Understanding the Adolescent Brain: How to Improve Education For Teens
The transition to adolescence in regards to education is a complicated study, because although learning works the same way it does in younger years, there are a number of emotional factors that make the learning process much different in middle and high school years compared to elementary. In order for teachers to adapt to teaching teens, they need to understand the things that are happening to their students internally.
The first changes that occur when adolescence begins, which typically occurs between ages 9 and 13, are emotional changes. Ronald Dahl MD, a Human Development professor at the University of California, Berkley, says, “Teens tend to become more sensitive and need much more encouragement to stay motivated. They also have a desire to be admired by others as they learn to navigate new social situations. It can be a very confusing time.”
For this reason, social distractions may disrupt learning in the classroom, and educators should look for new ways to command attention. One way to do this is to engage their interests. Relate current events and topics of their conversations to lesson plans when appropriate. This will help spark class discussions and keep everyone focused. “Social success is a predictor of overall success,” says Dahl. The point is to not discourage them from being social, but instead teaching them to channel it in the right ways.
Some students may require extra encouragement during this time to increase their confidence. Dahl says, “Challenge them because you believe in them and encourage extracurricular activities. If they can find something they’re good at, they will feel better about themselves in other situations.” It is important to remember that these years are all about character development, and the role of the teacher is to help facilitate that growth and ensure that all students are progressing toward becoming productive, ambitious young adults.
Another hurdle that typically arrives at the start of adolescence is a change in sleeping patterns. Teens have an urge to stay up later and wake up later, making early school mornings a challenge. Dahl says, “There is a perception that in order to have a very busy social life, there is never enough time for a person to get enough sleep. Teachers should try to change this ideal and make sleeping seem ‘cool’, because a well-rested student will have an improved appearance, better social interaction and will be able to absorb more material in the classroom.”
Students may not know that sleeping with their cell phones or tablets can disrupt their sleeping patterns in more ways than one. Not only will they be tempted to respond to incoming messages and alerts from friends, the light from the device will trick the brain into thinking that it’s daytime, preventing it from going to sleep. Explain this to students so that they will be more conscious of why they are not feeling tired late at night.
Finally, it is imperative for teachers to recognize the extreme changes happening to students, such as a more developed facial structure, the beginning of new feelings and an onset of strong emotions. The adolescent years are an adjustment for everyone, but creating an understanding between students and teacher makes the transition an easier feat. For more information about character development, visit Berkeley’s Center for Science of the Greater Good.