Two of these kids are in middle school and two are in high school. Can you tell the difference?
Drama teachers who are just beginning their careers ask me my secret to success in the classroom. How do I make my drama classes so successful? Heck, I don’t know really. I’m intense, have high expectations of all my students, energetic and enthusiastic about the subject matter.
Secondary level students, especially middle grade kids are a whole different bird than elementary. It isn’t only their maturity level that sets them apart. Obviously, their physical stature comes into play.
Every body part is changing rapidly. In ninth grade, our daughter went through a different size of jeans every three months–one time this size, the next time a smaller size, the third time back up a size and needing a longer length. Around and around we’d go.
And boys? It’s a little easier to spot their changing than the girls. I’ve known many a young man who was a scrawny seventh grader grow to become a muscled ninth grader. Prior to the maturing, the poor boy appears frantic that he won’t grow. Then, whoosh! He turns the bend, grows four inches and carries a look of relief while developing his personal swagger. I don’t blame him. I would, too!
It’s the emotional quotient which divides them from the younger students. Think about when you were in seventh grade. Oh gosh.
I was all over the place-confused, weepy, , silly, snotty and arrogant. Remember my mother was quite ill by the time I was ten years old and I hid any negative feelings I felt because I didn’t want to exacerbate her health issues with the stress of raising me.
So what do we do in theatre classes? We plop these smelly, sweaty emotional bursts of energy on a stage and ask them to show their feelings. Yikes! As if identifying their own emotions wasn’t difficult enough, we expect them to demonstrate someone else’s.
Here are a few pieces of advice when teaching middle grade students:
Give every one an opportunity for success every day. Generally, this can be achieved through a warm up exercise which has no apparent “winner”.
Help those students who are the loner type. Assign them to a group of students who are welcoming and kind.
Do you know the “smile and nod” technique? It is difficult for someone to say no to you, when you are smiling and nodding. Middle school students can be very disagreeable. Try to smile and nod with your request.
Give plenty of time for homework assignments. Students this age have a difficult time making priorities. Ample reminders and extra time that you have built in to the assignment (they don’t need to know this) should help.
Be sincere with them.
Be very organized and prepared for class. They can smell it on you if you haven’t planned.
Be trustworthy. They don’t like to be tricked and can tell when they are being manipulated. If you don’t know the answer it is acceptable to say you don’t know the answer, but you’ll find out for them.
Play fairly. If you say, “Everyone will have a speaking part in our play” you better come through on that promise. They will hold you to it.
Provide many hands-on learning experiences. They need to get up and move around at this age.
Establish class expectations right from day one which includes boundaries as middle school kids will test your limits.
Teach respect through positive criticism.
At the same time, be careful not to over praise them. Over praising doesn’t help anyone to grow. Research has found the opposite. Always have high expectations. They will rise to them if you first believe in them doing so.
Use side coaching when directing or instructing. Like a sport coach, the students will more readily accept your corrections of them if you phrase your correction in threes–a compliment, then the correction and end with another compliment.
If you have a reluctant learner, note the smallest positive attribute you see. By merely noting it, over time the student should open up to you and trust you.
Fear and humiliation play huge roles at this age. My advice: make a fool of yourself and laugh at yourself A LOT. Teach your students how to do the same with themselves.
Kids of this age are very sensitive about their clothing and hair. Never comment first on either. Let the student first mention it to you then you can say something.
At the beginning of each class allow a few minutes for sharing. Some students always have something exciting they want to share with the class. It could be something as simple as a girl went shopping at the mall with her bestie. That means everything to her. Other students who don’t share might divulge something if you can ask the right questions of them. Rather than, “How was your weekend?” try “Tell me about something exciting or unusual that occurred over your weekend?” Many students never have an adult listen to them. You can be their listener.
Be on your game. Students of this age are melodramatic, hyper focus on themselves and can change on you in a moment’s notice.
You have a very lasting effect and influence on middle grade students. Not only are they learning from you, they are observing you in the classroom and around the school. They love with their whole heart, so take good care of it for them.
In any situation whenever possible, temper your true feelings and always think of the middle grade student first.
If you haven’t noticed all ready, I didn’t discuss the actual teaching of the classroom on this post. Generally, everything I suggested with the elementary students will work with middle grade students. But the biggest challenge will be their emotional growth at this moment in their lives. If you can master how to ” ride the tidal wave” with them, you will most surely succeed.