I love that bit in the film Up. The moment when the talking dog is just rambling along and then Bang! Squirrel! It is so appropriate for the way dogs are so easily distracted. Sometimes are kids are just like that, too. Maybe that is why those moments in the movie are so funny.
Just read a good article from a principal in Texas about how to cope with middle school students. It is really helpful, and quite in line with what we have learned. And it seems he sees kids in that age group as having an attention span similar to that of not the dog, but the squirrel.
Ben Johnson is a principal in San Antonio, Texas. He knows a thing or two about middle school kids.
“Squirrels. That is what they remind me of. We were all that age once and we were all just like squirrels! Have you ever watched a squirrel? Zoom, freeze for two seconds, flick tail, and repeat. The trick for being a successful middle school teacher is holding their attention for more than just those few seconds.”
Here is a link to his article.
After years of performing school assemblies for middle school audiences, we tend to agree. Of course, not talking down to them or obviously treating them like little kids matters a lot, too.
Many school assembly performers simply dread facing middle school audiences. Elementary kids are a delight to work with. They laugh easily, love to volunteer and answer questions, and generally like the approval of adults. For many school show performers, middle school kids are, pretty much, the exact opposite. They won't laugh. They won't volunteer. And as to the approval of adults? Forget it.
Years ago, when we first began performing our Living Lincoln assembly, we tried approaching middle school audiences in the same manner as we approach elementary. Big mistake. In an elementary school we usually wait outside and have the principal introduce us with a round of applause. Works great! The moment of silent awe, generated as President Abraham Lincoln enters the room, is wonderful and gives us instant control of the audience. In middle schools this did not occur, to say the least.
As we all know, grades 6-8 are a particularly difficult time for kids. Not quite teenagers yet, but no longer kids either, they are stuck painfully in between, and they are as insecure as all get out. The resulting coping mechanism involves an abundance of cynicism (often feigned, but still problematic) and sarcasm coupled with a propensity to not like anything not already cleared as “cool” by all their friends. You can imagine the howls of derision heaped upon poor Mr. Lincoln by the more vocal of the bunch. Never mind that once they settled down they loved the show, it was the first fifteen to twenty minutes that it took to get them settled that mattered. In a forty five minute show you cannot waste fifteen simply settling the audience. We quickly learned to to remain in the room, clearly visible and available for casual interaction, prior to the start of the show. A little self effacing humility during these moments also helped to get them on our side before the show began. Now we adore working with middle schoolers. They are the best! At least, once you know how to handle them.
Principal Johnson has obviously had more than a little experience in this department himself. I hope you like his essay!
Geoff Beauchamp is the Regional Manager of Mobile Ed Productions where "Education Through Entertainment" has been the guiding principal since 1979. Mobile Ed Productions produces and markets quality educational school assembly programs in the fieldsof science, history, writing, astronomy, natural science, mathematics, character issues and a variety of other curriculum based areas. In addition, Mr. Beauchamp is a professional actor with 30 years of experience in film, television and on stage. He created and still performs occasionally in Mobile Ed's THE LIVING LINCOLN. He also spent ten years coordinating assembly programs for the elementary school where his own children went to school.