Are These Tweens Really Ready?

I still remember the first time that I had to look at children through a developmentally appropriate lens. As educators, we all know the age of the students that are in front of us, and we understand school rules and expectations, but what if our children are at a different developmental level? This was a reality that I faced a number of years ago. And it was this very topic that I thought back to again when I heard a very disturbing story yesterday.

I think often about this group of students, who caused me to really re-evaluate my teaching practices. I was struggling. Really struggling. I was not a new teacher, and I was not a beginning teacher in this grade, but nothing seemed to be working. I was spending my entire day dealing with one problem after another one. I felt as though I was constantly putting out fires, and just as I put out one, another blaze began. Ask any Kindergarten child, and he/she can probably recite the school rules.

  • No hitting.
  • No kicking.
  • No pushing.
  • No spitting.
  • We can look instead at the nicer option of, “Be kind to your friends and keep your hands to yourself,” but the overall message is the same.

For the most part, these students also knew these rules, but they didn’t follow them. How was I supposed to support academic gains, when I was split in so many directions dealing with social problems? At this point, I tried options that worked well in the past, and when these options still didn’t work, I broke down in tears. I went to the principal and asked for help. I wanted to bring in some consultants and Board teams and see what we could do to support these children, as the classroom environment was not working for anyone. I had a wonderfully supportive principal, who was quick to contact some Board supports, and we had a meeting. In the meeting, we talked about The ELECT Document, and where these students might be at a developmental level. I knew where they needed to be, but if they weren’t there, were my instructional approaches really supporting them? This meeting was eye-opening for me and challenging at the same time. I’m a teacher. I teach reading, writing, and math. But these consultants re-framed things for me: I teach kids first! So I walked back into the classroom, feeling partially defeated and partially inspired, and I had a really long talk with my teaching partner. If all of our students were at the developmental level of a toddler, what would a toddler room look like? We made a lot of changes after school that day, which continued into the next day.

  • We covered up shelves.
  • We switched materials in the room.
  • We replaced lengthy read alouds with board books.
  • We added more sensory options (from water to play dough), and even made the sink into a learning space.
  • We changed our schedule: reducing transitions and allowing for more of a flow in the day.
  • We responded differently to kids: modelling social interactions instead of punishing for hitting or grabbing, as this was the developmental stage that the students were at. 
  • We started to sing everything. As an educator that I admire reminded me, “Kids hear music at a different level than talking. They respond to it differently.” And they did!

The next day was the BEST day that I had at school in over two months. Our kids had their best day too. What initially felt like a very dysregulating environment changed to a very calming one. I could feel it, my teaching partner could feel it, and the children could feel it. This was a great reminder to all of us, that while we had our expectations for kids, we needed to respond to the children in front of us. By responding differently, the students also changed. They grew. They matured. And we could gradually address academic needs, as now these children were self-regulated and ready to learn!

I thought back to this experience yesterday when a teacher from a different school told me about a disturbing issue with tweens and social media. The details of this problem are irrelevant. We’ve all heard about these issues before. Be it inappropriate postings, language, or interactions on a social media site, we all know the horror stories or have experienced them. And this is when I started to wonder about elementary students bringing and using their own devices at school. Please don’t get me wrong. I’ve taught up to Grade 6 before, and I’ve used technology in all grades from Kindergarten to Grade 6. I see the value in using technology as a learning tool, and watching students use these devices in the classroom, I think that they also see the academic benefits. But when we add personal devices into the mix, we also potentially add more problems.

  • There’s the ability to text.
  • There’s the ability to upload to Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter (usually used less by students). 
  • There’s the ability to use Snapchat or Kik (a popular option with my Grade 6’s many years ago). 

We could argue that the rule is that the students are not supposed to use these apps in school, but rules are often broken. In fact, most of the social media platforms that these tweens are using are for individuals 13 or older, but many are using it much younger than that. And while, as a teacher, I always circulated and looked at the screens as students used iPads or computers, with hand-held devices it’s impossible to see every screen at every moment of the day. It takes seconds to publish a post, and these seconds can lead to many minutes of problems later. 

I’m beginning to wonder if students in this Grade 5-8 range are emotionally and socially mature enough to deal with the possible repercussions that come from the use of social media. Add into the fact that many of these students are starting to go through puberty, and at times, hormones lead to them responding in a way that may even be outside of their control. I get it. I’ve seen it. And these same students may be genuinely upset later with how they’ve responded, but it could be too late. I know that these individuals are likely to explore texting and social media applications at home, and maybe these same problems will surface, but I wonder if parents can catch issues even quicker. Can they support their tween even more? For these same parents may be watching a couple of kids versus a class of 30+ students. It’s the numbers that concern me the most. 

When I taught junior grades, I did encourage students to bring in their devices from home. Many did. This was what often gave us 1:1 devices in the room, and allowed us to blog and create online, collaborative presentations as frequently as we did. But if I was to go back and teach a junior grade again, I’m not sure that I would encourage these home devices as much as I did before. I’d still use the iPads, Chromebooks, and computers that we have at school, but maybe cellphones could stay in the lockers until after school. Would just this one change minimize the potential for problems and allow me to continue to model technology use for learning, but with Board devices in a classroom setting? These horror stories scare me, and not just because of what happens, but because I wonder if we can truly expect different outcomes from kids of this age. Maybe some kids, but most/all kids? It’s like my teaching story from years ago: when we respond to students at their developmental level, the learning and behaviour changes. I wonder if the social and emotional developmental level of these 10-12 year olds really allow for the independent, mature interaction with the platforms that they ARE using — and will likely CONTINUE to use — on their personal devices. Knowing this, do we need to respond in a different way? What might that way be? It only took one more disturbing story to have me wondering. 


2 thoughts on “Are These Tweens Really Ready?

  1. Hi Aviva,
    You make some thought provoking points. I’m not sure that there is one solution.I definitely concur with your questions regarding developmental readiness. Perhaps it boils down to the kind of device students are allowed to bring to school. I often wonder about how useful a smartphone is for classroom assignments ie. the size of the screen. Can a project/inquiry be successfully (and efficiently) be completed on a 4.7” screen? Also, do the students have a different view of a smartphone vs a tablet? If they were only using tablets would they be less inclined to be involved in some forms of social media?

    I think that there are some valid reasons to request that students use only tablets or desktops in the classroom. Your point of development readiness is at the top. Hopefully students would then use the technology as a learning tool rather than an extension of their social life. (At least that way, as an educator, it would be easier to monitor screens). Thanks for getting me thinking about this! Kim

    • Thanks for the comment, Kim! I think that your last question in the first paragraph is an interesting one to ponder. Do kids post to social media platforms as frequently on tablets as they do on Smart phones? What about texting? I don’t use a cell phone, so I post everything from my iPad, but am I in the minority?

      I do remember some of my Grade 6’s loving to read and write on their phones. They were actually quite fast typing on them, and some of my most eager readers, read a ton of books on the small screen. I wonder if it varies student to student. That said, students develop at different rates too, which is what makes this whole discussion that much more complicated. Thanks for giving me more to think about!


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