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Judith Baenen: Adolescence – Time of greatest change

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Visiting US middle schooling specialist Judith Baenen speaks about the unique aspects of working with students at this stage of development.

Professional learning conversations

These questions and suggested actions encourage you to reflect on your own school context.

In this interview, Judith Baenen states that:

"The biggest change in anybody’s life is between birth and two, but the second biggest change is between the ages of 10 and 15. Everything that goes on with these kids is change – their whole life is change.

We have to make our classrooms energetic, engaging. We have to give kids the opportunities for movement, to experience things, and be with their friends."

Consider this statement in your own school context. As a school, where are you at now? How can you make your classrooms more energetic and engaging to meet the needs of adolescent learners? 

Have you seen?

NZC Update 24 – Supporting learners in years 7–10
This Update is designed to help schools ensure positive transitions, with continuity and clear direction, for learners in years 7–10.

Transcript

Hello, I’m Judith Baenen. I’m from the States and I’m visiting NZ to talk with teachers about middle school kids, who we call in the US, the intermediate grades. We are talking about children between the ages of 10 and 15. The reason I’m here is that we know, and the teachers know, and certainly you parents know, that the ages between 10 and 15 are some of the greatest changes that happen in life. It is easy to tell you that the biggest change in anyone’s life is between birth and two – everybody can see that. When you think about a newborn baby and how helpless a baby is. Then you think about a two-year-old, who can walk, talk, they can put on their own clothes, they can trash the house in 30 seconds – the kinds of things a two-year-old can do is amazing compared to an newborn. The biggest change in anybody’s life is between birth and two, but the second biggest change in anybody’s life is between the ages of 10 and 15. Everything that goes on with these kids is change – their whole life is change. If you begin to think about it, there is no aspect of their life, that’s an important aspect, that isn’t changed.

So one of the things that parents and teachers see all the time that is going on with these kids is the physical change – their bodies are growing, their hormones become active, and unfortunately the change doesn’t happen the same way with all kids. So that you might look at a grade where the children are all age 11 or all age 12 or all age 13 and they are all different sizes. Some of the girls are quite developed, some of the boys are quite tall, others are small and they just haven’t moved along with their growth yet. There is plenty of change, and plenty of physical change but it’s not happening the same way to everybody at the same time, so you have all different sizes, even in the same age group.

Those physical changes also make them quite active – they have plenty of energy; they are always moving or fiddling with something. Then on the other hand they become very lethargic, especially when you want them to take out the trash or do their homework. They become lethargic and don’t want to do anything. That’s all part of it. They are also hungry a lot of the time. They need movement, so in schools we encourage teachers to provide, in the classroom, lots of opportunities for kids to move. Maybe an opportunity for a snack break every now and again. What we know about kids that we often don’t see is that they have trouble sleeping at night; their minds are whirling and they can’t seem to turn that mind off. Because they have trouble sleeping and they don’t get a good night’s rest, sometimes they are tired when they come to school. All these are just some of the physical changes that are going on with kids this age.

Not only are their bodies changing, and we can see that, but their minds are changing too. This a time of the end of the tremendous brain growth that has taken place – at about the age of 10 or 11 there is a huge spurt in brain growth, then it begins to level off as this period of young adolescence starts. So their intellectual abilities seem to be changing. Students who thought they could learn things suddenly feel that they can’t learn things, study becomes harder. They are not yet ready to add to abstract thinking, so they are very concrete. So they say silly things – they are thinking in a concrete way but often what we offer them in school is abstract, so we need to figure out how to make the abstract, concrete. Again the more they can move, the more they can experience, these are better opportunities for them because they are concrete thinkers. At the same time their frontal lobes aren’t fully developed so they have a lot of trouble making decisions. They can’t plan ahead. This is hard when you are expecting a student to set goals for him or herself, or to remember what you told them to do or not to do. They can’t remember sometimes, so there is a lot of forgetting; there is a lot of helping them to remember. This is just part of the age – it isn’t laziness or lack of motivation, it’s just what’s going on with them and their brains.

Then finally the biggest change that we see in students of this age is the changes that they undergo in their relationships with other people. Where family was the most important thing in their lives up till now, friends become first; friends are the most important thing. Peer pressure becomes an issue. So they want to be with their friends and doing the same things that their friends are doing, but at the same time they want to be individual. So they want friends but they don’t know how to be friendly. They want to be part of the crowd, but they also want to be individuals, so it’s a very challenging time. They want to break away from their parents and become more independent but they are not ready yet. They are not teenagers; it’s not really a time for them to be independent.

So all these changes are going on, makes education a challenge. We have to make our classrooms energetic, engaging. We have to give kids the opportunities for movement, to experience things, and be with their friends. It’s a wonderful time – these kids can be fun, funny, they can learn things, they can play complicated musical instruments, they make art that is museum worthy, and they are well worth teaching and hanging in there with them because you know what, they are the nicest kids!


Published on: 01 Oct 2010


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