid-term, either indefinitely or for the flagged strike days, all students should use this time to consolidate their learning by working at home.

As with the mid-term break, study during school closures may be approached differently depending on the year group. Where possible, teachers are likely to give guidance to their students on how they should spend their time. They may assign extra work or suggestions topics for revision. As we are entering unknown territory this may not be possible.

Juniors students who are not in an exam year should consider doing two subjects a day. They can begin by revising for the Christmas exams and ensuring they are familiar with all that has been covered this term.

Children of this age group will find maintaining even this level of study a challenge as it may not be something they have done before. Revision will put them well ahead. As first years don't have work from previous years to return to they might consider reading ahead in the text book (however, this is in no way essential). When the teacher gets to this topic the students will already be familiar with it, which will result in quicker learning and better retention when it is covered for the second time in class. This can be a helpful study technique for anyone who finds it difficult to retain information taught in class.

When the situation is resolved all teachers will be working hard to get the courses finished. Therefore the pace of work is likely to increase. Ensuring that they fully understand content that has already been taught means that students will have the necessary knowledge to work at this pace when they return.

Few young people have the self-discipline and focus needed to maintain work and focus for longer periods of time when away from school, so it is a good idea to follow the school timetable. This will put structure on the day.

Students should get up at the normal time and begin working at the time school normally starts. For example, if a student normally has English class for 40mins at 9am, then at 9am they should work on English for 40mins. They should also follow the daily timetable for taking breaks and lunch. In order to maximise the time, students should decide in advance what they would like to achieve that day and write it down.

As part of their planning, students should create a list of goals for each subject and set out the time in which they would like to achieve them. Once they have completed any work that teachers have suggested, Leaving Certificate students can use this time to work on practice questions and revise fifth year work. Finally, all students may find that they have fewer opportunities to participate in sports, activities and see their friends while schools are closed.

These are all important aspects of school life and key to maintaining good mental health. As well as academic work, students and parents might consider including time in the day to meet friends, do some exercise and get outside. Maintaining a balance in life is an essential part of being a successful student. Students should trust that teachers will get them to where they need to be when it has passed. By using time away from school to revise and learn content that has been covered, students will have time to cover new content when the time comes.

Aoife Walsh is a guidance counsellor at Malahide Community School, Co Dublin.

Irish Independent

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