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April 1, 2006
Vol. 63
No. 7

Web Wonders / Teaching the Tweens

Although the word tweensmay have been coined on Madison Avenue, many educators and researchers realize that this developmental phase between childhood and puberty presents youth with particular challenges—from anticipating the world of high school to having confidence in their own self-worth.

Assets to Strengthen Tweens

What positive experiences and personal qualities do tweens need to grow up healthy, caring, and responsible? The Search Institute (www.search-institute.org/assets/MiddleChildhood.html) lists 40 developmental assets that are important to kids in middle childhood, including family and neighborhood support, positive peer influence, and high academic expectations.
Tweens need such assets in the face of a marketplace that tends to define them solely as consumers. Harvard professor Susan E. Linn decries highly focused marketing to children age 12 and under in her article “Sellouts” in the online edition ofAmerican Prospect(www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewPrint&articleId=5487). Advertisers take advantage of the fact that older children tend to “believe what they see,” yet have little grasp of future consequences, writes Linn. She suggests actions to put limits on this powerful marketing machinery, with its emphasis on “brand loyalty, impulse buying, and cynicism.”
The nonprofit Girls in Training (www.girlsintraining.org) teaches girls ages 9 to 11 about nutrition and fitness and encourages the development of self-esteem and a positive body image. Girls in Training after-school programs help instill self-confidence and lifelong wellness, say sponsors. The approach is based on research conducted at Vanderbilt University's GirlForce program (www.girlforce.org), which helps young girls engage in more physical activity, make healthier food choices, and avoid taking up smoking.

Comics and Preteen Literacy

In countries with high youth literacy—for example, Finland and Japan—a comics culture abounds, notes Drego Little in “In a Single Bound: A Short Primer on Comics for Educators” (www.newhorizons.org/strategies/literacy/little.htm). Little urges teachers to “step outside the canon” and consider using comics to engage youngsters in reading and literacy.

How to Survive Middle School

A 2004 report by the RAND Corporation,Focus on the Wonder Years: Challenges Facing the American Middle School(www.rand.org/pubs/monographs/2004/RAND_MG139.pdf), analyzes some of the shortcomings that middle schools face. The authors highlight efforts to improve middle schools and suggest alternative structures—among them, K–8 schooling.
To find out what's on the mind of some middle school teachers who daily face 6th, 7th, and 8th grade students, choose from a list of educator blogs at the MiddleWeb site (www.middleweb.com/mw/aaDiaries.html). From a math teacher at an American school in the United Arab Emirates to 7th grade teachers in the heart of Kansas, these bloggers chronicle the challenges and rewards of teaching middle school students.
Jefferson County Public Schools in Kentucky has crafted a Survival Guide for Middle School (www.jefferson.k12.ky.us/Pubs/MS_Survival_book.pdf). Much of the information shows preteens and teens how to take responsibility for their own behavior at school, at home, and in the community. The guide ranges from such topics as student performance standards, family relationships, and making friends to more sensitive issues, such as drugs, sexuality, and eating disorders.
A Web site from the United Kingdom provides a positive spin on dealing with adolescents through the link “9–13 Years: From Primary School to Puberty” (www.raisingkids.co.uk/9_13/9_13.asp). Although written for parents, this site gives tips to anyone flummoxed by tween behavior. For example, a technique called “Change the Label: Change the Behaviour” encourages adults to envision a positive trait in a preteen and to send the message that the child can attain this trait—for example, by catching and acknowledging the child “doing something right.” If a child is doing something that you don't approve of, be specific and firm, explain how the action makes you feel, and outline your expectations, suggests the site's author.

Rick Allen is a former ASCD writer and content producer.

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