Senior 2 English Language Arts: A Foundation for Implementation

Implementation Overview: Senior 2
The Senior 2 Student and the Learning Environment - Part 1

Each year teachers are called upon to make a myriad of decisions regarding course content, learning materials and resources, and instructional and assessment methods. Successful learning is more likely to occur if these decisions are informed by an understanding of their students and the ways they learn.

Teachers seeking to learn about their students need to be knowledgeable in various areas, including the following:

  • How people learn: In recent decades, cognitive psychology, brain-imaging technology, and multiple intelligences theory have transformed our understanding of learning. Teachers need to engage in ongoing professional development and study to update what they know about the processes of learning.
  • The ways in which student populations are changing: The students that teachers encounter today are different in many respects from students a generation ago. Students are more likely to be living with a single parent or stepfamily. More have part-time jobs. Students are more sophisticated in their knowledge and use of information technology, and much of their understanding of the world comes from television. Classrooms are more likely to be ethnically diverse.
  • The developmental characteristics of Senior 2 students: The characteristics of adolescent learners, and the particular situation of Senior 2 students in middle adolescence, have many implications for teachers.
  • The unique qualities of each student: Family relationships, academic and life experiences, personality, interests, learning approaches, socioeconomic status, rate of development, and language proficiency all influence a student’s ability to learn. Teachers can gain an understanding of the unique qualities of each student only through day-by-day interaction, observation, and assessment.

Characteristics of Senior 2 Learners

If a symbolic line could be drawn between childhood and adulthood, it would be drawn for many students during their Senior 2 year. These students begin to assume many of the responsibilities associated with maturity. Many take their first part-time job.  Many embark on their first serious romantic relationship. For many, acquiring a driver’s licence is a significant rite of passage.

Although many Senior 2 students handle their new responsibilities and the many demands on their time with ease, others experience difficulty. Senior 2 can be a key year for at-risk students. External interests may seem more important than school. Because of their increased autonomy, students who previously had problems managing their behaviour at school may now express their difficulties through poor attendance, alcohol and drug use, or other behaviours that place them at risk. Students struggling to control their lives and circumstances may make choices that seem to teachers to be contrary to their best interests. Being aware of what their students are experiencing outside school is important for teachers at every level.

Although the huge developmental variance evident in Grade 6 through Senior 1 is narrowing, students in Senior 2 can still demonstrate a development range of up to three years. Adolescents also change a great deal in the course of one year or even one semester. Senior 2 teachers need to be sensitive to the dynamic classroom atmosphere and recognize when shifts in interests, capabilities, and needs are occurring, so that they can adjust learning activities for their students

There are, however, some generalizations that can be made about Senior 2 students. The following chart identifies some common characteristics observed in educational studies (Glatthorn, 1993; Maxwell and Meiser, 1997) and by Manitoba teachers, and discusses the implications of these characteristics for teachers.

Senior 2 Learners: Implications for Teachers
Characteristics of Senior 2 Learners Accomodating Senior 2 Learners
Physical Characteristics
  • Some Senior 2 students, particularly males, are still in a stage of extremely rapid growth, and experience a changing body image and self-consciousness.
  • Be sensitive to the risk students may feel in public performance, and increase expectations gradually. Provide students with positive information about themselves.
  • Senior 2 students are able to sit still and concentrate on one activity for longer periods than previously, but still need interaction and variety.
  • Put physical energy to the service of active learning, instead of trying to contain it. Provide variety; change the pace frequently; use kinesthetic activities
  • Many students come to school tired, as a result of part-time jobs or activity-overload.
  • Work with students and families to set goals and plan activities realistically so that school work assumes a higher priority.

Characteristics of Senior 2 Learners Accomodating Senior 2 Learners
Cognitive Characteristics
  • Senior 2 learners are increasingly capable of abstract thought, and are in the process of revising their former concrete thinking into fuller understanding of principles.
  • Teach to the big picture. Help students forge links between what they already know and what they are learning.
  • Students are less absolute in their reasoning, more able to consider diverse points of view. They recognize that knowledge may be relative to context.
  • Focus on developing problem solving and critical thinking skills
  • Many basic learning processes have become automatic by Senior 2, freeing students to concentrate on complex learning.
  • Identify the skills and knowledge students already possess, and build the course around new challenges. Through assessment, identify students who have not mastered learning processes at Senior 2 levels, and provide additional assistance and support.
  • Many students have developed specialized interests and expertise, and need to connect what they are learning to the world outside school.
  • Encourage students to develop literacy skills through exploring areas of interest. Cultivate classroom experts, and invite students with individual interests to enrich the learning experience of the class.

Characteristics of Senior 2 Learners Accomodating Senior 2 Learners
Moral and Ethical Characteristics
  • Senior 2 students are working at developing a personal ethic, rather than following an ascribed set of values and code of behaviours.
  • Explore the ethical meaning of situations in life and in texts. Provide opportunities for students to reflect on their thoughts in discussion, writing, or representation.
  • Students are sensitive to personal or systemic injustice. They are often idealistic and impatient with the realities that make social change slow or difficult.
  • Explore ways in which literacy activities can effect social change.
  • Students are shifting from an egocentric view of the world to one centered in relationships and community.
  • Provide opportunities for students to make and follow through on commitments, and to refine their interactive skills.
  • Students have high standards for adult competence and consistency, and are resistant to arbitrary authority.
  • Explain the purpose of every activity. Enlist student collaboration in developing classroom policies. Strive to be consistent.

Characteristics of Senior 2 Learners Accomodating Senior 2 Learners
Social Characteristics
  • Senior 2 students continue to be intensely concerned with how peers view their appearance and behaviour. Much of their sense of self is still drawn from peers, with whom they may adopt a "group consciousness" rather than making autonomous decisions.
  • Ensure that the classroom has an accepting climate. Model respect for each student. Use language activities that foster student self-understanding and self-reflection. Challenge students to make personal judgements about situation in life and texts.
  • Peer acceptance is often more important than adult approval. Adolescents frequently express peer identification through slang, musical choices, clothing, body decoration, and behaviour.
  • Foster a classroom identity and culture. Ensure that every student is included and valued. Structure learning so that students can interact with peers, and teach strategies for effective interaction.
  • Crises of friendship and romance, and a preoccupation with sex can distract students from academics.
  • Open doors for students to learn about relationships through poetry, film, and fiction, and to explore their experiences and feelings in language. Respect confidentiality, except where a student’s safety is at risk.
  • Although Senior 2 students may have an aloof demeanour, they still expect and welcome a personal connection with their teachers.
  • Nurture a relationship with each student. Try to find areas of common interest with each one. Respond with openness, empathy, and warmth.

Characteristics of Senior 2 Learners Accomodating Senior 2 Learners
Psychological and Emotional Characteristics
  • It is important for Senior 2 students to see that their autonomy and emerging independence is respected. They need a measure of control over what happens to them in school.
  • Provide choice. Allow students to select many of the texts they will explore and the forms they will use to demonstrate their learning. Teach students to be independent learners. Gradually release responsibility to students.
  • Students need to understand the purpose and relevance of activities, policies, and processes. Some express a growing sense of autonomy through questioning authority. Others may be passive and difficult to engage.
  • Use students’ tendency to question authority to help them develop critical thinking. Negotiate policies, and demonstrate a willingness to make compromises. Use student curiosity to fuel classroom inquiry.
  • Students at this stage may be more reserved, aloof, and guarded than previously, both with teachers and with peers.
  • Concentrate on getting to know each student early in the year. Provide optional and gradual opportunities for self-disclosure.
  • Students with a history of difficulties in school may be sophisticated in their understanding of school procedures, and resistant to efforts to help.
  • Learn to understand each student’s unique combination of abilities and learning approaches. Select topics, themes, and learning opportunities that offer students both a challenge and opportunity to succeed. Make expectations very clear.
  • Senior 2 students have a clearer sense of identify than they had previously, and are capable of being more reflective and self-aware.
  • Allow students to explore themselves through their work, and celebrate student differences.

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