What are 12-13 year-olds like?
Classes 6 to 7 can be a bit of a headache for the teachers concerned. The pupils are often in turmoil with puberty beginning to make itself felt. Boys make frequent use of their newly found sonorous voices, girls like to be sharp-tongued. The best we can do is to say ‘Yes, all right, I know, but let’s get down to some work, shall we?’ When greeting the children you used to feel warm chubby hands; now some tend to have cold hands, sometimes even a little bony. The age of dear little boys and girls seems to be over, the children are growing fast. (Do you see small boys wearing big shoes?) Their voices change, as do their moods. The age of youth has started, a period of time that may last well into class 10. ‘Always me!’ is a typical reaction when reprimanded. The hair-splitting, the to-and-froing, the shifting of ground can be quite exasperating. Children may even be over-sensitive, too, so that some of them cannot bear being addressed too directly. Best not get involved in these kind of arguments in the first place. What used to be standard practice such as telling a 12-year-old not to answer back no longer seems to apply. Actually this has its advantages as well: it is easier to see a child’s mood, to notice what a child is feeling or thinking. We have to be careful we let the boys be a little less good than the girls. We must know that boys cannot bear to be seen to have failed. A frequent reaction is pooh-poohing what you say, or casting doubt over the relevance of what you are trying to point out. Some will go to great lengths to keep the laughs on their side.
Arguing with young people
Young learner in puberty often want to argue logically but find it hard to do this properly (which is why they like practising it, even if it drives their teachers up the wall). When they notice they are losing they shift their ground or may even become a little aggressive, so that it might be best for us as teachers not to get into any arguments with them in the first place. Of course we cannot just refuse to argue with them or simply demand they do what we say. A golden middle way will always be best. After all, it is the age of causal thinking that has just begun.
From class 6 or 7 individual talent will become apparent. Individual potential will start to unfold. We will be able to progress best if we recognize and make use of this potential. We will get the children to make contributions of their own, i.e. bring in their own inventiveness and creative drive.
12-13 year-olds have a deep desire to develop their capacity to make logical judgements sharpening what they might already have. This shows in a keen sense of right and wrong. That is why young people of this age love to enter into arguments with things we try to teach them. I remember a lesson on the imperative being rubbished by claims that invitations, cooking recipes, commands and prayers such Won’t you come in, please? Break two eggs and beat them; Don’t talk and Give us our daily bread’ cannot possibly all be ‘imperatives’. Of course they were quite right. An abstract concept is still pretty meaningless for them. Before we know where we are we have entered the field of definitions and characterizations. Much can be defined, a lot cannot. What cannot be defined can be characterized. They don’t really want to learn to grasp the world with bloodless, abstract concepts (definitions) – they can’t until about class 9 – but with colourful and emotional concepts. That is why we teach with a certain warmth and try to appeal to their imagination so that they can develop a certain warmth for the topics we want to work with.
In foreign language lessons we have guided compositions (where beginnings of sentences are given, the content is suggested through a series of catch phrases) to enable pupils bring in their individual interests and private thoughts if they so wish, and to allow all pupils each to find their own style of working.