Stella Franzese, Psychologist
In a funding based educational system, it can be challenging for teachers to adequately support students who they have identified as having significant educational needs, however were not eligible for funding under their education system.
Without dedicated funding and limited resources to support the particular student, teachers often report feeling somewhat helpless. In these cases, teachers tend to feel that the demands of the curriculum are forever exceeding the level of the student’s abilities and that the child is not receiving a satisfactory amount of support in accordance with their educational needs.
In addition, the students themselves begin to feel discouraged at school, as their academic successes are inconsistent and subpar compared to their peers. This can lead to feelings of stress, poor self-efficacy and poor self-esteem.
While acknowledging that each student and their circumstances are unique, there are some simple steps that school staff alongside parents can take to facilitate discussion about the student’s needs and begin planning for appropriate interventions within the resources available.
1: Be self-forgiving. In most cases, it is a reality that the level of adjustments required to extensively support this child may be beyond what you as one person (with 20+ students to simultaneously support) can achieve in a classroom setting. Be prepared to accept that your absolute best efforts as a teacher may only account for a portion of the adjustments that the child requires.
2: Assessment. The first step to providing individualised support to a student with educational needs is to understand what their unique learning needs are.
The type of assessments that will be completed/sought will depend on the presenting concerns (medical, language, cognitive, sensory etc.). For example, children who experience difficulties with comprehension/with their expressive vocabulary may benefit from a language assessment.
It is more than likely that if a child has been identified as having significant educational needs that standardised assessment would have already been completed to identify the specific strengths and targets for intervention of the child.
Usually children with identified difficulties in school systems are referred for a cognitive (or psychoeducational)/language assessment (depending on the presenting concerns) which is usually completed by the Psychologists/Speech Pathologists in the Student Support Services team.
This service is of no cost to the family/school, however waiting periods may vary. Once school staff and parents are aware of the child’s level of functioning in the relevant areas, individualised support planning can commence.
3: Plan. A collaborative support system (containing teachers, parents and external service providers if any) for these children is essential in supporting the student’s unique needs. It is important that this support system discuss each area of development and who/what will be responsible for this aspect of intervention.
For example, if it was identified that the child has complex sensory needs, then a classroom sensory diet can be developed in conjunction with an external Occupational Therapist and implemented by the classroom teacher daily. In addition, a Psychologist may suggest appropriate social-emotional strategies that can be implemented in a classroom setting.
To facilitate discussion about the unique needs of your student, I have summarised just a couple of general examples of recommendations that may be suggested in a planning meeting. However, it is important that the support team maintain their unique goals to one or two important objectives at a time and do not overwhelm the student with too many interventions at any one time.
Social-Emotional / Behavioural
4: Review and Revise
Pay attention to how the student is responding to the planned interventions and seek to implement these consistently for a minimum of four weeks. Review the student’s progress with the support team and make revisions to the approach/interventions as required. It is also important that progress is reflected on and the interventions evaluated by the child themselves. Overall, it is vital that the support team work hard to ensure that the student feels supported and successful in order for them to thrive from appropriate intervention.
Stella Franzese, Psychologist
We can all agree that the ‘school world’ children live in today is completely different to ours ‘back in the day’. There are notable differences in the subjects studied, classroom layout (assigned desks vs flexible learning spaces), interests (outdoor cricket vs Minecraft), jargon used (“the bomb” vs “lit”), technology available and teaching methods provided to students (blackboards and paper vs interactive whiteboards and iPads). Consistent with these changes, there has been a shift in the way we think about and assess children’s progress, thinking and learning in school settings.
Imagine that you have a son named ‘Johnny’ in Grade One. He is a vivacious and affectionate boy who loves sports and enjoys going to school. His teacher has completed her usual assessments to determine Johnny’s progress in fundamental subjects (reading, writing and maths). From Johnny’s previous school reports, you’re concerned that he’s performing below standard and don’t want him to fall behind further. One day, Johnny’s teacher and Assistant Principal sit you down and ask you to sign a consent form as they believe that given Johnny’s difficulties he may benefit from a Cognitive assessment and/or Oral Language assessment. At this point you’re thinking, my son would benefit from what? Why? How is this going to help him?
The ‘What’. What are they talking about?
First off, let’s define cognition.
Cognition is our mental process of not only acquiring information, but making sense of it.
Do these assessments have a name or is it just ‘cognitive assessment’?
The most commonly used cognitive assessments in Victorian schools are:
For children in Years 11 and 12 there is the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-IV) for individuals aged 16.0 to 90 years 11 months. However, it is rare that cognitive assessments at this age are administered for educational purposes.
Cognitive assessments (or intelligence tests/IQ tests) are used in school settings to assess a child’s level of overall cognitive (aka mental) ability, learning capacity and identify their cognitive strengths and weaknesses (for example, does your child thrive with visual information? Are they good at problem solving? Do they better deal with verbal information?).
What do these assessments measure?
These assessments measure cognitive abilities within 5 primary indexes, or ‘areas’ of intelligence:
There are many other ‘ancillary’ or ‘other’ indexes that can also be calculated, however it’s not a ‘need to know’ for now. If relevant to your child’s case the Psychologist can explain it to you.
The assessment within a whole process
The cognitive assessment itself is actually NOT the only thing Psychologists do when they conduct a cognitive assessment. Here is a brief dot point summary of the process:
Now, depending on the unique situation of your child, there may be other things that occur alongside this ‘standard process’. For example, if you’re looking to obtain funding through the school system for Intellectual Disability, a Psychologist would have to complete other assessments AS WELL as this and write a separate funding report.
Cognitive assessment, part of a formula
It is quite often that the entire cognitive assessment process (from parent consult onwards) is paired with other standardised assessment for different referral questions. Here is a brief snapshot.
Intellectual Disability: Cognitive Assessment + Adaptive Functioning Assessment
Language Disorder: Cognitive Assessment + Language Assessment
Specific Learning Disorder: Cognitive Assessment + Achievement Assessment (sometimes memory assessment and phonological awareness testing is also included)
Giftedness: Cognitive Assessment + Gifted Rating Scales or other information gathering
The ‘does this ring a bell?’ game
A good way to understand the abilities that cognitive assessments measure is to know what the “strengths and weaknesses” in these skills actually look like in school aged children. Have a look at this table and see if any of these ‘ring a bell’ or ‘ring true’ to your child.
Now that we understand what it measures, how do I make sense of these results?
A lot of scores come out of cognitive assessments, however I feel that parents should be knowledgeable of two things:
Percentile ranks reflects how a child performed compared to children the same age. Let’s say we lined up 100 boys the same age as Johnny in order of ‘ability. The little boy sitting at position 1 would be the worst performing and 100 the best. If I told you that Johnny was sitting at the 50th percentile, it means that he is RIGHT in the middle and performing as he should be for his age OR that he is performing better than 50% of children his age. With cognitive assessments, the Average Range falls within the 25th to the 75th percentile.
Put simply, standard scores are these converted scores that Psychologists use to determine where Johnny’s cognitive abilities lie in comparison to other children his age and what range of ability he falls under. You’ll see ranges associated with standard scores for the indexes and Full-Scale IQ. As an example, any standard score between 90 and 109 falls within the Average Range.
Here is a general scoring guideline table for quick reference:
What do schools do with cognitive assessment results?
Psychologists make recommendations that teachers can use to develop a personalised learning plan for the child. These recommendations are made based on your child’s strengths and weaknesses. As a very simple example, Johnny might have a personal strength with visual-spatial skills but weaknesses in working memory.
The psychologist might then recommend that all instructions provided to Johnny in the classroom be concise, clear and provided to him one at a time. The psychologist might also recommend that instructions or demonstrations in the classroom be highly visual in nature when being delivered to him or that verbal instructions are paired with visual stimuli.
Depending on the reason for the referral, these results and the report might be passed onto a paediatrician or submitted as evidence for a funding application within the Victorian school system.
The cognitive assessment process is a highly rewarding one. It provides educators and parents with the opportunity to better understand the learning needs of the child involved, and also to address your concerns as parents about why they are falling behind academically.
At Hopscotch and Harmony, we have a team of Psychologists including myself who are highly experienced in conducting cognitive assessments and thoroughly enjoy collaborating with parents and educators to achieve the best outcomes for children.
To make an appointment, please don’t hesitate to ring the Werribee Clinic on (03) 9741 5222.
I have developed a “Guide to cognitive assessment: A cheat sheet” as a resource for schools and parents. This provides a brief snapshot of the contents in this blog post. I hope you find it useful!
Kessia Ianzano, Psychologist
There is often a fine line between young athletes playing sport for fun, and the desire to be a successful elite athlete. As a psychologist who has worked with an array of athletes from elite, state and local levels, there are often psychological barriers to an athlete’s success.
Detailed below are 5 effective ways to prepare a young athlete for success.
Control what you can control
Sport generates powerful emotional responses among participants. An athlete’s mood will be influenced by situational factors such as weather conditions, sporting arena and your opponent(s) to name a few. It is how we manage these factors that determines an athlete’s success. By using attentional deployment an athlete will be able to remain focused on their own race/competition. Attentional deployment involves diverting attention away from elements of competition that cannot be controlled by using music or focusing on your breath as a distraction.
Focus on the performance and be present in the moment
A technique used to help an athlete concentrate during sport is called moment-for- moment. This strategy encourages the athlete to focus only on the one task that he/she has to do at that point in that time. This means, not to worry about things that they have already done (successfully or unsuccessfully) and not to worry about things that they have to do in the future.
Believe in yourself
Negative self-talk is an athlete’s own worst enemy. Developing cognitive strategies to reframe unrealistic or maladaptive thought patterns is key to an athlete’s success. Try setting SMART (specific, measureable, achievable, relevant and timely) goals in order to maintain positive self-talk and achievable success.
Use Mental Imagery
Developing and rehearsing images of ideal technique, attitudes, and emotional states can create a template for competitive performance. This can be practiced by building mental models for performance. These models are different from achievement goals or affirmations in that they define the process of the performance itself. By visualising your best performance and identifying important aspects, as well as considering your attitude and frame of mind, you are on your way to success.
Learning to relax through breath has several benefits. One benefit is that breathing can be used to reduce stress and tension. In fact, muscular tension is often a result of mental stress. For example, when you are anticipating the start of a race, you are likely unnecessarily contracting unneeded muscles leading to a cumulative fatiguing effect. A simple breathing exercise laying down and being aware of your breath and the rise and fall of your abdomen prior to competition will be very effective in relaxing the mind and body.
By attempting one or all of these tips to prepare for your next competition, you will be on your way to achieving what YOU believe to be success.
Written by Shivaun Pereira, Educational and Developmental Psychologist
Jake was in Grade 6 and getting suspended for misbehaviour; he was constantly leaving the classroom and giving his teacher ‘attitude’. Through investigation, we worked out that Jake actually didn’t know a large number of the letter sounds. He couldn’t read directions on worksheets or even write a coherent sentence. His misbehaviour was his way of avoiding challenging work in the classroom. Intervention around reading made a real difference to Jake’s schooling and his self-esteem.
We know that students learn at different paces, but how do you know whether a child’s slow progress is actually due to a learning difficulty? How can we tell if there is something that we could be doing differently to help a child succeed and thrive in school?
Here are some things that are often reported about children with learning difficulties:
It’s important to note that many students will experience some of these difficulties - it doesn’t necessarily mean that they have an underlying learning problem. However, working to understand your child within their individual context can assist you to isolate the cause of slow academic progress. Students with a number of the characteristics listed above may benefit from further investigation around their learning.
Psycho-educational assessment by an experienced professional is aimed at analysing the student in a holistic manner and understanding learning ability, strengths and weaknesses to provide the most effective way of supporting learning.
Have a conversation with your child’s teacher if you have concerns about their learning abilities so appropriate intervention can be put in place.
If you require additional guidance regarding your child's learning and behavioural challenges, an Educational and Developmental Psychologist can advise on the most appropriate course of action to suit your child's particular circumstances.
Our first School Transition program is ready to go and we can't wait to jump in! Not only do we have activities that will help new prep children prepare for the start of their schooling journey, but we include a social thinking program which will give children the boost they need to navigate their daily interactions with classmates.
We look forward to meeting all the participating children and to support them (and their parents!) in their next step - being a big school kid!
Written by Jessica Cleary, Psychologist
How did your kids go at the beginning of the new school year? If you do kinder or school drop-off you will have noticed some kids take the new challenge in their stride, whereas others have a much harder time with the transition and separation from their mums and dads.
Maybe you found yourself with a little one who was crying and clinging and begging you not to leave. I feel for you if this was the case – it’s so hard! Or maybe your child complained of tummy-aches or headaches before leaving home. This is a common symptom of anxiety.
It’s fairly common for some kids to have troubles adjusting to school. Although there is no magic solution when supporting your child through separation anxiety, here are some ideas for you:
Find a friend
It helps immensely when kids have a friend at school. Ask the teacher who your child seems to play with the most and introduce yourself to the parent at either drop off or pick up. Arrange a play date over at your house or a park to help nurture that relationship.
Talk about it ahead of time
If you know that tomorrow is likely to be another morning of tears and clingy behaviour then talk about it today when you are both feeling calm and relaxed.
When children fear something they need the opportunity to express their feelings. Some of his worries or concerns may seem small or insignificant to us, but for him they are very real and should be respected.
It is important to acknowledge that the feeling of worry is very real for your child. Then focus on solutions to the problem. Highlight the fun parts of the day like playing with a friend or lunchtime. Remind him that after a little bit of upset he was able to enjoy the school day and he got to do new and exciting things. Let him know that you will ALWAYS come back.
Team up with the teacher
Work in partnership with the teacher. Experienced teachers have been through this before so are likely to have a few good ideas. If the separation anxiety doesn’t ease after a few days the teacher may be able to give your child a special job to do immediately upon getting to school. This will serve as a transition activity and is something for him to look forward to. Get to school early so the teacher can personally greet your child and take him to the activity.
Don’t focus on the separation
On the way to school talk about the first thing your child will do once he gets in the classroom. It shifts the focus from the separation to the enjoyable activity. This helps him mentally prepare before he is physically at school. He starts to visualise the inside of the classroom and can start to get used to the idea of being there.
Something like this: “When you go to the reading corner, what book are you going to read first?” or “Which colouring in page will you choose when you get there – the train or the castle?”. Or if you have an arrangement with the teacher (see previous tip) you can talk about this with enthusiasm.
Don’t talk about ‘school’
At home in the morning, don’t talk about ‘school’ too much. Talk about ‘reading time’ and ‘drawing’ and 'play time’. Talk about that first activity that he will be doing with the teacher (if you have one planned). The word ‘school’ may currently have a negative, anxiety provoking association for your child so avoid it if possible. Instead talk about the activities he will be doing at school that you know he enjoys. This makes the idea of school more concrete and less abstract.
A special note from you kept in his pocket, or matching love hearts drawn on his and your hand can help your child feel connected to you during time apart.
Sometimes separation anxiety occurs in the context of more generalised anxiety or trauma. Maybe there is a real problem at school that is causing distress. Listen carefully to your child and do a little detective work if you sense there is more to the story.
Could it be that he doesn’t know how to ask to go to the toilet? Or is he being bullied? Does he find it hard navigating the school grounds at recess? Listen carefully and get more information from the teacher to help you work out what the underlying problem may be.
When to seek professional support
Often patience and using the above tips can ease separation anxiety. However, there are times when it is necessary to reach out for additional support. You may need further help if:
Remember, your child isn’t trying to manipulate you. The feelings are real for your child and quite distressing. Although you may not always be able to prevent the separation anxiety, you can always empathise with your child and connect with him with cuddles and snuggles at the end of the day.
You wouldn’t be the first parent to cry on your way to work after holding it together at school drop-off. This experience is so very stressful for parents. Look after yourself to help manage your own stress. Sleep and eat well and talk to a trusted friend who will listen and support you. Taking care of yourself and allowing yourself your own emotional release will help keep you centred and more emotionally available for your child.
Deciding when to send your child to school is an agonising decision for some parents. Age-wise your child may be able to start in the new school year (where did the years go?!), but what if you suspect your child is not ready for school? Or perhaps your child’s kinder teacher has raised some concerns. Is your child really ready to start the first of 13 years of formal education? Although there is no simple answer we can explore what ‘School Readiness’ means and how you might make your decision.
Let’s first define ‘School Readiness’. It is important to understand that ready for school and ready to learn are not the same thing. Children learn from their families and surroundings all the time, and will continue to do so throughout their lifetime. All children are born ready to learn! School readiness, however, implies being prepared to achieve in a structured learning setting. The latter is where each child differs. Just like children differ in when they learn to walk and talk, they also differ in when they acquire skills necessary to start school.
According to a recent UNICEF report there are three dimensions to school readiness:
(1) Ready children, focusing on children’s learning and development.
(2) Ready schools, focusing on the school environment and practices that support a smooth transition for children into primary school and promote the learning of all children.
(3) Ready families, focusing on parental and caregiver attitudes and involvement in children’s early learning and transition to school.
Let’s take a closer look at each dimension:
How do you know if your child is ready for school? Well it seems this depends on who you speak to. In the past the maturity level of the child was said to be critical with the child needing to be able to participate in quiet, focused work. Parents most commonly overemphasise pre-academic skills and knowledge when assessing their child’s school readiness. But guess what? Reciting the alphabet, counting to 100, reading, and being keen to attend school are not the most important factors to consider when determining child readiness. It has been shown that social, behavioural and emotional competencies are the best indicators of how successful a child will be at school.
It is ok if your child is not ready to start school when the education department expects your child should attend. Keep in mind that every child is different and even the recommended school starting ages of children around the world are different! Western countries don’t agree with some starting their children at 4 years and others at 7 years. Even starting ages of children in Australia vary from state to state. Requirements for each state can be found here.
School readiness is a combination of cognitive development and learned behaviours; social skills; attitude and emotional development; and physical skills. Ask yourself the following questions to help you decide if your child is school ready:
Is your child’s proposed school ready for your child? If there are areas that your child needs support with, does the school have the resources to help develop these skills? Visit the proposed school and ask questions, questions, and more questions! Talk to the teachers about the areas in which you feel your child requires support. Are the teachers concerned? Or do they reassure you that they can work on these skills and it’s not a big issue? If a child has a disability or needs extra support, does the school adopt inclusive practices? They will surely answer yes they do, but find out what these practices look like in the classroom.
Schools are likely to offer a transition program to support children entering their first year of primary school. Find out what this entails as the programs differ from school to school. Your child may need a little more preparation than the transition program offers.
Educational experiences in the preschool years are often very different to what is experienced at primary school. The Early Years Learning Framework emphasises play based learning up to 5 years of age. This philosophy differs significantly to what children can expect to encounter once they start school. The National Curriculum is academic focused and is more structured with more expectations than preschool programs. There is little time for children to transition between the two ways of learning. Ideally the first two or three years of primary school would be play-based to allow children to slowly transition into more formal academic learning. This would enable children to be children and learn the way they do best - through play.
Prior to entering school, your child’s development is likely to have primarily occurred in the context of your family. Supportive parenting and stimulating home environments have been shown to be among the strongest predictors of school performance during primary school. Parent beliefs, attitudes and commitment are considered crucial for school success. Are you ready to support your child through formal learning and to build a relationship with your child’s teacher? Are you ready to support your child through the transition from preschool to formal education?
You can help with school readiness by providing a learning environment at home that encourages learning activities such as singing, reading books, telling stories and playing games. Such experiences in the home environment help your child’s social and emotional development, which as previously stated, are key to school success. The attitude and involvement you maintain towards your child’s early learning and development is a fundamental aspect in ensuring a successful transition to school.
Many delayed starters go on to achieve great things. There is no rush. Be guided by your child’s needs. Listen to your intuition - nobody knows your child better than you do! Although your child may cope with the demands of school, is simply coping and getting by sufficient? Let’s send our children when they are most likely to thrive and enjoy their school experience!
If you are agonising over whether your child is ready for school you have probably already spoken to your child’s preschool /kindergarten teacher for guidance. You can also arrange a school readiness assessment to assist your decision making (Hopscotch & Harmony offers these assessments in Melbourne). Ultimately it is your choice as the parent and a choice that can be informed by accessing the right information and support.
Written by Jessica Cleary, Psychologist
Your child’s classroom teacher will spend an enormous amount of time with your child – much of your child’s waking hours during the week will be with his or her teacher. The relationships between teacher, parent and child will affect your child’s level of happiness over the school year, so it’s important so start off on a positive note and continue to work together with your child’s best interests at heart.
1. First introductions
The first week of school is a very hectic time for teachers who are busy getting to know new students, are planning for the year, and are meeting many parents. Before school on the first day is not the time to corner the teacher and give a run down of your child’s academic history and personal accomplishments. However, make a connection in those first few days by introducing yourself and ask if you could meet at a mutually convenient time to introduce yourself further.
In the meantime a short letter to the teacher helps him or her get to know your child. You could list your child’s strength and interests, your goals and hopes for the coming year, and your contact details. It’s a good idea to hold off on the negative stuff (unless it is significant). Highlighting that “Susie can be cheeky” or “Max can be a bit of a terror at times” is probably going to influence the teacher’s first impression of your child. Highlight the positives and the essentials, and you are off to a good start.
2. Keep that communication going
Communicate regularly throughout the year. It is important for teachers to know if there are circumstances at home that may affect your child’s behaviour at school. This could be parental separation, a family member’s illness, or even something exciting like a new baby or upcoming holiday.
Regular, ongoing communication is essential – don’t rely on the few parent-teacher interviews as a way to connect. Let the teacher know when everything is going right throughout the year – when your child comes home bubbly and beaming with happiness, when your child is enjoying homework projects, when your child tells fun stories about the day. A little note of appreciation can make a teacher’s day (especially if it’s been a challenging one).
3. Dealing with conflict
If little Lochie comes home saying how his teacher yelled at him in front of everyone, empathise with his feelings (“gee, that must have felt pretty bad, huh?”) but try and retain a neutral stance until you have more information. Don’t approach the teacher all guns blazing (which sets the stage for conflict). Instead, find a way to ask the teacher if everything is ok. You never know – the teacher may have had a really tough day or something might be going on in the teacher’s personal life. Teachers are humans first and being supportive is likely to generate the best outcomes for your child.
Related content: School's here...and so is Separation Anxiety:
8 Tips for Parents of Clingy Kids
4. Helping out in class
Enormous insight into your child’s learning experience is gained by helping out in the classroom. Offering an hour or two here and there is a nice way to stay connected with what’s happening in the learning environment and to show your child that you and the teacher are working as a team. Even if you can’t come in during the day, you can still offer to help out. You could ask for a job to do at home (e.g., put together a classroom display) and work on it alongside your child while they do homework, or drop in some craft supplies to the class for an upcoming project.
If you and the teacher are a team then your child is likely to feel more secure and safe at school and home. By being positive and supportive throughout the year the teacher is likely to be more responsive and helpful when you raise concerns. If we are on the same page as our teachers then our children do better.
Have a great school year!