Teenagers take more risks than children and adults. They’ll do almost anything to impress their friends and gain independence. Cognitive neuroscientist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore compares the prefrontal cortex in adolescents to that of adults, to show us how typically “teenage” behavior is caused by the growing and developing brain. Scientists and educators try to understand adolescent behavior in terms of the underlying changes that are going on in their brain.
Teen behavior is no accident. Grey matter in prefrontal cortex is still developing until people are in their early twenties. Therefore, adolescent brain activity, the network of brain regions in the medial prefrontal cortex, causes teens to want to have more active social interactions. However, strong synapses are improving, while weak synapses are pruned away during this time of development. Their brain and grey matter cause them to feel self-conscious, make it hard for them to control their impulses, prohibits them from saying something inappropriate, making decisions, and seeing other people’s perspectives—overall they are less self-aware. All the while the limbic system during this time is hypersensitive to the good feeling teens get from taking risks.
It’s important to understand that the adolescent brain is malleable during this time. Adolescents are the most creative during their brain development, and there is a large opportunity for teaching and social development during this time.
Lesson designs and planning that incorporate the knowledge of the teenage brain in the following ways will help connect learning to the developing brain and memory.
1. Repeat information, concepts, and themes in a variety of ways. When a neuron receives a message repeatedly, the connection is strengthened.
2. Feed teen’s need for independence by giving them choice and autonomy.
3. Help adolescents take safe risks with kinesthetic (physical) activities, active participation and experiences, in a positive community, authentic performance tasks that matter to them, are valued, and bring about change and awareness.
4. Create social environments where teens thrive and are engaged by interacting well with peers in collaborative groups.
My overall attitude and strategies in teaching teenagers needs to encompass their brain growth and development. It’s important that teachers use optimism, kindness, humor, and teach with multiple intelligences, include interesting anticipatory sets, make sure to include a purpose that is relevant to the students’ lives, and active working and long term memory, formative and summative assessment. I make a connection to the social brain by having students use and practice the learning concepts together.
My planning for learning is designed to access memory lanes and use what I know about how adolescents learn by teaching from a growth mindset—helping students become aware of their developing brains.
Source: Ted Talk by Sarah-Jayne Blakemore at http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/sarah_jayne_blakemore_the_mysterious_workings_of_the_adolescent_brain.html