Neuroscience Should Inform School Policies – Education Week

Here is excerpt from a recent ED Week article from Thomas Armstrong, who wrote The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching MS and HS Students. The more we understand how adolescent brains work, the better chance we have to positively impact their learning.

What is essential for kids at this time of life is to be engaged in real-life learning experiences and peer-learning connections that put them under conditions of “hot cognition,” where educators can help them along in the process of integrating their impulsiveness (positively viewed as excitement and motivation) with their reasoning abilities.”Public posting of grades and test scores … humiliates and shames students in front of their highly valued peers.”

The implications for reform of secondary school are clear. Schools should provide more opportunities for students to be involved in apprenticeships, internships, service learning, community-based learning, small peer-learning groups, entrepreneur-based programs, and student-directed project-based learning.

Courses need to be given in middle school and high school that teach students about how their brains work, how to use metacognition to direct their learning, and how to self-regulate their feelings under conditions of duress.

Research suggests that the adolescent brain—subject to the vagaries of dopamine (which connects to reward and pleasure) and serotonin (which connects to well-being and happiness) in the brain—is more susceptible to stress than the brains of either children or adults. Consequently, a key part of the secondary school curriculum should involve the teaching of stress-reduction methods, such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, and aerobic activity; exercise breaks during class; a strong physical education curriculum; and a broadly based extracurricular sports program for all students, not just the star athletes.

Findings from adolescent-brain research also suggest a number of things that educators should stop doing so much of at the middle school and high school levels. For example:

• Classroom teaching that focuses largely on delivering content through lectures and textbooks fails to engage the emotional brain and leaves unchanged those prefrontal regions that are important in metacognition.

• Public posting of grades and test scores (a practice which in this data-driven world appears to be increasing) humiliates and shames students in front of their highly valued peers.

• Locking students into a set academic college-bound program of courses takes away their ability to make decisions about what most interests them (a process that integrates the limbic system’s motivational verve with the prefrontal cortex’s decision-making capacity).

• The elimination or cutback of physical education and/or recess in favor of more time for academics increases teenagers’ already stressed-out nervous systems.

Source: Neuroscience Should Inform School Policies – Education Week

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