Mind and Brain
St. Louis University's SPOTS program has identified 5 things to know about teaching adolescents:
Thing to Know # 1: A young adolescent brain can hold seven items of information, plus or minus two items, in working memory. Thing to Know # 2: The addition of emotion can help students remember.
Thing to Know # 3: The brain is social & requires interaction in order to develop properly.
Thing to Know # 4: Practice/rehearsal is critical to learning for the long term.
Thing to Know # 5: We take in more information visually than through any other sense.
Secondary educators' understanding of adolescent brain development is helpful in both understanding the behavior of students as well as in preparing instructional activities that foster attention, acquisition of new information, and retention of new learning. The adolescent brain experiences a growth spurt in the cerebral cortex in early adolescence (ages 11-12). Given that this is the area of the brain that influences judgement, reasoning, and impulsivity, it should not be surprising that middle and high schools students have a hard time focusing their attention and minimizing distractions. Another area of brain development during adolescence is in the cerebellum, which is essential for higher thought processes - among other things like decision-making and social skills. There is also considerable development in the neural pathways between the brain hemispheres.
This is both interesting and informative. Dr. Jay Giedd suggests that activities in adolescence strengthen neural pathways. If this is the case, consistently engaging in a variety of educational, social, and behavioral activities will result in both a greater variety of neural pathways being established as well as stronger connections in those pathways.
Combining the research of Giedd with the practical list of things to know provided by SPOTS, teachers should emphasize the implementation of a variety of instructional strategies that incorporate multiple modalities and engage students using a variety of senses. In addition, learning should be chunked into manageable pieces and students should be given consistent and frequent opportunities to practice/rehearse new information. And, that practice and rehearsal should involve dialogue with peers as well as the teacher.