How To Realign Teaching Strategies, School Policies, and Schedules To Fit With Teenage Brain Development and Learning

One of the key concepts teachers at the high-school level are instructed on is developmental ages and stages. In fact, all teachers within a pre-secondary context usually have some training revolving around the concept. The gist is that there are inherent risks in teaching students a skill beyond their developmental stage, including learner frustration as they attempt to piece together concepts and tasks which lie outside their cognitive, physical, or emotional range.

This is especially crucial to keep in mind for teenagers as their neuroplasticity kicks into high gear and they work against and with their own hormones while their brain develops at full speed. To nurture teenagers during this very pivotal time, there are methodologies which can be utilized to maximize the positive effects of teenage brain development and learning while minimizing dissonance.

Chunking and personal meaning

The adolescent brain’s working or immediate memory has a capacity limitation of 5-9 items. As detailed in the work of Tony Buzan who has spent decades researching these limitations, it’s crucial that teachers find ways to “chunk” by pacing and organizing the delivery of learning concepts to work within these limitations. As today’s teenagers process a wealth of information through quick visual summations and flashing imagery on their mobile devices, finding ways to chunk information into a single visual concept can help for retention and application purposes. 

Another way of working within the limitations and fluctuations of the adolescent brain is to ground lesson planning in personal meaning or affectations which invoke positive memories and associations to the classroom. Things such as light humor, anecdotes, acronyms and personal stories help to mark information as usable and worthwhile to the teenage brain in the 30 seconds it usually takes to sift through stimuli and sort it for future use and retention.

Work with the shifts and needs of the brain, schedule to fit it

The attention span of the average teenager is only decreasing with time and added stimuli such as mobile phones and the proliferation of social media, so it behooves schools and teachers to adjust policy and scheduling accordingly to maximize efficiency and delivery of information. Dividing a 40-minute lecture into four ten-minute segments with concerted changes in the method of teaching delivery and content helps to keep the teenage brain interested in what’s being taught. Quick shifts and quick cuts are part of their everyday media intake, so it helps to mimic that in the context of the classroom.

The other thing is treating a growing and developing brain like the organ it is. Minimizing the impact of scheduling to allow students to get needed brain fuel such as water and fresh air throughout the learning day ensures that they are at peak learning capacity when they are in the classroom. If schools can tailor scheduling and overall attendance policy to stimulate growth while limiting the risk of overstimulating the adolescent brain, all parties from the students to the administration will see tangible benefits.


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