Lower grade boundaries for summer-born children?

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English: A typical Junior Certificate exam hall.

English: A typical Junior Certificate exam hall. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Recently a BBC Radio 4 programme highlighted the differences in achievement between children born at the beginning of the academic year (September to December) and those born at the end of the academic year (May to August). This is not surprising as there can be almost a year difference in intellectual development between a child born in September and one born in August. What seemed to surprise many people s that month of birth affects children even when they are doing their A-levels. So what is the evidence?

Crawford, Deardon and Meghir (2010) examined the differences between the test scores of children at different ages by looking at their performance in national tests such as SATs, GCSEs and A-levels and college/university admissions. They found large differences in achievement at age 7 between children born in September and children born in August. This difference was also linear, which means that September born children performed on average better than children born just one month later in October. The difference between the oldest and youngest children in the year did reduce over time but it was still evident at 18-years-old and affected college/university admissions.

Do other countries have the same problem?

Yes, younger children do perform worse than older children in their year group in other countries too. Fredriksson and Ockert (2005) used Swedish administrative data for the population born 1935–84 to look at the impact of school starting age on education and found that increasing school starting age by one year increases grade point average at the age of 16 by 0.2 standard deviations. Black, Devereux and Salvanes (2008) studied the impact of school starting age on IQ scores and educational attainment using Norwegian administrative data and found that starting school younger has a significant positive effect on IQ scores at age 18 but little effect on educational attainment.

So what can we do to reduce the month of birth effect on achievement?

One solution is to set different grade boundaries at GCSE and A-level for children based on their month of birth. Personally, this seems like the fairest and most practical method of dealing with the issue despite the fact that I have an October-born son who would have an advantage under the current system. All children need to take public examinations at the same time so that teachers can cover the material that is required; therefore, the only practicable solution is to change grade boundaries. However, this would need to be very carefully done to avoid discrimination against any age group.

My book  ‘Psychology for Parents: Birth to teens’ is on sale as an e-book on Amazon and Smashwords.com.

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How easy is it to self-publish an e-book?

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various e-book readers. From right to left iPa...

various e-book readers. From right to left iPad (Apple、2010) kindle DX (Amazon、2009) kindle 2 (Amazon、2009) kindle 1 (Amazon、2007) PRS-505 (Sony、2007) PRS-500 (Sony、2006). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Despite the fact that I am not particularly computer savvy, I have still managed to self-publish my book on Smashwords.com and Amazon. I downloaded the style guide for Smashwords.com and Amazon onto my Kindle and I followed their guidelines to the letter. However, I could have saved myself a lot of time, if I had read the style guides before I wrote my book. Every single paragraph return in my document had to be deleted for Smashwords.com. The Amazon style guide was easier to implement, but there are two downsides to self-publishing on Amazon KDP: One is that people can only download your book if they have a Kindle and the other is that you have to give them 30% share of what you sell unless they are the exclusive sellers. In contrast, Smashwords.com only takes 20% share of what you sell and customers can download your book in lots of different formats. For example, they will add your book to the Apple iBookstore for download.

The most difficult thing to do for those less computer literate is the e-book cover. Smashwords.com says that the cover should ideally be 1600 pixels wide by 2400 pixels tall and the height must be greater than the width. They think that the best looking height: width ratio is 1.5:1.6 and the image needs to be in RGB colour. Now I personally would have no idea where to start producing such an image. However, for those in the know, it can be created in Paint. NET and should be saved as a jpeg image. Fortunately for me, my kind computer-programmer brother did my e-book cover after I sent him some ideas of what I wanted. He also did it for free, which is a bonus as I have no idea whether I will sell any of my books at all.

In fact, the whole process of self-publishing has so far been a bit of an anti-climax. It has been 7 days since I put my book up for sale and I thought I might immediately start selling books but apparently it doesn’t work like that. In the masses of books out there, my book is almost invisible. Therefore, I have started blogging again, in the hope of trying to attract customers to buy my book. Hopefully, someone out there is interested. I have read that some self-publishers put hours of effort into blogging/twittering etc. to advertise their book but at the end of the year, have not achieved much. So I need to make sure I don’t feel too upset if it doesn’t get me anywhere.

There has also been the question of price. What is the ideal price to start selling an e-book for? I have looked on the internet and it seems that you should start by either giving your book away for free or by selling it at a really low price such as £2/$2.99. You then raise the price of your book, once you have some reviews. Ignoring all the advice I have read, I have put my book on for a higher price just to see what happens and also because full-length parenting books seem to sell for more than £2/$2.99. I can see why people prefer to have an agent and a publisher do everything for them. A bit of advice and advertising can be very handy. As I have not had the luck of landing a publisher, I hope I can make my self-publishing journey as success. Wish me luck!

I have recently self-published an e-book ‘Psychology for parents: Birth to teens’. It is on sale at Amazon, Smashwords.com, Barnes and Noble, Kobobooks and Apple iBookstore.

Children’s mental health

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Despite the fact that one in four people will suffer some kind of mental health problem is the course of a year, there is still as stigma attached to admitting you have depression or anxiety. One of my friends told me recently that they have depression but they did not want me to tell anyone else. This is a sad situation as I would hope that if people knew about it they would be supportive and non-judgemental. I am pleased that they have an advertising campaign on the television at the moment suggesting that people should talk about mental health more.childtherapist

We also need to be aware that children can have mental health issues too. About 10% of children have a mental health problem at any one time. Parents should look out for mental health problems in their children especially at times of stress. For example, if there has been a family bereavement or your child is being bullied, they may be more vulnerable to depression. Some of the symptoms of depression are: tearfulness, decreased interest in activities that were previously enjoyed, low energy levels, irritability, problems sleeping and saying they want to be dead. One charity that offers help for children and teenagers with mental health problems is www.youngmind.org.uk

Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is one treatment for depression (Nauta et al, 2003; Butler, 2006). It works by challenging a child’s beliefs about their life. For example, they make think that no one wants to be my friend because they are being bullied. The therapist aims to replace the child’s negative thoughts with more realistic ones such as ‘Maddy and Alex are my friends’. The behavioural part of the therapy involves getting children to increase their activity levels and practice managing problems. For example, children may be encouraged to get involved in a sports team or to speak up about something they are unhappy with. Children are also asked to talk to any friends and family they feel safe with about their feelings to reduce social isolation.

Mindfulness techniques for children and teenagers http://wp.me/p29Oas-gn

Teaching mindfulness to teenagers

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English: Mindfulness Activities

English: Mindfulness Activities (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My new project at the moment is to teach mindfulness at the secondary school I teach at. So what is mindfulness? Mindfulness involves paying attention to the present moment and becoming more aware of thoughts and feelings. It also involves being able to let go of thoughts and feelings that cause us anxiety. Regular practice of mindfulness helps people to control their thoughts and emotions. It also improves our ability to focus our attention, which is helpful for teenagers revising for their exams. Mindfulness can also stop teenagers reacting to situations and improve their self-esteem and wellbeing. Research shows that mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) can relieve stress, anxiety and depression in children (Saltzman and Goldin, 2008). Schonert-Reichel and Lawlor (2010) compared teenagers who had participated in the mindfulness education program with those who did not and found significant and positive improvements in their positive emotions, namely optimism. Brain scans show that mindfulness can actually change the way our brain works within 8 weeks.

So how can I teach my teenager to be more mindful?

You could start by going for a short 5 minute walk together and really trying to notice your surroundings. Point out anything in your surroundings that you notice along the way. Avoid being distracted in conversation and talk about your experience afterwards. At the end of the walk have a snack together and really focus on what the snack tastes and smells like. This is called mindful eating and helps us to become more aware of our senses. The next step in developing mindfulness is to become more aware of your body. In order to do this you can do a body scan, which involves bringing awareness to different parts of the body as you lie down or sit on a chair. For example, you might start by paying attention to how your abdomen moves in and out as you breathe; you then pay attention to how your legs, arms or shoulders feel. You can download and listen to free audio scripts on the internet, which teach how to do a body scan.

Related links

Does mindfulness work with children and teenagers? http://wp.me/p29Oas-nh

Mindfulness techniques for children and teenagers http://wp.me/p29Oas-gn

Children’s mental health http://wp.me/p29Oas-cv