I hadn’t taught tweens (ages 11-12) in quite a long time. For about six years I had taught mostly very young learners ages 4 to 10. It’s only a question of two years but in that time they change so much that it’s really a world of difference. Due to scheduling, I added this age group to my courseload in September. The transition has been challenging for me and at times rather difficult but extremely rewarding.
I started preparing for this class during the summer. Or at least I tried to. Having taught mostly the same age groups for so long, it was hard for me to anticipate what level of English the tweens would have, what their interests would be like and what sort of classroom management strategies I needed to implement. I came up with an evaluation system concerning homework, classroom behavior and project work. I also had a good look at the coursebook and used it to come up with a general syllabus. I was able to get some aspects of the course prepared beforehand but I am the type of person who learns by doing so I couldn’t do anything more specific than that (as far as copying worksheets, coming up with lesson plans, etc) until I was actually in the classroom with these students. I needed to be around them, watch them in action and see how they reacted to me before I could think about how to adapt the coursebook to their needs and interests.
On the first day I asked them to complete a questionnaire (see below), which had questions about how often they use the internet as well as what they do in their free time. I used the questionnaire to get to know them a bit more as well as see how well they understood the questions and how they answered them. We also did an ice-breaker activity in which I wrote three words related to my life on the board. The students had to ask me questions in order to guess what these words meant to me. We revised Wh- words beforehand and I encouraged them to use these words because I wanted to see how they did forming the questions as well as using them correctly. I then asked students to write three words related to their own lives and ask each other questions while I monitored. Next year I’m also going to ask them to write a paragraph about the information they learned from their partner. (The idea of getting the writing sample came from a post by Hada Litim on making the first day count. Thank you Hada!). I thought the first day went very well. We got to know each other a bit more (two of them were my students before but as I mentioned before, they change so much in two years!) and we talked about the expectations for the course.
In the past three months there have been good days like that first day when the students were focused and participating well. But there have been quite a few not so good days in which they’re completely distracted, chatting amongst themselves as if I weren’t even there and not participating in English. It’s also a constant struggle to get them to complete homework and project assignments, even the most dedicated students. At first I was really frustrated, believing that their behavior and lack of motivation were directly related to my teaching skills (or lack thereof) regarding this age group. It was so much easier to manage my much larger class of twelve five year-olds than this small class of four twelve year-olds.
Despite my frustration, I’d like to think that I rose to the challenge (time and time again), using different types of activities and topics to draw them in and motivate them. I dedicated quite a disproportionate amount of time and effort to preparing the classes with this group (and I still do). There were some days when they responded well to my efforts but other days that they seemed to be so lost in their own worlds that it was impossible to bring them back to the tasks we were working on in English class.
At first I was disappointed. Disappointed with myself but also with them as students. Since then I’ve come to realize (through talking to other teachers and reading online) that tweens are just a really awkward and challenging age group. They are making the transition from being considered children to being adolescents. This is a significant change in their lives and affects them in all types of ways: physically, hormonally, mentally and emotionally. There are days when they are focused and ready to carry out the resonsibilities expected of them, but there are other days when any number of factors get in the way. Sometimes they act like small children but then at other times they seem quite mature; it’s really difficult to plan and prepare lessons when you’re not really sure what age the students will be acting like that day.
As a teacher, I’m learning how to encourage and appreciate those days (or moments) when they’re fully engaged as well as how to ride out the storm during those moments when they seem to be out of reach. As the school year marches on my disappointment is wearing off and my patience is growing stronger. They’re going through a tough time in their lives full of changes and new responsiblities. I try to keep this in mind when they exasperate me in class or when no one found time to finish the final project for the day it was due. I remain hopeful that if I continue to set high yet achievable expectations they’ll get there in the end.
I’m not really sure where I was going with this post. When I started writing I had other ideas in mind but it quickly turned into a rant so I just went with it. Thank you for reading. Please share with me any advice you have on teaching tweens or any experiences you’ve had with this age group.