Currently, I’m teaching Summer School and a lot of the talk with my colleagues has been how to deal with teen students. It’s often a tricky age group, but it is one that can be really rewarding when you break through and crack them!
I’ve found that it’s really important to find out their interests. This may seem pretty basic, but so many teachers seem scared of teens or think that the best way is to impose their beliefs on their students and crack down on them. Not surprisingly, this doesn’t generally work and results in sullen teens who are bored in class, and teachers who can’t understand why their students are misbehaving and bored. So how do you find out their interests and engage your teens?
- Survey their interests: Ask your students what they like. Listen to them and try to incorporate their interests when you can. If they like sport, movies or technology then try to incorporate these into lessons. Music is often popular and I often have a class DJ who is responsible for music during downtimes in a lesson. This is usually negotiated to ensure it’s not offensive, but students take turns to share their music interests.
- Negotiate and give students choices. Teens are becoming young adults and need to learn how to make choices and be responsible for them. They also don’t like to feel they have to conform all of the time, so when they feel that they have a say in their learning they are more likely to be positive and enjoy their learning, as well as being pleasant to be around.
- Mix it up: It is often tempting to stick to the familiar and to keep teaching tried and trusted activities. However, there is a risk that this will become boring. With the current generations used to variety and playing with technology, we need to mix things up in the classroom to keep things interesting. Don’t be afraid to use technology, but at the same time don’t be afraid to go old school and use paper and pens as well.
- Keep activities challenging but achievable. Along with variety, we also need to challenge our students. It is important to develop thinking skills and HOTS (Higher Order Thinking Skills) such as graphic organisers, problem solving and creativity.
- Awareness of outside factors: Being aware of outside factors such as important exams can help build learner trust and rapport. During times of exams or higher stress, it could be a good time to build in some extra fun activities and lessen homework to support your learners. Talking with your students is a key ingredient. Find out about their lives and any potential issues that may be impacting their learning. You can then help them deal with issues, or at least take it into consideration.
- Vary interactions: This sounds basic but it goes back to mixing things up. Have a mix of pair, group and individual work. Collaborative projects always work well as they encourage variety. Mixing up seating and where everyone sits can help keep it fresh too. Whilst it’s nice for students to sit with their friends, it is a good idea for them to work with other students at time as well.
- Stories, role-plays, drama and songs: These are all types of activities that add fun, movement and variety to your classes. Getting your teens to move is vital to get the oxygen in your class and students circulating, which helps improve their learning. Students who are quiet in class often come alive in these types of activities as they can perform as someone else. They can also be creative and express themselves, which teens often love to do.
- Give feedback: It’s important to talk to your students and let them know how they are doing. When they are struggling, consider giving them a second chance. If a student is clearly trying hard then giving them specific feedback to help them improve can make a big difference. Giving positive feedback mixed in with error correction can help learners realise that they aren’t only making mistakes, which can make the learning journey more palatable and enjoyable.
- Spark their curiosity: Teenagers are at a stage in life where they are expected to learn certain subjects and sit important exams. They need to be challenged with their current knowledge questioned and asked ‘what would you do?’ Using stories and historical characters can give them an opportunity to do this. Providing activities, which ask students to respond to situations or people, gives them such a platform. Using a prop or package related to the story can also spark their curiosity and help to fully engage the students.
- Give meaningful praise: Teens hate empty praise. Teachers can be guilty of saying ‘well done’ for many acts which may be nothing much. In the end it becomes meaningless and students block it out. Instead, keep an eye out for real examples to praise and be specific. Let your students know that you really are watching them and what they do. For example, ‘Your conclusion is spot on’, ‘Your picture looks just right’, ‘Your paragraph is well written’. Your praise must be true, or it devalues genuine praise and students can spot this a mile off!