NAPLAN pain

Thank goodness the shadow of NAPLAN assessment has passed over for a year, I hear you say! How well did your family survive this National Assessment Program of Literacy and Numeracy? If you have a teacher, or a year 3, 5, 7 or 9 student in your home, the chances are the effects were keenly felt!

From my perspective (with all my children having finished school) it went pretty smoothly, apart from hearing stories from my daughter who is a student teacher about the stress pervading her year 3 class. It was hard, however, to miss those journalists intent on crowding the news cycle with columns describing parental angst, student anxiety and teacher overwhelm!

I find myself curious about the stressful spin assigned to this testing procedure. These children are young, so what drives their negative perception and angst? What is preventing them from looking on this week as an exciting opportunity to explore their learning ability and find out how they can improve and move ahead in their academic life?

Imagine a world where we are able to transform students’ perception of assessment. I am not an educator, but I am fiercely passionate about supporting student well-being through inspired coaching. Imagine a world where teachers, parents and students were able to escape their NAPLAN pain, and alter their lens about how they view this annual academic testing torture!

My personal vision is to see a Growth Mindset class introduced into every school from year 1, and revisited as part of Formation curriculum every year until year 12. In these age appropriate lessons, students would learn to understand how their brain works (basic neuroscience), and how their neuroplastic brain rewires from repeated effort and perseverance. They would benefit from knowing that responding positively to negative useful feedback helps them to grow intellectually and emotionally, and that their effort is the path to mastery.

We all face challenges – how wonderful it would be if we could look upon these challenges as a chance to discover what works for us and embrace what we can improve on the next time a similar challenge comes along! When obstacles fall onto our path, a Growth Mindset would help us to persist in the face of setbacks and not to give up.

Above all, a Growth Mindset would teach us to let go of self-doubt, fear and anxiety. We may begin to understand that learning is a life-long adventure – much like an endless ladder. Actually not dissimilar from the game of ‘snakes and ladders, where you take several steps forward and then slide back a bit. But there are always more steps to climb and opportunities waiting.

One of the concepts visited in Carol Dweck’s Growth Mindset model is that of peer pressure. Do we feel happy when our peers succeed, or are we threatened by their success? Many parents do feel this pressure, as do the schools who are assessed according to academic performance levels. Having a Growth Mindset enables us to embrace competition, to celebrate the success of others – knowing that we may have more work to do to reach our ability but that we can learn from others along the way without feeling threatened.

Learning is a process, and not an outcome. To be successful at it requires a Growth Mindset, a mindful approach to our study methods and a bucket load of effort and intrinsic motivation. We need to view it as the greatest personal privilege and opportunity, and not as a competition. Freeing our minds from the fear of anticipated difficulty and potential failure creates a threat response in our brain that stifles our ability and creativity. Put simply, it doesn’t bring out the best in us or allow us to showcase what we have managed to learn!

Let’s join hands and change the way NAPLAN and assessment in general is viewed. I challenge all journalists to write positive articles next year, encouraging our educators, parents and students, and challenging the way they think!

Here are some ideas for possible press releases in April 2016 when NAPLAN fever starts to kick in across Australia:

  • Exciting times – NAPLAN’s here! What strengths can you bring along with you to the tests?
  • NAPLAN – your chance to show that it’s the effort that counts!
  • One step at a time – it’s a life-long journey! Enjoy!
  • Embrace the NAPLAN challenge – and remember to have fun at the same time!
  • A calm brain is a clear brain! Remember your Mindful trick before you write!

Cheers Alison