The [un]Reality of Teenage Thoughts

 

The Death Stare.

The most powerful weapon in the psychological arsenal in the war of Teenage Girl Against Girl.  It messes with heads and hearts, and demands a return of equal or greater intensity, perhaps even punctuated with a roll of the eyes!

sigh…

I had to go ‘there’ with a couple of girls recently, working with them to resolve a long-standing (it’s been a week) and complex (no one knows how or why this started) feud that had hands on the nuclear red-button of ‘I just want to punch her in the face’.

So how do we handle such things?

  1. Recognise that the feud is real in the minds of the students, even if it seems fantastical to you
  2. Help the kids understand that a reality exists outside of their mind.  Not all glances happen with a suitcase of emotions attached.  Often it is just a glance.  Period.
  3. Give it time and space
  4. Help the kids learn through the process
  5. Provide the words and actions the kids need
  6. Understand that part of adolescence is the need to be adult while the reality of life is still stuck in childhood.

 

Busy Growing Up

douglas - the robe

A couple of weeks ago I picked up a copy of The Robe – a very old book (1942) that my dad was reading.  The opening line caught my attention…

Because she was only fifteen and busy with her growing up, Lucia’s periods of reflection were brief and infrequent; but this morning she felt weighted with responsibility.

It seems teenagers may not have changed that much during the past 60-odd years!

It’s interesting that, at the time the book was written, the term ‘teenager’ was not in common use (that happened a few years later), yet the author sums up so much of what was, and still is, a teenagers life.

busy growing up‘.  We must remember that our adolescents are on a journey to maturity.  We cannot expect them to be all at the same stage or even consistent in their ‘growing up’ from day to day.  There is so much that impacts their lives and development.  I do love the use of the word ‘busy’ and I trust I’m never guilty of stopping a teen in their busyness of growing, journeying, processing and maturing.

periods of reflection‘.  Teens have a lot going on in their head and not all of it is structured and organised.  The fact that there are ‘periods’ of reflection is so true.  ‘Brain today and gone tomorrow’ might well describe many adolescents.  But the reality remains: when the mood arrives, their ability to reflect and think is outstanding.  I trust I never assume a teen’s ability to process or not, but always support and encourage, and celebrate the times of success.

weighed with responsibility‘.  There is such truth in that statement.  Teens are caught in the flux between seeing responsibility and wanting maturing, and struggling to grasp adequate experiential breadth to deal with either.  We also see it in the rates of anxiety and depression in adolescents.  I believe there is a degree of negative mental health that occurs because teen are thrust into aspects of the ‘adult’ world before they are ready.  It is my goal to meet an adolescent where they are and to be understanding of the weight of responsibility they may carry.

 

 

Guest Post: Fun Homework Tasks

 

As the debate about homework swirls around educators, it was nice to be approached by Corinne offering to share some thoughts on interesting way of setting fun homework for Middle Years kids…

 

 

Homework is an essential part of any curriculum. While it may be easier to assign homework to junior grades, it becomes increasingly difficult to give middle school teens homework because they’ve already got more on their plates than they can chew. So how can middle school teachers achieve the fine balance between assigning their students homework and making sure they’re not overburdened? The following homework ideas might just be the solution!

 

Create a reading log

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/aigle_dore/5951685233/

 

Have the kids create their own reading logs at home and then check them at month-end.

What is it?

A reading log is a journal where you can record your reading activities – what you read, how many pages have you read, what you think of the plot, etc. In other words, a reading log can be an excellent tool to summarize what and how much you are reading. Reading logs are generally broken down by dates.

How does it help?

Reading logs serve manifold purposes. They gift readers with memorable experiences as they go on listing the books they read and their points of view on them. What a fulfilling experience it would be to go back and look at a reading log that was made several years ago! The cathartic effect of talking about a book after reading it cannot be negated either. Don’t you feel lighter when you discuss the book you read with someone? In the case of a reading log, one gets to note down their afterthoughts instead of discussing verbally with another. Keeping reading logs can give teens a real sense of achievement when they go through their entries.

How to create one?

Help children make their reading logs at home or advise them to download simple reading logs from third party websites, only after you’ve viewed their terms and conditions. Below is a sample reading log.

Date of reading Book title Author No. of pages Like/dislike so far Reviews/comments
30th June A Dance with Dragons George R. R. Martin 78 Like None

 

2nd July A Dance with Dragons George R. R. Martin 142 Like Can’t wait to finish it
4th July Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (Macmillan) Lewis Carroll 200 Like Been waiting to read this one for so long!

 

Science experiments

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/f-oxymoron/4752989199/

 

Science experiments can be a wonderful tool to explore science subjects at home and learn hands-on. Hand over an instruction workbook to each student in the class so that the child can independently carry out the science experiments at home. Discuss the observations and conclusions in the class so that the students continue to learn from one another’s outcome. Get ideas for science experiments from online sources or chalk them out yourself; just make sure they are fairly simple and safe to carry out as older children may not always request adults to help out if they’re doing the experiments at home.

 

History calendars

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/studiocurve/13080208/

 

Aah, history calendars! When did World War II take place or when did the United States elect its first President? Dates are difficult to remember for every middle-schooler, especially when they’ve got more important tasks at hand like solving a trigonometry problem or analyzing the aftermaths of the WTC attack for their social studies projects. It’s a good idea to give them the homework of making history calendars that you can put it up in the classroom. If you’re planning for the middle-schoolers to make a calendar from 1900-2010 then divide the years equally among the students and have each of them make a calendar with the important events in the years assigned to them. For example, have a student make a history calendar for 1900-1910, another one for 1911-1920, and so on. Encourage them to illustrate their calendars and use colors to make it display-worthy!

 

Interviews

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https://www.flickr.com/photos/oldrebel/7759927234/

 

If you’re a middle school teacher, have you ever attached any importance to the teaching values of conducting an interview? It’s time you did! Have middle school students interview a neighbor, parent, teacher, peer, or sibling as homework to find out more about a particular topic. You can suggest topics specific to the interviewee; sibling – sibling rivalry, parent – responsibilities and expectations of a parent, neighbor – sharing and giving, etc. to get the teens started. However, allow them the freedom to prepare the questionnaire for their interviews. Apart from understanding another person’s perspective and point of view on a particular topic/issue, students will have much sharpened communication skills too by the end of the interview.

As times are changing, teaching is also evolving into a more interactive and game-based exercise. So, bend the rules and sneak in a good amount of fun to the learning that you are imparting!

 

Author Bio:

Corinne Jacob is a wannabe writer who is convinced that kids learn best when they’re having fun. She is constantly on the lookout for new and exciting ways to make learning an enjoyable experience. Corinne loves all things that scream out un-schooling, alternative education and holistic learning.

 

 

 

Caring for Teens

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I’m not a fatalist, but I am more and more concerned with the negative impact of ‘life’ on the lives of our adolescents.  I’m seeing an increasing number of students who struggle with the complexity of their lives and the impact those complexities have on learning, connecting, and life.

With that in mind, I have to say that the quote above from Josh Shipp resonates with me at the deepest levels of who I am.

My school is blessed with so many educators whose desire is to teach way beyond the curriculum; people who desire to understand and deeply care for the young adolescents in their care.  Weekly, perhaps even daily, I hear of a staff member who had the chance to explore life with a student.  And this mentioning comes from a genuine desire to develop real relationship with the students.

I’m also very aware of the need of students to share their story with an adult who cares.

Recently I had cause to speak with a student about a behaviour issue that was quite out of character.  This is a young man I did not know and had never previously spoken to.  And yet, in the course of our conversation, he chose to disclose some significant and deeply-impacting life scenarios – stuff that is way beyond what any teenager should have to deal with.

I have no idea why he chose to trust me and share that stuff with me but the fact is, he did.  For some reason he felt safe to do so.  And the result of knowing that just one person at the school knows his life story seemed to have a impact on the way he viewed his life at school.

Right person; right place; right time.

Sometimes it really is that simple to ease the pain life brings.

 

Guest Student Post – Improving your teaching

I’m excited to post the contents of a speech given last week by a student from my school.  Crispian is in Year 10 and has been working with me for a couple of months to develop his speech writing and delivery.  Last week he presented this speech in front of about a dozen of his teachers.

The content is great and includes a few challenges for all teachers about the need to consider new and engaging teaching practices.

 

 

You will probably remember the ridiculously comical film, Shrek. This peculiar film has many memorable parts. You may remember the heroic upside-down rescue to save Princess Fiona or the interrogation of poor Gingerbread Man. And of course, you could never forget Donkey, for one, who seemed to get all the good lines. Except for one in particular. That Shrek got. About onions. ‘Wait a second,’ you say. ‘Onions?’ Yes, there was something about onions.

Ogres have layers, onions have layers, and therefore ogres are like onions. Outstanding logic there. Well, in all truth, Shrek has a point. Ogres most definitely have layers. In fact, virtually everything does. Each person has a character that is built and wrapped by layers of their life. But what is most relevant is that the best class environment is built upon by many different layers, just like how the core of an onion is wrapped in layers.

Throughout my journey as a pupil, I have discovered that some students are not overly keen about school. I know, shocking, but it is a fact! Some don’t really care, some just get bored and some feel pressed with difficulties, each having their own reasoning. Occasionally I can relate to these. Despite these occasional lows, I am aware of the effort you teachers display to increase the fun factor of classes. Through my student perspective, I am confident that I can help your classes become even more enjoyable for all students through five layers that can be easily wrapped around your class plans. These five layers are: relevant work, being the unique you, telling stories, initiating discussions and being creative.

The first layer of the onion is… making work relevant. As a whole, schoolwork often does not relate to real life. This is a problem. Learning information that has no apparent relevance to any of our possible future careers is a complete waste of time. Notice how I said ‘apparent’. I think that we students are missing the hidden relevance of certain work half of the time. We need to know about the hidden benefits of learning the work you teach us.

One of the primary deciding factors that sets one class from the rest is whether students have the incentive to learn what is taught. I’ve heard from an adult youth worker that our generation – the generation you teach – is becoming much more self-centred, and I hate to say it, but it’s probably true. Despite the obvious problem of selfishness, you can still turn this negative into a positive! This characteristic can be easily exploited to get students to learn, and to enjoy learning, by giving them a ‘what’s in it for me’ reason.

Work is easier to remember and understand when links are made throughout the learning process. I know that I don’t like learning something I don’t understand. And I’m sure it’s the same for most people. So if all the other reasons aren’t enough, why not make what you teach more understandable?

There are some questions teachers should be thinking of and answer when preparing lessons. Why should students try learn the information you teach? How does this information relate to real life? By simply spending an extra minute in lessons to answer these questions allow us to connect and understand class work easier. Speaking is not the only way to create links. Activities can be designed that show and let students experience the real life importance. Connecting topics to the outside world is highly beneficial.

Our next layer – a livelier layer – considers how younger people, like we students, are naturally more inclined to be active. Writing notes is boring. I don’t like it and my class doesn’t like it. Why? Youth are active people, despite the stereotypical idea of teenagers lounging around watching television and trying to do their homework at the same time… but failing. But back on subject – we are active people. The majority of us prefer practical subjects, especially PE, over more theory-based subjects

Most of you are probably aware of the push by students to reincorporate sport during afternoons, which was discontinued a few years ago. I think that one of the primary reasons for this push is because of the appealing activity that would be involved in those lessons.

However, active work is not limited to the practical subjects. Theory-based subjects such as English, Mathematics and History can easily incorporate a more active aspect. Similar to the appeal of afternoon sport, setting aside a few minutes to play short games during class to illustrate points easily grabs students’ attention. Other activities that simply get students out of their seats are engaging, waking students from the typical boredom of writing notes.

On to the next layer. You are a living story! Just being yourself tells as much of a story as speaking, but being fake is detrimental. You can easily see through a big cheesy smile like the one I’m trying to talk through right now. Obviously the smile was fake. It’s the same way with students. We can tell whenever you are not displaying your true self. Displaying a character that is not your true self not only downgrades your credibility as a teacher, but is nearly always bland and always undeveloped. Your real character, which is built on layer upon layer of experience, is the real jewel of a classroom. It is your personality and your experience that makes your class unique and different from any other.

You teachers must be sure to share the real you to students. In Psalm 139 it says “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” Every one of you… your character… is the unique work of the creative, all-powerful and mystifying God. Why not display you, the work of God, throughout the classroom?

For the past term in English, our grade has been discovering Nazi Germany from a literary point of view. Part of the unit involved the viewing of The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas. Some of you may have seen this film, while others would have heard of it, and would know of the film’s highly emotional content. I for one am a ‘highly emotionally intelligent person’, meaning I become affected emotionally more than a typical student. Due to my self-knowledge of my emotional intelligence, I came to the realisation very quickly that I would be very affected by the film. Upon this realisation, I decided to inform my English teacher. With guidance from the teacher, I met with our Counsellor to learn strategies of tackling emotions.

Now the only reason I ended up learning strategies that did effectively deal with the impacting emotions was because I felt connected with the English teacher. The teacher had shared throughout numerous occasions personal stories about herself to the class. I am certain that due to the sharing of these stories, my relationship with the teacher reached the point where I felt comfortable in sharing my personal story.

This is only one example of the importance of sharing yourself to a class. But there’s more. As strange as it may seem, we actually enjoy knowing about you. Sharing true stories and experiences about you builds layers of relationships between each and every student in the class. Plus, those stories are breaks from working, and breaks from working are always enjoyable.

Pastors and preachers have embraced the principal of story-telling in their sermons just like Jesus. The stories act as both a hook to generate interest and an illustration for the sermon. This principle can be applied easily to lessons. How did you feel when I shared about my ‘The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas‘ experience? Telling stories like this is an example of how telling stories during your lessons will engage and interest students. And guess what! You even manage to provide a real life situation to refer to throughout the lesson, so bonus!

Stories told by teachers also help create a more appeasing vibe in the classroom, as students feel they are being communicated with rather than being lectured to. Lectures are considered by the majority as uninteresting, while stories are the opposite – they are interesting. Over the course of this public speaking task, I have discovered the purpose of stories… or what is technically called anecdotes. All I ever hear from Mr Wilcox is that anecdotes are important. He must have literally drilled that idea into my head. Thanks.

Stories and anecdotes are much easier to tell when you display your character. In fact, your character is one of the most crucial things to display when teaching. You have spent years developing your character, so why don’t you display what is truly you? Your unique and special character has been built through a journey that is unique to you. This unique character brings life into the classroom, ensuring it is different to every other class, and not transparent but instead much more interesting.

Stories are not the end. Initiating discussions during classes is just as golden. Discussions are an engaging way to recall, develop and apply information that has been learnt. We students are given the opportunity through discussion to express our values and thoughts on a subject, consider ideas from other students and expand on our own. All of this allows us students to discover new ideas and perspectives that would otherwise be displayed only by the teacher.

As I just said, discussions are engaging. As we reach a more mature age, we students are increasingly finding discussions more appealing than when we were young. In my spare time I am actively part of a forum community – an online site where discussions take place in thread format. Numerous threads sprout in these forums daily, threads of which I would typically read through and then input any discussion I feel necessary. There is a reason why I, and many other people, enjoy participating in this online environment during free time – to engage discussion and challenge myself.

I generally do not bother participating in forum threads that begin with a simple question. This is similar to my participation in class discussions. I like to share my view on other people’s ideas in the classroom, but I dislike answering simple questions. Teachers should set aside some class time to express their own potentially controversial ideas for students to discuss.

Discussions are also advantageous in developing the critical thinking of students by encouraging them to show their ideas and ask questions. A student with good skill in critical thinking constantly tries hard to understand and evaluate learnt work, and especially through rhetorical questioning. Students that learn this type of thinking also become more engaged in classwork, and thus find it more enjoyable.

Finally, the topic you’ve all been waiting for… Homework. I could never pass the opportunity to ramble on about – I mean briefly mention – the topic of homework. You’ve probably heard about debates over homework for years, but one thing that stands out is the obvious negativity of students towards being given homework. I am one of those that lean against – I really think homework should be limited in supply. From a student perspective, being given extra homework on top of assignments from other classes inflicts huge amounts of pressure, especially as homework is typically due during much shorter timeframes.

Now, I’m not going to be like every other student and say that homework should be abolished, decimated and pulverised, and never seen again, because, granted, there are certainly times when homework may be necessary, such as to revisit work learnt. However, I am sure that there are ways to increase the fun factor of homework! How? Using the layer of creativity!

Homework should be something that students would want to do in their spare time. Simply answering questions, researching or doing the ‘go home and look at this’ is bland. Interesting homework should be creative, such as making something artistic, or be ingeniously related to hobbies.

What do you think might happen if you relate homework to hobbies? All of us have some type of hobby or interest. Teachers can take into account student’s common hobbies and use them to make homework seem more engaging. Firstly, teachers should find out what a student’s interests are by

communicating with them. Then, teachers should relate homework to hobbies, so homework becomes something that students actually want to do. I remember one time that I actually enjoyed homework. Pretty amazing for someone like myself. This homework came in the form of creating a poster. I love computer art and graphical work, so this really appealed to me. It is one case of homework I actually did, started work on quickly and actually enjoyed. That is creative homework in my books.

As I reach the end, let’s remember to apply the five simple layers wrapped up in this package.

  • Make work relevant – tell us ‘what’s in it for me?’
  • Show us the wonderful you – display your flare for all to see.
  • Bring us from the classroom into another world with stories and anecdotes.
  • Initiate discussions – we think, we learn and we enjoy it.
  • And be creative. Turn homework from the ‘ugh’ the ‘ha’!

So, just remember that you… and your classroom… both have layers.

 

Learning motivated assessment

A corollary of last week’s post…

Our Year Nine students have been studying the Holocaust with cross curricula links in English (Boy in Striped Pyjamas), History, Music (composition), Drama (performance) and Art (visual interpretation).  The culminating activity was for the students to present their knowledge in an evening display and presentation.  Each small group focused on an element of the war and the Holocaust, each spread out in our gym but in chronological sequence.

Those attending journeyed through the stories of the holocaust, sometimes in confronting ways.  Each group presented solid, factual information and were prepared to engage in conversation and answer questions.

And they were amazing!

It was clearly evident that the students had deep understanding and were using the higher order thinking skills of analysis, evaluation and design.

I bet none of those kids were focused solely on the fact that this was an assessment task…

 

Assessment motivated learning?

 

As a culminating activity to a unit on Australian poetry, I have my students writing a paraphrase of a pslam.  It’s not an easy task as it requires a high degree of analysis and interpretation but it’s a great activity and I try to publish a book of their work.

Today I had one of the students ask if the writing was being assessed.

Internally, I saw red!  Seriously… have we come to this, that students are only focused on assessment?

Externally, I threw a few curly questions around the class to generate some discussion and thought… Why do you need to know? What difference does it make?  Would you do different work according to the answer I gave you?

You know the sort of thing.

Interestingly, I actually had kids who were saying that, yes, they would work harder if they knew it was being done for assessment.  One actually said that, for a piece of assessment, they would stay up to midnight to finish it, but not if it didn’t count.

Sigh.

I have no idea if I made an impact but I trust my students (at the very least) heard me say that assessment is not the most important thing in life and that giving their best in all things is the best way to demonstrate personal integrity.

 

“The road to creativity is littered with failures and assumptions that didn’t work — unless you learn to make assumptions you can never truly become innovative and creative. It’s an essential skill…  Perhaps, just as importantly, unless we rethink our approaches to assessment, our assessment will fail to indicate who is going to succeed in life and who is not.”                      Prof Eric Mazur

 

Connections Shaping Lives

Ever had one of those moments where everything just seems to fall into place and the end result encourages a students in a way you never thought possible?

A couple of years ago, while on a bus on the way to camp, I notices a boy writing in a journal at the back of the bus.  I would never have connected Brian (who has a very complex, challenging background) with writing so I asked what he was doing.  “I’m writing a song”.

I was a bit surprised (to say the least) so I asked to see what he’d written.  Despite the fact that I struggled to get Brian to write anything much in class, he’d put down some deep thoughts as lyrics to a song.  As I dug a bit deeper, I discovered he wrote lyrics quite a bit and had several completed songs.  But he didn’t know how to put them to music.

Aah… connection made.

My son, Hayden, writes a lot of music.  So the challenge was set: if Brian finished the lyrics, I promised to send them to Hayden to see what he might come up with.

The end result was a great collaboration and a very cool end result.  Brian was thrilled to see his lyrics come to life and become ‘real’.

That was a couple of years ago.  The two have collaborated a couple of times now and Brian is developing into a very skilled lyricist, expressing much of the unique elements of his life in this way.

Right place.  Right time.  Right connection.

And, maybe, a life shaped and transformed.

 

Excuses…

It’s been a while since I posted.  Life is packed full of activities and events and something needed to give.

But I’ve missed the challenge of evaluating my teaching and thinking through my life as a teacher in the Middle Years so I’m going to try and get back to it.

Hopefully you’ll see a post in the next few days…