Author and blogger Marc Aronson at http://blog.schoollibraryjournal.com/nonfictionmatters writes about presenting to eighth-graders and what a challenge that can be. Fourth, fifth, and sixth-graders. he points out, are still enthusiastic learners and, for the most part, eager to please. Not so for eight-graders.
Eight-graders can be a tough audience. They have, as Marc pointed out, a different, more skeptical approach to listening to adults. He described it perfectly as a “show me that you are worth my while, otherwise I have enough here, in myself, with my friends, I know more, I don’t need you,” attitude.
You’ve got to step up your game with these kids.
Now, I’m generalizing here, but it seems to me this age group is also exquisitely vulnerable to embarrassment. Much of their posturing is for emotional protection.
I learned this not to long ago when I told my middle school aged daughter that I had a school visit coming up. “You’re not going to wear THAT dress, are you?” she asked, referring to my Greek/Roman costume, with that horrified expression teenage girls seem to perfect.
“Oh my GAWD, Mom! Please don’t! I will never be able to show my face again!”
“Sweetheart, the visit isn’t even at your school!”
“Doesn’t matter. What if one of my friends SEES you in that? Oh my god…” And so on and so forth.
I assured her that under no circumstances would I ever show up at her school in “that dress” but that younger kids seemed to enjoy the costume.
But then I noticed something else.
I observed a boy at a literature-based/mythology camp I help run at a bookstore. We had a college student in costume pretending to be the Oracle at Delphi. She wasn’t necessarily the best actress but most kids rolled with it and had fun. One boy, I noticed though, could barely stand the discomfort of watching her act. He was literally cringing with embarrassment. Did he know her? Nope, I discovered. Still, when I looked closer, I saw that other kids his age (6th grade), were slightly embarrassed too.
Kids get embarrassed by adults that aren’t even “theirs!” I hadn’t realized that!
So I figured that if my get-up embarrassed some kids, I had a diminished chance of capturing them with my message. Bye-bye costume.
I may change my mind about it down the road, but for now, it feels right. Besides, I’m getting too dang old for it!