Monday, July 29, 2013

The Art of Teen Whispering

As I ran errands this morning, Back-To-School supplies and displays greeted me as I entered the store. School will start in about two weeks, and that means my private tutoring schedule will begin to pick up. My next two weeks will include some adjustments to my schedule, more research, and developing methods to reach students on more than just an academic level. My goal is to reach the whole student.

To many, tutoring is nothing more than supplemental help to improve skills.  

No, no, no, no, NO. 

When parents ask me to tutor their children, I explain to them that tutoring involves more than academic instruction; it involves activities to shake them up and turn them inside-out before academic instruction can begin. Teenagers, in particular, are in a challenging position. Teenage years are awkward. They are no longer innocent babes, but they have not fully matured into adulthood, which is why I call them Tweenagers because they are caught in-between the two states. They have so many questions that need answering, their hormones are raging, they are beginning to discover themselves and their bodies, they don't know who or what to believe, and they are bombarded with much more pressure today than teenagers 20, 30, or 40 years ago. They often feel misunderstood in their quest for individuality. I like to describe them as live wires that need grounding.

Here are some of my tutoring techniques to help ground these wild currents of energy:

First, I require students to keep a personal journal. I explain the benefits of journaling. I give them journaling exercises for the week, which I review in detail and comment upon. In my comments, I ask questions in return for them to answer. I encourage them. I offer my insights. I don't judge. This helps me to see inside from a safe distance. This allows them to write freely and boldly. I assure them that what they write is strictly confidential; the only time I would have to share information is if the student intends to do harm, either to the self or to someone else. I offer many observation exercises to open the students' minds. Students continue journaling throughout our sessions. Journaling can be handwritten in a notebook, or done in a word-processing program and emailed to me. In addition to personal journals, I require students to keep reading journals for any literature they are studying. 

Second, I introduce students to meditation techniques. I explain the importance of centering oneself before tackling large tasks. I also explain the benefits of meditation. I use guided meditation in the beginning until students feel comfortable. From there, we meditate together. Students journal about these experiences for later discussion.

Third, I make students move physically. I check with parents about the health of their child. In most cases, students are involved in many sports, and I check with their coaches about their particular conditioning programs. I use my personal training experience in conjunction. Instead of writing an essay or working on argumentation techniques for a session, I make students run/walk or commit to some kind of physical activity. When I started an outdoor club at a previous school, I took students hiking, camping, and canoeing as we studied the Romantics and Transcendentalist writers. 

Fourth, I introduce an I-Search project, instead of a Re-search project. A teen's favorite topic is none other than him- or herself, so I give guidelines to help discover who they are, what they believe, etc. This is done in a multi-genre format to allow for creativity throughout the project.  This is always a favorite. The multi-genre format teaches students to learn about and write in various genres to expand their writing skills. They can respond in poems, essays, letters, collages, bumper stickers, comic strips, etc.  I have a list of over 200 different genres from which they can choose to express themselves in their project. I tutored one student in particular who had suffered a major car accident that left her with seizures. Through her I-Search multi-genre project, she faced her fears, anger, and grief. She discovered news ways to cope and found herself healed on many levels after completing it. Her writing skills blossomed and so did her self-esteem. Today she is seizure free.

Fifth, I infuse reading comprehension, writing techniques, grammar skills, vocabulary development and all things language arts related in as many creative ways as possible. I haven't met a teenager yet who absolutely loves vocabulary development. When I want students to learn vocab words, I have them personify the words, as a living, breathing person, in such a way that the meaning of the word is evident without stating the obvious.  For example, let's use the word oblivious as the vocab word: "Oblivious walked into the classroom, tripping over backpacks, and knocking books off of desks with her bag, not realizing what she was doing. As she settled into her seat, she dumped all of the contents from her purse onto her desk, completely unaware that class had already started." Not only does this teach the meaning of the word, but it teaches the elements of characterization in a creative way, and it helps students to understand context clues.

Some students progress faster than others, but rushing a student through the learning process only serves to close him or her down. It requires trust-building and patience, especially with students who are unsure of themselves. Students want to feel good about who they are and what they are doing, especially during a time in their life that is often filled with angst and confusion.

Of course, these techniques are not a cure-all, but they are a start in helping young people discover their authentic selves.


  1. Penny,
    I absolutely love your method of teaching by implementing body movement, journaling, meditation, I-Search, etc.. into your curriculum! I think that's "fantastic" and will give more Tweenagers the opportunity to develop a deeper and more meaningful approach to life.
    You're doing great work!

    1. Thank you! Many tweens don't know how to think because they don't know who they are. I try to develop lessons that get them thinking and that will open them to who they are and to the world at large. They tend to stay stuck in their own little universes. Thanks for stopping in and commenting!

  2. Great strategies Penny! Thanks so much for sharing - you have given me some ideas for my teen when he starts 10th grade this fall.

  3. Hi Carin! The biggest thing with teens is that they don't feel understood, which is why they turn to their friends instead of adults because they feel adults sit in judgment of everything they do. They are searching for identity and connection in a quickly-changing world. They are searching for meaning but they don't know how; this is where the frustration, pressure, and stress sets in and causes them to make bad decisions. I wish you all the best with your son. Thank you for stopping in and commenting.