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Expand your Reading List to Expand your Mind

Lists are to students, what traffic is to drivers. Notoriously unavoidable and inevitable in day-to-day life. Back-to-school stationary lists, homework to-do lists, and shopping lists – The list of lists can go on and on. Despite their pedantic reputation, lists have been proven to be a powerful tool to increase productivity as they display all the items clearly, ensuring nothing is forgotten. However, there is one list in particular, that we are all familiar with: the traditional reading list.

Receiving an annual or termly reading list may not seem like a momentous moment, in that it is typical of academic institutions to enforce literary requirements. Specific books are integral to a year’s syllabus and curriculum, so it may often feel as though reading is a chore or another task to finish in an endless list. But now amid the summer months, I wanted to explore the various benefits of reading for pleasure – when one can go beyond just academic obligation. The rough definition of ‘reading for pleasure’ is as follows; freely choosing the reading or enthusiastically continuing reading after the respective material is assigned. The common factor is enthusiasm. When reading can be seen as a hobby rather than a chore, it can unlock a whole new deeper meaning behind the discipline itself. Reading promotes a sense of empathy, where the reader naturally aligns their emotions with that of the complex characters presented in the plot. Reading also has the power of metaphorical transportation; we can depart from our four walls, our situation, to different historical worlds of fantasy or mystery. In a research essay exploring the benefits of ‘pleasure reading’ on academic success, Whitten writes:

“Many educators encourage their students to read outside of the classroom in order to increase reading comprehension, vocabulary, general knowledge, and cultural awareness; however, research indicates that pleasure reading may have a greater influence on a child’s overall academic performance than their socio-economic background-” (pg. 48)

I find that one of the biggest advantages of pleasure reading is that the reader can determine their own pace, and there is no better setting for this than over the summer holidays. Schools, English tuition, private tuition, or other academic environments have to press time constraints in order to follow a schedule. Reading for fun calls for independence in time scheduling, pace, and location. With lockdown measures still in place, one can get creative in finding cosy reading spots around the house.

 

So, I urge students, parents, and everyone to try qualitative not quantitative reading, to explore new genres, work from modern authors, and classic texts. Below are links to more lists – ones that don’t have the usual time pressure – for you to read and enjoy this summer.

100 ‘Must Read’ Books for All Ages:

https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/2018/100-must-read-classic-books/

 

Must Read Books for 9-12-year-olds:

https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/children/2019/apr/must-read-books-for-9-12-year-olds.html

 

References: Whitten, C., Houston, S.J., & Labby, S.A. (2016). The impact of Pleasure Reading on Academic Success.

-Ketki Mahabaleshwarkar

Does Practise really make Perfect?

When one thinks of the action of practise, it is often synonymous with discipline and order. The fundamental idea of repetitive work is one that is championed by scholars and leaders. Why do we say, ‘practise makes perfect’? Is this a phrase applicable only to one discipline of study, like maths tuition, or is it a more general theory? The scientific impact of practise on the human brain is that the neural pathways work better in unison, by myelination. When we practise a skill over a set period of time, our brain thus becomes conditioned to feel comfortable with the skill – E.g. practising a speech over and over again will make one more confident with the skill of public speaking. It is almost subconscious when we become more attuned to the object of practise.

 

In the life of a student, practise is a certainly an integral pillar of success. Therefore, reserving the period before key exams for revision seems realistic and practical. Private tuition, (such as GCSE levels tuition or 11 plus prep) is a great mode of practise for students to get comfortable with examination conditions. Practise not only allows one to aim for the highest grade, but it also inspires a sense of confidence. If practise encourages personal confidence, it must also have a place in our daily life, whether it be in the extracurricular or academic sphere. The iconic phrase – practise makes perfect – is originated from its Latin form ‘Uses promptos facit’ referenced in the ‘Diary and Autobiography of John Adams’. Clearly, the philosophical and practical message is far from antiquated, and still essential for one’s personal success.

 

However, it must be said that sometimes practise has an innate tendency to feel monotonous. We gain personal satisfaction from seeing immediate results, whereas the ‘art’ of practise can feel like a long-haul endeavour. To achieve the desired results, one must stay diligent over a specific time-frame – this is tough, for boredom can strike, but with perseverance, practise will always achieve results. Will it achieve perfection? The idea of perfection is in itself ambiguous, but what is clear is that practise will make you better at what you are practising. To quote the resounding words of essayist Audre Lorde, “Every day of your lives is practise in becoming the person you want to be”.

 

-Ketki Mahabaleshwarkar

Why is Exercise important in a busy Exam Period?

Exam time is pressurising. Late nights, last minute preparation, irregular sleeping patterns and eating times are characteristic of exam period. Exam stress can result in anxiety and increased chances of succumbing to illnesses. Getting unwell can undermine your efforts and so maintaining good health and a positive attitude to study is key. Physical activity (PA) is a fantastic adjunct to help relieve stress during exams, whether its KS2 SATs, 11+, GCSEs or A-levels! In addition, PA actually has multiple benefits on brain function, helping you to study efficiently.

Cognition is the process through which an individual acquires knowledge and develops understanding via thought processes, experiences and study. Research on the effects of physical activity (PA) on the cognitive function of children shows improvements in attention; thinking capability; articulation as well as learning and memory.

 

Attention

Kubesch et al. (1) have shown that regularity of PA in children is positively correlated with their ability to focus within the classroom. Interestingly, those children who exercised were able to maintain their attention even through the third hour of lessons, which is usually the time when attentional processes start to deteriorate.

 

Thinking Capability

‘Thinking’ is defined in this context as the cognitive functions involved in abstract thinking, planning, creative thinking and assessing cause and effect. PA helps to develop creativity in children. Research has demonstrated that unorganised PA, such as going to the park, improves thinking capability more than organised sports activities, such as drills and circuits (2). However, it is important to note, that any physical exercise is better than none at all.

 

Articulation and Language

Scudder et al. (3) showed that there was a positive relationship between PA and lexical networks in children, allowing them to comprehend text, spell and detect grammar and syntax errors with greater accuracy.

 

Learning and Memory

Working memory is the type of memory used for short-term to middle-term retention of information and is important in reasoning and decision making. PA has been shown to improve working memory in 8-12-year olds as well as 12-14-year olds (1,4). Learning and cognitive flexibility also increases with PA, enhancing visuospatial memory as well.

 

 

All in all, it is clear that exercise has a plethora of benefits in cognition. In addition to these advantages, dopamine (the ‘feel-good’ hormone) increases in the body during and after exercise, helping you to maintain a positive outlook despite exams! In fact, as a result of the extensive research in PA, the UK Government and the NHS has issued the following guidelines for Physical Activity in children (5):

  1. All children and young people should engage in moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity for at least 60 minutes and up to several hours every day.
  2. Vigorous intensity activities, including those that strengthen muscle and bone, should be incorporated at least three days a week.
  3. All children and young people should minimise the amount of time spent being sedentary (sitting) for extended periods.

 

Incorporating PA is just one way in which you can uphold balance during exam time; getting enough sleep and nutrition are also key to the equilibrium.

Here are a few tips to help you obtain a healthy balance:

 

Good luck!

-Esha Dandekar

 

  1. Kubesch S., Walk L., Spitzer M., Kammer T., Lainburg A., Heim R., Hille K. A 30-min physical education program improves students’ executive attention. Mind Brain Educ. 2009;3:235–242
  2. Bowers M.T., Green B.C., Hemme F., Chalip L. Assessing the Relationship between Youth Sport Participation Settings and Creativity in Adulthood.  Res. J. 2014;26:314–327
  3. Scudder MR, Lambourne K, Drollette ES, Herrmann SD, Washburn RA, Donnelly JE, Hillman CH. Aerobic capacity and cognitive control in elementary school-age children. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2014; 46(5):1025-35
  4. Verburgh L., Scherder E.J.A., van Lange P.A.M., Oosterlaan J. The key to success in elite athletes? Explicit and implicit motor learning in youth elite and non-elite soccer players.  Sports Sci. 2016;34:1782–1790
  5. https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/832861/2-physical-activity-for-children-and-young-people-5-to-18-years.pdf

 

 

 

 

 

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