Education: Teenage tips

by
14 June 2012

by Dennis Richards

CHILDREN enter secondary school full of enthusiasm and eager to please. Ask a class of 11-year-olds a question, and you will be greeted with a forest of hands. No matter that at least 50 per cent of them have no clue what the answer is.

Ask a question of the same class three years on, and you will be greeted with stony silence. The teacher is made to feel like an auctioneer, looking for some kind of secret signal — a twitch, or the rais­ing of an eyebrow — which may or may not indicate that some kind of response is forthcoming.

What has happened? Adolescence, of course. Parents who have taken it for granted that they are loved and appreciated suddenly find that they are a never-ending source of embar­rassment to their children. Pity the poor parent who does not know what Converse All Stars are. Sud­denly, Ugg boots, designer labels, Facebook, vegetarianism, sex, acne, drugs, and cars are on the agenda. And it can be worse.

There can be few things more dis­tressing for a parent than to see one of their children harming himself or herself, in what appears to be a delib­erate and calculated manner. Given that in-patient admissions for young people who have self-harmed have increased by 68 per cent in the past ten years, it is difficult to imagine a more timely volume than Respond­ing to Self-Harm in Children and Adolescents by Steven Walker (JKP publishing, £15.99 (£14.40); 978-1-84905-172-9).

Those most at risk are adolescents of 14 and over, overwhelmingly female, who are depressed, have low self-esteem, or who have been sex­ually abused. Parents are invar­iably shocked and frightened, and there is no systematic approach to treat­ment.

Steven Walker has given us a vol­ume that is readable, accessible to the untrained, and full of positive sug­gestions, while at the same time painfully honest. If this book gains the wider public it deserves, it will become an indispensable vol­ume on the shelf of every deputy head (pastoral), in every secondary school in the country.

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PERHAPS the key is in the primary-school years. What Children Need to be Happy, Con­fid­ent and Success­ful, by Jeni Hooper (JKP Publishing, £15.99 (£14.40); 978-1-84905-239-9), is aimed at the three-to-11 age range, before the chaos of adoles­cence has had a chance to wreak havoc.

Ideally suited to any adult working as a mentor in a primary school, the book uses familiar examples of dis­affection, of slow development in read­ing and writing, and of poor motor skills.

What to do? Well-being is the author’s chosen thesis. As with emo­tional intelligence, it is a concept rich in meaning, but difficult to define. Once defined, how is it created and nurtured? The advice is subtle and far-reaching.

How many of us have fallen into the trap of believing that we are good parents because we offer our chil­dren a fantastic range of opportun­ities, in music, or sport, or drama, perhaps? And then we proceed to make our children feel like failures.

Giving up becomes the only way out, because “the more you do, the more they want” is the child’s plaintive response. Nothing is ever good enough. Deferred gratification (i.e., you will get a good outcome at some indeterminate point in the future if you follow a particular course of action) is adult logic. It is not the way an eight-year-old might think.

Readable and highly accessible, this volume could become essen­tial reading for pastoral leaders in primary schools.

AS THESE books so graphically show us, low self-esteem is at the root of many children’s diffi­culties. A wise school will en­sure that its collective worship focuses on this aspect of its cor­porate life. And a wise pub­lisher will look for vol­umes that make the task easier for hard-pressed teach­ers. More Stories for Interactive Assemblies, by Nigel Bishop (BRF, £7.99 (£7.20); 978-1-84101-837-9), is just such a book. It is published under the Barnabas in Schools imprint of BRF, which in itself is a fitting mantra. Was not Barnabas the “son of encouragement” in Acts?

AS THESE books so graphically show us, low self-esteem is at the root of many children’s diffi­culties. A wise school will en­sure that its collective worship focuses on this aspect of its cor­porate life. And a wise pub­lisher will look for vol­umes that make the task easier for hard-pressed teach­ers. More Stories for Interactive Assemblies, by Nigel Bishop (BRF, £7.99 (£7.20); 978-1-84101-837-9), is just such a book. It is published under the Barnabas in Schools imprint of BRF, which in itself is a fitting mantra. Was not Barnabas the “son of encouragement” in Acts?

This is a wonderful follow-up to a first book by the same author, based on the parables. Publishers of edu­cational texts are notoriously coy about their publication figures. Not so in this case. The first volume trumpeted sales figures of 4000-plus, and I confidently predict that, if the marketing is right, this second effort will do even better.

All assembly-takers strug­gle with the dilemma of de­liv­ering “one-off” assemblies, or establishing a them­atic ap­proach. The latter is far harder to achieve, but the author has come up with an ingenious idea that I have not come across before.

Alan Bennett famously said that “Life is like a tin of sar­dines. We are all of us looking for the key.” Nigel Bishop says that it is more like a visit to a resi­dential farm. Basing 20 stories on one residential visit requires a vivid imagination. “What will Marcel do about a mistake with the pigs?” “How will Alexia cope with the chal­lenge of strawberry picking?” The children will be on the edge of their seats.

You can’t sustain this theme for much longer than a month at the most, but £8 for 20 highly effective assemblies will have most head teachers raiding the petty cash.

Story Assemblies for the School Year, by Edward Carter (BRF, £8.99 (£8.10); 978-0-85746-059-2), also adopts the thematic approach, but over a much longer timescale.

Story Assemblies for the School Year, by Edward Carter (BRF, £8.99 (£8.10); 978-0-85746-059-2), also adopts the thematic approach, but over a much longer timescale.

Relying more on visual aids, this book will require significantly more preparation on the part of the assembly taker. It is not a grab-an-assembly-book-off-the-shelf-five-minutes-before-the-assembly-starts kind of resource. Its great strength lies in its biblical content, and it will suit a school that wants to see strong links between its collective worship and its RE provision. Both this, and the previous volume, are beautifully presented — the front covers alone will be enough to intrigue potential purchasers.

TOP of the list, on the basis of enter­tainment alone, would be Poetry Emotion, by Stewart Henderson (BRF, £6.99 (£6.30); 978-1-84101-893-5). What Michael Morpurgo has done for children’s fiction, Hen­der­son has done for poetry.

As a regular broadcaster on BBC Radio 4, the writer has something of a national reputation. His poems are simple, unintimidating to children, and characterised by a delightful, icono­clastic sense of humour.

Teach­ers, granddads, best friends, and even enemies are teased, but always gently.

Inspired by a previous volume of his, one of my students began his poem on his goldfish “Hail to thee, wet pet!” The style is recognisably Henderson’s. At the heart of this book is compassion for those who find life hard and challenging.

Adolescents, take note, and take heart. This slim volume may well be just the tonic you need to get through another tricky day. And he knows that Converse All Stars are shoes, even if your dad doesn’t.

Adolescents, take note, and take heart. This slim volume may well be just the tonic you need to get through another tricky day. And he knows that Converse All Stars are shoes, even if your dad doesn’t.

Spanish field trip

LOS OLIVOS, a Christian retreat centre in the Sierra Nevada, south­ern Spain, was the base for a field trip for religious education and geography PCGE students from Roehampton University in March.

LOS OLIVOS, a Christian retreat centre in the Sierra Nevada, south­ern Spain, was the base for a field trip for religious education and geography PCGE students from Roehampton University in March.

The RE students, who were joined by trainee teachers from a Roman Catholic college in Bel­-gium, studied historical Christian and Muslim influences in Andalucia.

The geographers investigated sustainable approaches to devel­op­ment in the Sierra Nevada Na­tional Park, and also at Los Olivos, which is powered entirely by solar panels.

Roehampton lecturers are now collaborating with Los Olivos to offer similar courses to RE and geography departments at other universities.

For details, email lesley.prior@roehampton.ac.uk, or info@haciendalosolivos.org

 

 

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