Our 8th grade girls this year have done an amazing job of not causing drama among themselves. This is good news! The bad news is that they don’t cause drama because they all get along so well. Imagine a dozen 13-year-old girls who are friends, spending the day together. Now multiply times five days. For 36 weeks. Spice it up with articulate, energetic, noisy girls who all have opinions to share on any topic that comes up, and you get the picture. I said, “YOU GET THE PICTURE!” Oops – sorry for yelling; it’s become a habit to make myself heard sometimes.
My fellow teacher and I tried explaining how disrespectful and inconsiderate such behavior is. Then we tried nagging, admonishing, scolding, and pleading. The girls would settle down for a day and a half after each discussion, but they’d soon be back to full volume. We were frustrated, because this is a group of engaged, positive young ladies; we’re not dealing with an “us against them” mentality, nor with undermining of our authority.
Last week their writing assignment was to develop resolutions and goals for the rest of the year. I invited them to check in with me if they needed help thinking up goals for themselves. Over the weekend one of the girls texted me, and I suggested she work on not blurting so much. “Do I really blurt that often?” she replied. And voila! An idea was born – an old technique, actually, that I hadn’t used in several years.
On Monday I handed a Post-It note to each student (boys, too), and asked them to make a mark every time they interrupted or made a comment without waiting to be called on. I told them we teachers would help by pointing at them when we felt they should add a tally. The girls really got into the spirit of it and were surprised to see they blurted answers as often as eight times in a 50-minute class period. Kayla took it a step further: “I didn’t interrupt, but I gave myself a mark every time I wanted to interrupt.” She was shocked to find herself making six marks.
Today there was marked improvement in our class discussions. By making them aware of how disruptive they really are, we empowered them to take charge of the problem and solve it themselves. There was still blurting, but it was followed by a guilty look and often a “Sorry” instead of someone nearby trying to outshout the speaker. And I saw more than one girl open her mouth and then promptly put her fingers in front of it while raising her other hand.
It’s an old adage: Awareness of a problem is the first step in solving it. With teens, that awareness has to come from within, not from adults pointing out their shortcomings.
The trick is to find a way that helps them discover it for themselves.