Teaching Tess

At this year’s Premier’s VCE awards, one of the many wonderful student achievements recognised was that of Tess Wilkens from Beaconhills College Pakenham. Not only did Tess obtain a perfect 50 score in English, she also scored 45 in Literature. An obviously talented student, Tess’ potential was recognised early, she was part of an enrichment program from middle school onwards, and the work of her teachers and family in her development cannot be underestimated. We talked to two of those teachers, Marianne Del Papa and Kerri Parker.

As the critical time for VCE students draws closer, many teachers will find themselves with the joys and challenges of helping gifted students achieve their goal. We asked Marianne and Kerri, based on their experience with Tess, for their thoughts and advice.

Marianne, acknowledging Tess’ deserved success, also praised the work of her formative middle school teachers, and singled out Tess’ parents for nurturing her creative and inquisitive nature, a contribution she rates highly:

“What becomes critical in many of the student’s final year at school, is the support and guidance of parents who value education and success, as well as encouraging kids to be resilient and learn from their mistakes.”

Kerri, who found Tess “a privilege to teach”, underlined the importance of going a little further within the subject matter:

“I would encourage VCE teachers to go that extra layer into their exploration of the course content. It is essential, really, that your students can find something different to the obvious in their analysis of texts, points for comparative writing and in article analysis. Students can be taught to do this – find the obvious and then look again and then look again.”

Marianne:

“I think we, as teachers need to harness the passion and identify the areas in which the student may be able to excel, but not to assume that they can’t still benefit from solid advice and constructive feedback. Sometimes teachers are frightened to curtail the ‘flair’ at the expense of content, but the students who are able to achieve success are those who can write with that natural flair and fluency, but have answered the question in an individual and interesting way.”

Marianne spoke about the need to know the texts intimately – having academic discussions both before and during the teaching of them was a way to achieve this. She also stressed the importance of giving students a strategy on how to tackle questions, no matter how talented the student, and for teachers to have a go themselves at the tasks they set:

“We can sometimes forget how challenging writing can be for some of our students, even the ‘gifted’ students can procrastinate and take forever to get started.”

Kerri:

“It is also a mistake to underestimate what your students can understand – when they are invited into deeper thinking, more often than not, there is a tendency to rise to the challenge and when a student can exceed their own expectations, regardless of the score then you, and they, have won.”

We congratulate Tess, and all the VCE Award winners on their fantastic achievements. Congratulations are also due to teachers like Marianne and Kerri, supportive parents and to all of you out there who are about to guide your students on their final important VCE steps.