Why Middle School Students Can't Stop Talking and Three Ways to Stop It

Why Middle School Students Can't Stop Talking and Three Ways to Stop It
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The Editorial Team November 1, 2013

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Middle school students continually test boundaries, making them a challenging age group for educators. Practicing strong classroom-management techniques and implementing specialized teaching strategies for middle-schoolers is a great way to connect with these students. By recognizing the psychological and developmental reasons for students’ chattiness, you can work with talkative students rather than fight against them.

Why middle school students can’t stop talking

Middle school is a time of great changes for students shifting from childhood to adolescence. Parents are often surprised at the transformation their children undergo almost overnight. A cooperative, happy child may turn into a brooding, sarcastic, moody preteen who lashes out at authority figures. Although the middle school years can be a challenge, they are an important part of development. Early adolescence is a time for kids to try on new roles and begin acting more independently.

On a neurological level, middle school students’ brains continue to change during this time period, according to the National Education Association. Some of the major changes include:

  • A shift from concrete thinking to more abstract thought processes.
  • Increased need for social interaction. Students begin to form stronger friendships, forge a personal identity and identify role models. This comes with an increased need to socialize with friends, pass notes during class and feel like one of the “in” group — even when that means unacceptable classroom behavior.
  • The emergence of higher-level control over cognition. This might include the ability to monitor thinking processes and problem-solving. These critical-thinking abilities contribute to students’ talkativeness and tendency to challenge teachers.
  • Lack of fully formed frontal lobes. The frontal lobe is the brain region responsible for inhibiting inappropriate behaviors, controlling impulses and coordinating complex plans. The frontal lobes are the last brain areas to develop, coming to full maturity in the early 20s. Until then, students may have difficulty controlling impulses or socially inappropriate behaviors such as talking in class.

Middle schoolers cannot control their brain development. Furthermore, their lack of psychological and social maturity contributes to talkativity in class. Working with students rather than taking a punitive attitude can strengthen your ability to educate them.

How to stop talkative behavior in class

Reduce information overload

Chattiness begins when the teacher loses the attention of one or more students in the class. In many cases, this occurs because of information overload. Middle school students have attention spans limited by their incomplete brain development. Most can retain only five to seven pieces of information at a time. To work within these constraints, break down a complex lesson into its component parts. By providing three or four key points, you’ll keep students’ attention focused on your class, rather than surrounding distractions.

Provide a varied learning environment

If students tend to talk during class, one approach is to encourage their chattiness within the bounds of a classroom project. Consider new ways to present information to make it more interactive, including:

  • Small group projects. Rather than lecturing about the founding fathers, break students into small groups to dig up their own fun facts and create a creative presentation. This plays to students’ emerging abstract-thinking abilities and allows them to engage with material in new ways.
  • Guest lectures. Bringing in a local expert to engage with students focuses their attention and allows them to ask a lot of questions.
  • Visual or auditory resources. Watch a film clip or listen to an audio recording relevant to classroom material. Then, ask students to think critically about what they saw or heard. Encourage them to work with one another to answer critical-thinking questions.

Give students a pep talk

Middle schoolers are sensitive to being treated like younger children. Their growing independence often causes rebellion against teachers and other authority figures. Instead, get chatty students on your side when you’re in danger of losing control of the classroom. Rather than punishing them, talk to them as adults. For example, explain “This situation is getting very frustrating for me, because your interruptions during class make it difficult for me to teach about cloud formation. I need everyone to be quiet and paying attentive for the lesson to continue.” Then, briefly lay out consequences. Treating students in a more adult-like way makes them feel valued and may rectify behavior problems.

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