Neurodiversity Week 2019

This week has been Neurodiversity Week at Churchill, as we have been exploring together the variations and differences in our brains that help to make up our rich community.

Neurodiversity is term adopted by sociologist Judy Singer in the late 1990s. She was frustrated that differences in the make-up of our brains were too often being seen as problems or challenges to be overcome, rather than part of the natural variations in our human makeup. She proposed that neurological differences – differences in our brains – should be recognised and respected as much as any other human variation.

It’s a well-accepted fact that everyone’s brain is different. We are all unique. We recognise that our individual brain is “wired up” differently to anybody else’s. My brain, for example is wired up so that I am left handed. As a small child, I reached for objects with my left hand, and instinctively kicked a ball with my left foot. Despite the fact that everyone else in my family was right handed, it’s just the way my brain was made!

There are many other differences in the ways our brains work. Some people are naturally more organised than others; some have better hand-eye coordination; some see colours differently; others have superb memories for names and faces. What Judy Singer recognised was that some differences in the ways our brains work were characterised with negative stereotypes. Labels such as dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD, dyscalculia, autistic spectrum disorder, Tourette’s Syndrome and others were seen as problems to be “fixed” or “cured;” Singer argued instead that they should be respected and recognised.

Neurodivergent individuals may have many strengths that those without the differences lack: perseverance, creativity, problem solving, oral communication, resourcefulness, visualisation, and practical skills being just some examples. This may be why there are so many highly successful individuals who have neurodivergent qualities:

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This week students have been learning about neurodiversity. They have been discussing how we all need to value our differences, and not to see people who differ from us as “other.” How boring would life be if we were all identical? What can we learn from each other? And how can we celebrate our strengths?

Above all, whilst we are all born with different strengths and weaknesses, what we also know is that our abilities and intelligence are not fixed. Through hard work, careful practice and determination, we can improve on all aspects of our natural ability – and that this process continues throughout our life, not just at school.

 

Lessons from the Champions League

What a week of football it’s been! Liverpool and Spurs both overturned seemingly overwhelming odds in the second legs of their semi-finals to set up an all-Premier League final.

There’s no doubt about it – Liverpool were immense on Tuesday night. Coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the first leg to defeat Barcelona 4-3 on aggregate and book their place in the Champions League final is the stuff of legend. When Trent Alexander-Arnold took the corner for Divock Origi to score the fourth Liverpool goal, he caught a team of legends and international superstars napping and dumped them out of the competition.

liverpool

It’s not the first time it’s happened, either. Last year, Barcelona were through to the quarter-finals and carrying a 4-1 lead into the second leg against Roma. They were defeated 3-0 in that second leg, and it was Roma that went through to the semi-finals (where they were beaten by Liverpool!)

This fact did not escape the Barcelona players in the painful aftermath of their defeat this week. Luis Suarez, ex-Liverpool striker now playing for Barcelona, summed it up in a post-match interview:

“We have to do a lot of self-criticism because this is the second time that the same thing has happened to us. We cannot commit the same mistake two years in a row. There are many things we need to consider and think about.”

What struck me about Barcelona is that they went out of the Champions League because the players weren’t concentrating. Liverpool, on the other hand, were completely switched on, focused on the task in hand, and playing every single second as though their lives depended on it. For Liverpool on Tuesday, the idea of “giving up” wasn’t even a possibility. The incredible support at Anfield certainly gave them the belief and the boost they needed.

moura

Then, the following night, Tottenham Hotspur pulled off a second incredible comeback – this time overturning a 3-0 deficit in just 45 minutes of football, away from home against a really strong Ajax side. Just like with Liverpool, the first-choice striker was unable to play, but the team showed in their battling determination that they just refused to be beaten. Lucas Moura was quicker, more focused, more switched on than the Ajax team, and poached the final goal as the final seconds of stoppage time ticked away.

These were two magical nights of football, even for a neutral like me. As a Watford supporter, I hope that my team can capture some of Spurs and Liverpool’s “never give up” fighting spirit in the forthcoming FA Cup Final against Manchester City. And as a Headteacher, I hope that our students can capture some of the same spirit in their endeavours. I hope that our students see that lapses in concentration can cost you, and remember to stay focused all the time. I hope they see that, whilst we all make mistakes, we have to learn from them – and that there’s really no excuse for making the same mistake twice. I hope they see that with hard work, effort and determination, nothing is impossible; and that, with the support of those around you in the community, you’ll never walk alone.

 

Revision: the final stretch

This is a short term, and many of our students are now in the final furlong before the finish line of public exams at GCSE and A-level. Speaking tests and practical exams have already started, and Year 11 and Year 13 can now count the days until their first written exams. I thought this was the ideal opportunity to give some final advice and reminders for effective revision in the final stretch.

Finish-line

1. Break it up

Cramming doesn’t work. Revision is most effective when it is spaced out, with breaks in between. This allows the brain to consolidate what you have revised, and also helps keep a healthy balance between revision and relaxation. Take fifteen minutes off for every hour of revision completed – it’ll help you remember what you’ve learned, and stop you going stir-crazy.

2. Make your brain work hard

In order to remember something, you really have to think about it. Just reading through notes, watching a revision video on YouTube, or listening to a recording of the key information is not going to help you remember information, because your brain isn’t having to try very hard. Re-reading, watching or listening on their own areĀ passive activities. For information to stick, you need to actively do something with it – so turn the information you’ve read, watched or listened to into something else. A mind-map, a spider-diagram, a practice answer, a poster, a set of flashcards…you choose! Taking information from a source, processing it, and turning it into something else will help you to recall it better. After a proper 45-minute revision session, you should feel tired – you will need that break! (see tip 1).

3. Practice makes perfect

At this stage of revision, in the final weeks, your best preparation will be to practice exactly what you will have to do in the real exam. Practice questions, completed from memory to the same timings as the exam, will not only sharpen up your exam technique but will also help you remember what you’ve learned because they are a form of retrieval practice. You can get past papers or practice questions from your teachers, the Academy’s VLE, and services such as MyMaths, but also from exam board websites, and revision sites such as Get Revising or Bitesize.

This excellent video from the BBC summarises these three strong approaches to revision:

Good luck?

If you’re well-prepared, you know your stuff, and you’ve practised your exam technique, you shouldn’t need luck – the exam is just an opportunity to show the examiner what you can do. But good luck to all our exam-takers anyway!