9 November 2012

Teaming (or Taming?) Teens

I can't go back to yesterday - because I was a different person then. 

Lewis Carrol 

I do remember my yesterdays; growing up with crystal clear seas, golden savannas, rivers and hills of adventures. Climbing trees, ripping dresses as I tumbled down, making sure that my hair was untidy when wearing my uniform and yes, even once sticking my head in the oven so it would become wild and frizzy like Janis Joplin.  Of course, it never worked out as planned. So instead, I stuck to my guitar, trying to sound like all my favourite singers, keeping far away from the oven. 

My yesterdays no longer exist. The country where I was a teenager no longer is,  or rather, is another place altogether. The land I grew up in remains alive in the windmills of my mind, a world  more innocent, safer and more simple than today - or, that is how I still perceive it from my teen eyes. 

Teen years are wonderfully liberating, wildly  willful and at times, painfully boring at school. I am far from being a teen today, but as I watch teenagers asserting themselves as grown-ups to be, asserting their identity, their place in the world, I wonder how to capture their imagination and interest in learning. 

Yes, growing up also means learning history, math and writing well. However, if the focus is on  oneself, doesn't it make a difference?

Creating timelines is a great way to engage learners - so many different topics can be suggested, from creating a timeline of their own lives and dreams, summarising a book, to creating a timeline in celebration of their nation's achievements. 

And then there are stories. There are always stories to be told and shared. Storyboard Generator  (developed by the Australian Centre For The Moving Image) is a great tool for students to create  and share their own digital story in four simple steps. 

The ACMI also offers other resources of interest - namely a whole selection of games. As always, it is recommended that teachers take their time selecting which game to share with learners as so much will depend on their teaching context. 

 Radio Diaries shares stories of ordinary and extraordinary individuals, as well as having a page dedicated to teen podcasts. Teenagers all over the world will have similar and different problems; teenagers today, all around the world have much more information about others than ever in the past.  

A teacher may want to use a podcast as part of a lesson theme, or let students work in pairs, letting them choose the podcast of their choice. They can then present and explain their choice to the rest of the class. This has two advantages: students are given a choice and responsibility; at the same time, they are learning - be it vocabulary, facts, other realities - and as they present their choice to their peers, not only is it an interesting speaking activity, but also further practice in presentation skills. Most of all, teenagers want freedom of choice - classroom tasks too can include choices. 

Then there is the issue of being cybersmart. Living in a connected world does not mean that teenagers are aware of their digital footprint and even less what to do if suffering from cyber-bullying or unwanted contacts. Cybersmart-Teens is a site which offers advice regarding life online, what one needs to know online (e.g. shopping online) and even a game and video. It is a practical site for teenagers, offering advice and recommendations. 

One of the contrasting charms of teenagers is how they "know it all", yet are so in need of security and comfort for all the moments when insecurity takes over in private. Speaking openly about these issues dispels biases and possible future regrets. 

And then of course, there are days when classroom serenity is not achieved with seriousness. 

That is when Send a Scroll comes in handy, liberating emotions and creativity, adding elements of fun to a lesson.  

Grammar Comics can actually make teens rejoice in grammar and possibly motivate them to create their own cartoon, focusing on a grammar issue or learning problem they've had in a particular subject. 

And if all else fails.....

... let them portray their monster teen dreams!

Teen years are complex years. Fun, challenging, defining. 

Teaching teenagers is challenging, inspiring, and yes, can be exhausting at times as well. 

But....who ever said that teaching was going to be boring? 

How do you inspire today's teenagers?

Further suggestions:

Creating Innovators

Digital Storytelling in the Classroom

5 Hallmarks of a Creative Project

Their Space - Educating Digitally Ethical Teens

Teen Ink - A magazine and website written by teens


  1. There was so much I enjoyed while reading your post from the quotes by Lewis Carroll, the poignant images used and the narrative style writing. The challenge of stoking the fires of creativity and passion for learning is one we face not just with our students but also our colleagues. A dose of Teaming (or Taming) Teens is what I will be recommending to my colleagues. Thanks for the great resources and ideas

  2. Hi Anne and Riss,

    Thank you for reading, sharing your thoughts and kind words. Currently I don't work with teenagers (though I have); yet in a way I do, as when students enter higher education, there are so many teen issues they still bring with them. In today's world of instant gratitude, flashing lights and constant noise, how does one truly capture their attention, their imagination?

    Perhaps this has always been a challenge; perhaps today educators have more choices at their disposal to help them inspire teens' interest in their lessons. It is those resources that I would have liked to have had as a teen that inspire me as well :-)