Monday, April 11, 2011

Year 7: Children or Young Adults?

The final in a series of reflections about my first time experiences teaching a Year 7 mathematics class.

While the end-of-term survey showed that most of my Year 7 are enjoying or at least tolerating maths (let's be honest, many students don't like maths), some unexpected feedback appeared in the comments from several students: "Treat us like Year 7 instead of 5 year olds". When I first read this feedback I wondered if students were referring to the "fun lessons" we've been doing - which do sometimes look like primary school activities, even though they explore Year 7 content, but then I realised the comments probably reflected something deeper.

Is it possible I've been treating my Year 7 like small children without being aware of it?

How old is Spongebob Squarepants?  Spongebob definitely isn't a child - he sat his
 driving test 58 times.  Age estimates range from 13 to "50 sponge years".
And yes - my Year 7 class is slightly chaotic!

On the last day of term, I presented the summary of the feedback to the class and asked them, if they didn't mind, to help me understand the comments. They seemed surprised to see critical comments about my teaching so openly presented, but were keen to explain.  At first some students mentioned they found the maths too easy and that made it childish, but then some students told me that sometimes I talk down to them - and that opened the conversation up - clearly most students felt I was treating them like little kids.  I think it must have taken some courage to tell me this to my face and I'm very grateful to them. And they probably are right. Sometimes I take too much pleasure in the childish aspects of Year 7 - and play to it.  (Frustrated primary school teacher?) I asked the students: "So what should I do to treat you more like Year 7?"  I treasure the response: "Do what you're doing now - talk to us like this". I think it was the first time these students had seen a teacher share student feedback with them - and they were quite surprised how open I was to discussing how I could improve. And in return, they were being very mature in helping me understand their feedback.

So are Year 7 children or young adults? I think the answer is both - they have the amazing ability to be both childish and mature at the same time. Adding to the confusion is the wide range of physical size, behaviour and mathematical skill across the class. Then throw in the fact you've maybe just come from teaching a Year 11 class, where students are so much older - it's easy to get confused.  I'm guessing for the Year 7 students, who are going through the messy transition process from being the 'big kids' at primary school to the 'little kids' at high school, having a teacher talk down to you is not helpful. They want to feel they are in the adult world now.

I'm resolved next term to act as if my Year 7 class are all young adults - not children. And for the times they act more like children - well, I'll remember that last day of Term 1 when we talked together as adults about what constitutes good teaching.

I can't overstate how valuable getting student feedback on your teaching can be. See my post on Student Voice for details how I do it in ways to encourage constructive feedback and protect student anonymity, along with some resources you may wish to use for your own student surveys.


  1. Hi Mr Zuber
    Absolutely - Year 7 is messy! Transition is always complicated. Many students would have spent the whole of Year 6 being told "you need to do SO MUCH MORE homework because they will expect that in high school" and "that's not good enough - they will expect better in high school". However I doubt very much that anyone would have told them that your Maths teacher will be interested in what you think, and will ask you for your opinion!
    Year 7 has always seemed like a bit of a holding pattern to me. Almost all of the current syllabus set aside for Year 7 has been presented before, but it depends on such a wide variety of variables in the primary school setting that we feel obliged to re-present it so that we attempt to provide a level playing field. It will be interesting to see how the National Curriculum plays out in this area. Meanwhile, Year 7 establishes poor habits for many because they have either seen the work before and get unrealistically high marks in tests, or they are struggling in Maths and get their negative opinions confirmed and proceed to disengagement.
    None of this is new, but to discuss all this with Year 7... that's what is fresh! This is more than treating then as young adults - this is providing them with OWNERSHIP OF THEIR LEARNING! That is just plain inspirational! Thank you for sharing your journey...
    Regards, Deb Hogg

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