Tuesday 23 January 2018

Tailoring study to needs of the child

A teacher with 30 years experience has devised a personalise learning plan

Katy McLister runs an educational business called Pathways to Potential. Photo: James Connolly.
Katy McLister runs an educational business called Pathways to Potential. Photo: James Connolly.

Ciaran Byrne

Katy McLister knew there had to be another way. As a teacher with almost 30 years experience, she could see many children - and teachers - struggling with the huge curriculum load and the pressure that comes with exams - so much tuition and studying.

Cramming serves little long term purpose for any child and yet Ireland's education system is still centred around the need to take in huge amounts of information with the aim of sitting exams, in an often overwhelming burst, after two years.

"Some children are good at this, most are not," says Katy, who in recent years began researching and learning more about the different ways that children take in information.

Her answer was a personalised learning plan designed to help children maximise their learning and study techniques in the manner that best suits them as an individual.

Pathways to Potential is aimed at children entering second level education and provides up to eight teacher hours built into a personalised report.

"We assess how your child takes in information and use the results to create an individualised educational roadmap unique to them, which can give them the power to succeed," she says.

"This empowers the child to develop good learning and studying habits that will last throughout their entire education." Pathways to Potential is delivered by Katy and a network of fully-qualified professional teachers, all currently registered with the Teaching Council of Ireland.

She began her research after a chance conversation with a friend who was frustrated and struggling with her son in an effort to engage him with his studies.

Many children are struggling, because they, and their parents, have little understanding of how to study in a manner which is appropriate to them as an individual.

"You cannot do a one size fits all but that's exactly what most education systems do.

"Our children tend to be passive, not active, learners. Knowing what constitutes effective study habits; knowing and understanding yourself as an individual learner is vital to learning with confidence," says Katy.

Surprisingly, she believes, most of our children have little or no idea how they learn, let alone how to study.

"Early October is an important time of the school year. Students have had time to become accustomed to the new academic year and get a measure of their new teachers, classrooms and school books.

"This is the ideal time to establish and settle into a good study routine. It's important then because it sets the tone for the rest of the year, particularly if it is an exam year."

But, having said that it is never too late to begin a more structured approach to study, according to Katy.

The Antrim-born teacher has a lifetime of experience of working with children as well as adults who have a range of learning difficulties and other educational challenges.

Katy, who is a Homeschool Community Liaison Officer at Ballinode Community College in Co Sligo, says her guiding principle is that every child and adult is different and learning is a personal experience.

Her family is no different. She has experienced similar difficulties with her own children, which had led to endless expensive grinds and holiday cramming courses for exams.

Katy devised the methodology for her programme in consultation with the help of an educational psychologist and a guidance counsellor, and continues to avail of their expertise, as well as other professionals with many years experience in education, at both primary and post-primary level.

She launched it last year and while she is Sligo-based her associates deliver the service on a national basis. The Pathways To Potential service helps students by creating a personalised individual learning plan which includes exploring learning styles and strengths. There are also research-based study skills and other learning tips.

Katy uses a range of tests including a VAK (Visual Auditory Kinaesthetic) learning style assessment and another test called the 'The Murphy'- Meisgeier Type Indicator for Children (MMTIC) which helps identify which study and learning techniques might suit.

"Knowing how you learn, being aware of personal strengths empowers the student to move from being a passive to an active learner and boosts confidence - and success in academia feeds into self-confidence generally," says Katy.

Students learn what works best for them in the classroom and at home - regardless of individual teacher's methodology or curriculum. Katy believes that a personal learning plan is the "missing link" in our educational journey.

"Passive learning to active learning - it's a no-brainer really," says Katy.

See more: pathwaystopotential.ie

New structure benefits visual learner Matthew

One parent who has enlisted Katy's help is Jackie McMullen, mother of 14-year-old Matthew.

She said: "We have two children and our daughter would go upstairs to study.

"As parents, we didn't really know that she was not doing it in a structured way.

"Then, with Matthew, we thought, right, let's see if we can help here and we heard about Katy."

To many parents, the basics of effective study might sound like common sense but Jackie believes that this is what is lacking for many children.

"Matthew has plenty of ability but the problem was he was getting by in exams by the skin of his teeth. Even he knew he might be doing better.

"We discovered that he was a much more visual, kinaesthetic learner. Now, if he needs a break, he takes one, he walks and talks it through, squeezes a stress-ball, works it out. He can deal with mind blocks."

Jackie says Matthew's study habits have already changed; it's taken seriously and structured to suit his personality.

She adds: "He couldn't self-regulate but now he has the tools to help him. It's not just for school either, I think he can take this way of learning into his college and work life."

Irish Independent

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