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Dear Families and Friends,

With summer finally here and day and boarding school results pretty much finalised, I would like to summarise Metal Rocks’ most recent results.

Overall, I am very pleased that each of my students received an offer of a place at his or her top choice school and most have multiple offers.  This is an amazing achievement given that there is NO pre-selection of students; they realised their potential as a result of hard work and parental support. These amazing results wouldn’t have been possible without the parents’ involvement and acceptance of my recommendations, so thank you parents!

It is always an emotional, stressful journey for all involved (myself included) in the months and years leading up to entrance exams and interviews.  This year was no different.  One grateful mother, with tears of joy dropping onto her son’s Offer Letter, called me “the child whisperer” which, I replied, was a bit of a misnomer given my raised voice during some sessions.

So what can we say about this year’s admissions round?  A few themes emerge.  First and foremost, the nuclear arms’ race to get into the “top” day and boarding schools continue unabated, making Oxbridge admissions seem like the proverbial vicar’s tea party.  In addition, more international students are applying from the emerging economies, especially China, Russia and Eastern Europe. One parent lamented that her child’s new class in September 2018 is not British enough: she spotted perhaps 1 British sounding name. I don’t think this trend will stop any time soon.

As a result of this increased competition, I am seeing more parents plan more and more in advance (I met with the parents of a two year-old last week), responding rationally to the incentive structure that schools have wittingly or not presented to them.  It is the winner-take-all society for six year-olds.  The UK now spends more on private school tuition than any country in the developed world, and the trend is one way.

This past twelve months for Metal Rocks was not only about school places.  I am happy to write about a child we moved from the bottom of the year to the overall top 15% (and fourth in the class in year-end Maths exam) over a period of 5 months! Or the girl who previously struggled to write a story and last week won her year’s creative writing competition.  I could describe a few dozen more impactful examples, which is why this work is so personally rewarding.

For those going to new schools in September, good luck on your new adventure. For those still with exams in 3-6 months time, summer is the time to buckle down and study.  Lastly, for those beginning this journey over the next 12 months and beyond (yes, I have Year 1 students!), let’s get started!!



Very interesting article on AHDH children. For parents and educators, this is an important reminder that not every child fits into the traditional mold. The key is to find the appropriate space for an AHDH child to flourish and to tap into his/her unique energy.

In Praise of A.D.H.D.
By Leonard Mlodinow
March 17, 2018

"A.D.H.D. is termed a disorder, and in severe forms it can certainly disrupt a person’s life. But you might view a more moderate degree of A.D.H.D. as an asset in today’s turbulent and fast-changing world.”

Ten years ago, when my son Nicolai was 11, his doctor wanted to put him on medication for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. “It would make him less wild,” I explained to my mother, who was then 85. “It would slow him down a bit.”

My mother grumbled. “Look around you,” she said in Yiddish. “Look how fast the world is changing. He doesn’t need to slow down. You need to speed up.”

It was a surprising recommendation from someone who had never learned to use a microwave. But recent research suggests she had a point: Some people with A.D.H.D. may be naturally suited to our turbocharged world.

Today the word “hyperactive” doesn’t just describe certain individuals; it also is a quality of our society. We are bombarded each day by four times the number of words we encountered daily when my mother was raising me. Even vacations are complicated — people today use, on average, 26 websites to plan one. Attitudes and habits are changing so fast that you can identify “generational” differences in people just a few years apart: Simply by analyzing daily cellphone communication patterns, researchers have been able to guess the age of someone under 60 to within about five years either way with 80 percent accuracy.

To thrive in this frenetic world, certain cognitive tendencies are useful: to embrace novelty, to absorb a wide variety of information, to generate new ideas. The possibility that such characteristics might be associated with A.D.H.D. was first examined in the 1990s. The educational psychologist Bonnie Cramond, for example, tested a group of children in Louisiana who had been determined to have A.D.H.D. and found that an astonishingly high number — 32 percent — did well enough to qualify for an elite creative scholars program in the Louisiana schools.

To read more:


Word Games
Children learn vocabulary the best with repeated exposure and opportunity to practice that in a non-threatening atmosphere. Games are best to enforce the words after you introduce it to them. You can do inexpensive ways to play games like synonym cross word puzzles, Word search, Scrabble. There are many online sites where you can play interesting and engaging vocabulary games with your child.

Peer Reading
Introduce your child to the vocabulary used by their peers. Reading literature by children is the best way to do that. This will give them the motivation and confidence to learn and use new words. Reading the works by peers will also inspire them to focus more on writing. You will be able to find a lot of such literature at Kidz Parade literature by children and The Kidz Parade.

Keep and Idea Book or Journal
Does the word ‘journal’ put off your child? Introduce the concept of an ‘idea book’ to them instead. Let them write all their aspirations, imaginations and observations in that book.

Encourage them to write lists if they do not want to write long paragraphs, ask them to write only a couple of sentences every day when they start with, ask them to write about something close to their heart. You will see your child building vocabulary and writing skills gradually. Research shows that writing journals has both physical and psychological benefits while improving their writing skills and vocabulary.

Read aloud to your child (even if they are older)
Jim Trelease, the author of Read-Aloud Handbook says, “Children have a reading level and a listening level and they are usually not the same. A 4th-grader may be reading on a 4th-grade level, but can listen to stories on a 6th-grade level.”

You can read aloud to older children, even to those who are up to 14 years. Reading aloud to teens helps them with finding the right vocabulary to express their emotions. This is a great bonding activity while building your child’s vocabulary.

 Talk, Talk and Talk: A very effective way to build your child’s vocabulary
Learning words is helpful only if it is practiced. Have conversations with your child in various topics. This will give them the opportunity to listen to new vocabulary as well as to express their thoughts using the new vocabulary. Communicating with people with varied interests is also a great way to acquire new vocabulary.


So you think China's greatest economic concern in the UK is Hinkley Point?  Think again.

Here, The Spectator calls an English public school education our "greatest single industry" which is why, when you visit Eton, you will be joined by busloads of education-obsessed Chinese tourists preoccupied by polish and privilege snapping away at boys as they walk to class:

China's Eton envy - why they love our posh boys

Our new elite is taking over the world, and we’re modelling them on you

Yuan Ren
September 28, 2016

Gerard Manley Hopkins said that if the English had done nothing but ‘left the world the notion of a gentleman, they would have done a great service to mankind’. He was right. Yet in Britain today, you’re so very embarrassed by what we regard as your greatest single industry — turning out polished young people.

Here in China, we look at the education statistics you view with horror — the ones that show how independent schools teach just 7 per cent of the population and yet their alumni account for 51 per cent of solicitors, 61 per cent of senior doctors, 67 per cent of Oscar winners and 74 per cent of judges — and we think: yes please. That’s why we are so keen to send our children to Britain to learn. A fifth of new pupils at your leading boarding schools now come from abroad, and we Chinese represent the greatest influx.

In Chinese, the word that best translates as ‘gentleman’ is shenshi, which specifically refers to the idealised British male who strides around in Jane Austen novels. Most of us are aware that Britain no longer contains many men riding around on horseback in Georgian finery — but we are nevertheless fascinated by the idea. Laden with aristocratic connotations, shenshi is also used as an adjective, to describe a refined character or noble air; I’m often asked if I’ve had experiences of shenshi British men, having studied at one of the top universities in the UK.


Is Grit Overrated? NO!

As a follow-on to my recent email about ‘Winners: Made or Born”, this article in the The Atlantic Magazine (May 2016) talks about the importance of grit to career and academic successes. In particular, it discusses the argument in Angela Duckworth’s new book, “Grit”, that “grit can be developed and is at least as important as IQ in predicting educational success.”

In one study, she found that the only reliable determinant of whether the newly arrived US military cadets at West Point would survive the gruesome first seven weeks of life there was--not SAT scores, ACT scores, high school rank, physical fitness, “leadership potential” or any other measures of aptitude—how they performed on her “Grit Scale”.

I think the ramifications in this study as it relates to education is that we should attempt to develop grit in our children, of how to "persevere just a little longer in tackling problems that exceeded their current skill set.” This, combined with deliberate practise, will serve our children well in everything they do.

I see it over and over again among my students whenever I give them a difficult task to do, which inevitably is everything because I always teach beyond their year “level". Their first reaction is always to resist me with incessant whining until I show them that it’s not as difficult as they think. It is magical when they realise that what they had just done is 3 to 4 years beyond their year level.

There are some interesting words of wisdom in the article for adults as well in regards to how grit translates into the workplace through perception and subsequent behaviours: bosses may want you to work hard, but do it in private because the “naturals” are more valued than the “strivers”. Basically, make it look easy regardless of what you do behind the scene.


How to maximise learning effectiveness

Great article on how to be a more efficient student, especially when studying for an exam. I do all of the suggested ideas below with my students, except for the bedtime studying practise, to ensure they get the most out of my lessons and beyond at home.

A summary of the ideas presented in the article that parents can do at home to ensure greater productivity and efficiency in learning:

  • learn in 20 minute bursts--beyond that and the child’s mind starts to wander
  • study lists 30 minutes before bed--what you do just before you go to sleep is what you remember best
  • draw or map out important concepts—children remember visuals more than words or sounds
  • study in different areas of the house—improve their memory by practising recalling information under different conditions
  • be consistent and structured in learning--children need to learn, study and revise in repetitive, routine ways
  • use lists, acronyms, tables and graphics--transform knowledge into long-term memory
  • sometimes a few pieces of candy help—additional glucose 20 minutes before a test or a task increases memory

Sleep, jellybeans and neck rubs: how to quell pre-exam jitters
14 May 2016

All children are capable of great things. Those who perform well in exams tend to achieve greatness rather more rapidly and with less stress for their relatives than those who freak out at the very thought of a test, let alone a GCSE or A-level.

Here are some practical hints, taken from clinical psychologist Andrew Fuller’s new book, Unlocking Your Child’s Genius, that may help transform potential into performance on the days that matter most.


Helping a Worrier Become a Warrior

February 8, 2013

Is your child a warrior, or a worrier?

That cute — and memorable — phrasing comes from “Why Can Some Kids Handle Pressure While Others Fall Apart?” by Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman (famous for “Nurture Shock” and now the authors of “Top Dog: The Science of Winning and Losing”) in The Times Magazine. It’s shorthand for a problem most of us are familiar with: some people seem born to take tests or compete. For others, the whisper of pressure can trigger the seeming disappearance of everything we ever learned.

In their magazine piece, the authors look at what lies under that difference: “how we were raised, our skills and experience, the hormones that we marinated in as fetuses.”But while understanding the causes may help promote eventual changes in standardized testing, there’s no way to entirely avoid the need to perform under pressure — and no way to avoid it on behalf of our children.

Help your worrier become a warrior: For the parents of worriers, one question hovers over the topic: how can we help our children learn to both perform better, and feel that stress just a little less?  These articles have a few common, and a few surprising, answers.


How Can We Improve How Much Students Remember?

I try to implement the following knowledge in my teachings.

Here they are in three words: examples, practice and quizzes. Worked examples, extended practice and frequent quizzes are much-underestimated and under-valued, but there’s a huge volume of scientific research behind them.

A hundred years of replicated scientific research can begin to tell us not only what works, but what works best, and why.

Three Applications of Cognitive Science
by Joe Kirby
Posted on April 6, 2014    

From a hundred years of research, there are three deceptively simple insights that when applied well in the classroom, have very powerful effects. They are not quick wins, silver bullets or revolutionary innovations. Instead, they offer something more modest: a chance to focus our teaching and help pupils remember what they’re learning. And expert teachers have been doing them since time immemorial.

Many of the references I’ve collated above are from the peer-reviewed paper of five cognitive psychologists (Dunlosky, Rawson, Marsh, Nathan and Willingham) that synthesises over a century of scientific research evidence.


Forget What You Know About Good Study Habits
By Benedict Carey
Sept. 6, 2010

Forget what you know about good study habits: this article summarizing the findings of cognitive science is worth a read.  

Studying in a quiet, private space is best, right?  That's not what the research finds best.  Intensive immersion in a topic is the best way to study, as everyone knows?  Nope.  Are you a "visual learner"?  There is no such thing.

Such theories have developed in part because of sketchy education research that doesn’t offer clear guidance. Student traits and teaching styles surely interact; so do personalities and at-home rules. The trouble is, no one can predict how.

Yet there are effective approaches to learning, at least for those who are motivated. In recent years, cognitive scientists have shown that a few simple techniques can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns from studying.

From the article: study in multiple places, mix the subjects in one sitting, tests are powerful learning tools, putting more time between study sessions better cements recall and lots of other interesting insights:


Dear Parents,

Just wanted to share an interesting article on education in the Wall Street Journal that applies to parenting b/c ultimately you are your child's best teacher.

Notice principle number 2 ("drill and practise") and why I always stress that all my students do the xxx program at a minimum. Plus, if the students don't practise during the week by doing the assigned homework (principle 1, "a little pain"), then they will not improve as much or as quickly. At this tender age, we need to instill in them the idea and benefits of hard work or grit (principle 6), which is the primary indicator of success.


Why Tough Teachers Get Good Results
Sept. 27, 2013

I had a teacher once who called his students "idiots" when they screwed up. He was our orchestra conductor, a fierce Ukrainian immigrant named Jerry Kupchynsky, and when someone played out of tune, he would stop the entire group to yell, "Who eez deaf in first violins!?" He made us rehearse until our fingers almost bled. He corrected our wayward hands and arms by poking at us with a pencil.

Today, he'd be fired. But when he died a few years ago, he was celebrated: Forty years' worth of former students and colleagues flew back to my New Jersey hometown from every corner of the country, old instruments in tow, to play a concert in his memory. I was among them, toting my long-neglected viola. When the curtain rose on our concert that day, we had formed a symphony orchestra the size of the New York Philharmonic.

I was stunned by the outpouring for the gruff old teacher we knew as Mr. K. But I was equally struck by the success of his former students. Some were musicians, but most had distinguished themselves in other fields, like law, academia and medicine. Research tells us that there is a positive correlation between music education and academic achievement. But that alone didn't explain the belated surge of gratitude for a teacher who basically tortured us through adolescence.

We're in the midst of a national wave of self-recrimination over the U.S. education system. Every day there is hand-wringing over our students falling behind the rest of the world. Fifteen-year-olds in the U.S. trail students in 12 other nations in science and 17 in math, bested by their counterparts not just in Asia but in Finland, Estonia and the Netherlands, too. An entire industry of books and consultants has grown up that capitalizes on our collective fear that American education is inadequate and asks what American educators are doing wrong.

I would ask a different question. What did Mr. K do right? What can we learn from a teacher whose methods fly in the face of everything we think we know about education today, but who was undeniably effective?

As it turns out, quite a lot. Comparing Mr. K's methods with the latest findings in fields from music to math to medicine leads to a single, startling conclusion: It's time to revive old-fashioned education. Not just traditional but old-fashioned in the sense that so many of us knew as kids, with strict discipline and unyielding demands. Because here's the thing: It works.

Now I'm not calling for abuse; I'd be the first to complain if a teacher called my kids names. But the latest evidence backs up my modest proposal. Studies have now shown, among other things, the benefits of moderate childhood stress; how praise kills kids' self-esteem; and why grit is a better predictor of success than SAT scores.

All of which flies in the face of the kinder, gentler philosophy that has dominated American education over the past few decades. The conventional wisdom holds that teachers are supposed to tease knowledge out of students, rather than pound it into their heads. Projects and collaborative learning are applauded; traditional methods like lecturing and memorization—derided as "drill and kill"—are frowned upon, dismissed as a surefire way to suck young minds dry of creativity and motivation.

But the conventional wisdom is wrong. And the following eight principles—a manifesto if you will, a battle cry inspired by my old teacher and buttressed by new research—explain why.

1. A little pain is good for you.

Psychologist K. Anders Ericsson gained fame for his research showing that true expertise requires about 10,000 hours of practice, a notion popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers." But an often-overlooked finding from the same study is equally important: True expertise requires teachers who give "constructive, even painful, feedback," as Dr. Ericsson put it in a 2007 Harvard Business Review article. He assessed research on top performers in fields ranging from violin performance to surgery to computer programming to chess. And he found that all of them "deliberately picked unsentimental coaches who would challenge them and drive them to higher levels of performance."

2. Drill, baby, drill.

Rote learning, long discredited, is now recognized as one reason that children whose families come from India (where memorization is still prized) are creaming their peers in the National Spelling Bee Championship. This cultural difference also helps to explain why students in China (and Chinese families in the U.S.) are better at math. Meanwhile, American students struggle with complex math problems because, as research makes abundantly clear, they lack fluency in basic addition and subtraction—and few of them were made to memorize their times tables.

William Klemm of Texas A&M University argues that the U.S. needs to reverse the bias against memorization. Even the U.S. Department of Education raised alarm bells, chastising American schools in a 2008 report that bemoaned the lack of math fluency (a notion it mentioned no fewer than 17 times). It concluded that schools need to embrace the dreaded "drill and practice."

3. Failure is an option.

Kids who understand that failure is a necessary aspect of learning actually perform better. In a 2012 study, 111 French sixth-graders were given anagram problems that were too difficult for them to solve. One group was then told that failure and trying again are part of the learning process. On subsequent tests, those children consistently outperformed their peers.

The fear, of course is that failure will traumatize our kids, sapping them of self-esteem. Wrong again. In a 2006 study, a Bowling Green State University graduate student followed 31 Ohio band students who were required to audition for placement and found that even students who placed lowest "did not decrease in their motivation and self-esteem in the long term." The study concluded that educators need "not be as concerned about the negative effects" of picking winners and losers.

4. Strict is better than nice.

What makes a teacher successful? To find out, starting in 2005 a team of researchers led by Claremont Graduate University education professor Mary Poplin spent five years observing 31 of the most highly effective teachers (measured by student test scores) in the worst schools of Los Angeles, in neighborhoods like South Central and Watts. Their No. 1 finding: "They were strict," she says. "None of us expected that."

The researchers had assumed that the most effective teachers would lead students to knowledge through collaborative learning and discussion. Instead, they found disciplinarians who relied on traditional methods of explicit instruction, like lectures. "The core belief of these teachers was, 'Every student in my room is underperforming based on their potential, and it's my job to do something about it—and I can do something about it,'" says Prof. Poplin.

She reported her findings in a lengthy academic paper. But she says that a fourth-grader summarized her conclusions much more succinctly this way: "When I was in first grade and second grade and third grade, when I cried my teachers coddled me. When I got to Mrs. T's room, she told me to suck it up and get to work. I think she's right. I need to work harder."

5. Creativity can be learned.

The rap on traditional education is that it kills children's' creativity. But Temple University psychology professor Robert W. Weisberg's research suggests just the opposite. Prof. Weisberg has studied creative geniuses including Thomas Edison, Frank Lloyd Wright and Picasso—and has concluded that there is no such thing as a born genius. Most creative giants work ferociously hard and, through a series of incremental steps, achieve things that appear (to the outside world) like epiphanies and breakthroughs.

Prof. Weisberg analyzed Picasso's 1937 masterpiece Guernica, for instance, which was painted after the Spanish city was bombed by the Germans. The painting is considered a fresh and original concept, but Prof. Weisberg found instead that it was closely related to several of Picasso's earlier works and drew upon his study of paintings by Goya and then-prevalent Communist Party imagery. The bottom line, Prof. Weisberg told me, is that creativity goes back in many ways to the basics. "You have to immerse yourself in a discipline before you create in that discipline. It is built on a foundation of learning the discipline, which is what your music teacher was requiring of you."

6. Grit trumps talent.

In recent years, University of Pennsylvania psychology professor Angela Duckworth has studied spelling bee champs, Ivy League undergrads and cadets at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, N.Y.—all together, over 2,800 subjects. In all of them, she found that grit—defined as passion and perseverance for long-term goals—is the best predictor of success. In fact, grit is usually unrelated or even negatively correlated with talent.

Prof. Duckworth, who started her career as a public school math teacher and just won a 2013 MacArthur "genius grant," developed a "Grit Scale" that asks people to rate themselves on a dozen statements, like "I finish whatever I begin" and "I become interested in new pursuits every few months." When she applied the scale to incoming West Point cadets, she found that those who scored higher were less likely to drop out of the school's notoriously brutal summer boot camp known as "Beast Barracks." West Point's own measure—an index that includes SAT scores, class rank, leadership and physical aptitude—wasn't able to predict retention.

Prof. Duckworth believes that grit can be taught. One surprisingly simple factor, she says, is optimism—the belief among both teachers and students that they have the ability to change and thus to improve. In a 2009 study of newly minted teachers, she rated each for optimism (as measured by a questionnaire) before the school year began. At the end of the year, the students whose teachers were optimists had made greater academic gains.

7. Praise makes you weak…

My old teacher Mr. K seldom praised us. His highest compliment was "not bad." It turns out he was onto something. Stanford psychology professor Carol Dweck has found that 10-year-olds praised for being "smart" became less confident. But kids told that they were "hard workers" became more confident and better performers.

"The whole point of intelligence praise is to boost confidence and motivation, but both were gone in a flash," wrote Prof. Dweck in a 2007 article in the journal Educational Leadership. "If success meant they were smart, then struggling meant they were not."

8.…while stress makes you strong.

A 2011 University at Buffalo study found that a moderate amount of stress in childhood promotes resilience. Psychology professor Mark D. Seery gave healthy undergraduates a stress assessment based on their exposure to 37 different kinds of significant negative events, such as death or illness of a family member. Then he plunged their hands into ice water. The students who had experienced a moderate number of stressful events actually felt less pain than those who had experienced no stress at all.

"Having this history of dealing with these negative things leads people to be more likely to have a propensity for general resilience," Prof. Seery told me. "They are better equipped to deal with even mundane, everyday stressors."

Prof. Seery's findings build on research by University of Nebraska psychologist Richard Dienstbier, who pioneered the concept of "toughness"—the idea that dealing with even routine stresses makes you stronger. How would you define routine stresses? "Mundane things, like having a hardass kind of teacher," Prof. Seery says.

My tough old teacher Mr. K could have written the book on any one of these principles. Admittedly, individually, these are forbidding precepts: cold, unyielding, and kind of scary.

But collectively, they convey something very different: confidence. At their core is the belief, the faith really, in students' ability to do better. There is something to be said about a teacher who is demanding and tough not because he thinks students will never learn but because he is so absolutely certain that they will.

Decades later, Mr. K's former students finally figured it out, too. "He taught us discipline," explained a violinist who went on to become an Ivy League-trained doctor. "Self-motivation," added a tech executive who once played the cello. "Resilience," said a professional cellist. "He taught us how to fail—and how to pick ourselves up again."

Clearly, Mr. K's methods aren't for everyone. But you can't argue with his results. And that's a lesson we can all learn from.

Ms. Lipman is co-author, with Melanie Kupchynsky, of "Strings Attached: One Tough Teacher and the Gift of Great Expectations," to be published by Hyperion on Oct. 1. She is a former deputy managing editor of The Wall Street Journal and former editor-in-chief of Condé Nast Portfolio.