| Volume 63 | Number 7
Teaching the Tweens
Teaching the Tweens
What Do Tweens Really Need?
Tweens need us. However acrobatically young adolescents may roll their eyes, anyone who observes a student of this age navigate through a day can’t miss their need for nonjudgmental guidance and encouragement. But what do students ages 10 to 14 need most from teachers, and in what kind of setting?
Authors in this issue disagree. Donna Marie San Antonio (“Broadening the World of Early Adolescents,” p. 8) believes teachers of tweens should actively focus on and guide social development as much as academics:
We cannot accomplish our academic goals without a purposeful and thoughtful focus on social development. If we want our children to be smart but not arrogant, flexible but not easily deterred from their hopes and dreams, compassionate toward others but not overly accommodating . . . then we should provide early adolescents with diverse environments and the support to function well in them.
Cheri Pierson Yecke (“Mayhem in the Middle,” p. 20), however, believes that too many middle schools shortchange students’ academic preparation because they overconcentrate on
creat[ing] students who are imbued with egalitarian principles; who are in touch with their political, social, and psychological selves; and who eschew competition and individual achievement to focus on identity development and perceived societal needs.
Read both San Antonio and Yecke’s articles and discuss:
- Should developing a strong sense of one’s “psychological self” and learning to empathize and interact with diverse kinds of people be a fundamental part of the middle school curriculum? If so, why? Has a focus on tween students’ psychological development and socialization led to “anti-intellectualism,” as Yecke charges?
- Where do developmental needs fit in? James Beane and Richard Lipka (“Guess Again: Will Changing the Grades Save Middle-Level Education?,” p. 26) argue that school structures associated with the middle school concept—such as small, personal teaching teams and curriculum that consistently links academic lessons to meaningful events in students’ lives—are necessary to meet tweens’ distinctive developmental struggles. Think of the 5th–8th graders you have taught. Make a list of the conditions that they need most as learners. Can most elementary schools create those prime conditions? Do most high schools create these conditions?
- Are middle schools in crisis? Do you agree that chaotic student behavior, mediocrity, and low achievement are representative of many U.S. middle schools today? Besides drawing on your own observations, consider some of the facts about tweens’ achievement and behavior listed throughout this issue.
At whatever grade your school system shifts students from an elementary-style school environment to one more like high school, young adolescents will face a transition year in which they confront the complexity of a larger school. At best, that year will interrupt a familiar flow of learning but force a healthy stretch; at worst, it may paralyze tweens. Kathleen Cushman (“Help Us Make the 9th Grade Transition,” p. 47 ) shares wisdom from students themselves on what kind of guidance and outreach would have helped ease them into 9th grade.
What is needed to help transition through your particular district’s path beyond elementary? Through high school homeroom teachers, arrange to ask students now finishing their first year of high school to reflect on their year. Have these freshmen fantasize about what their ideal school transition year would have been like. What kind of teachers, school activities, and support for making friends would they put in place if they were in charge?
A Second Look at Praise
If most of us had to choose just one word to describe our inner state in those middle school years, that word would not be confident. As Terri Apter (“Resolving the Confidence Crisis,” p. 42) writes, tweens need much bolstering against inner and outer messages that they don’t measure up. Adults often heap on the praise to strengthen weak confidence, but praise can be a double-edged sword.
Pay attention to how you use praise in the classroom. Why not arrange with other teachers in your study group to drop in on one another’s classes several times, taking notes on how teacher praise affects students? Consider these questions:
- Do you praise students so frequently that the affirmation loses its punch, churning out what Apter calls “a surround sound of confident language” that students tune out?
- Are you sincerely praising students’ effort as much as their end results? Do they get that you value hard work as much as a perfect paper?
- How do individual students react to praise? Who seems to benefit from confidence-building language more than others?
- Are there cultural differences that you should keep in mind? If there are students in your class from various cultures, get a feel for how each home culture tends to handle praise and encouragement. In some cultures, being personally praised is considered embarrassing or even as attracting bad luck.
Copyright © 2006 by Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development