16 mar 2019 The Teenage Brain: How It Affects the Learning Process
As a teacher, I have often resorted to different methodologies and activities to make students more interested in my class. However, lately I have been curious about the learning processes of a language and I have been eager to understand in depth how especially teenagers go through such processes. Consequently, the following question has popped up: what if we can boost students’ language acquisition by sparking something in their brains?
Much has been studied and said about neuroscience and how the brain takes in a language, but I have never found plenty of materials including details about teenagers. Therefore, in this article, I delve into how such organ functions for this age group. Are there any differences? If so, why should we be aware of them when planning and delivering our lessons?
It turns out that the human brain goes through changes up to the age of 25, which means that the teenage years are extremely important in the neural development. The parts that are involved in changes faced through adolescence are the limbic system and the prefrontal cortex.
The limbic system is shown in research to perform a primary role in the processing of memory, decision-making and emotional responses. This explains why youngsters are emotive, impulsive, and instinctive.
The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain responsible for critical thinking, self-control, planning, attentiveness, organisation, empathy, and problem-solving, among others. And guess what? This area has a tardy development, which speaks volumes about the challenges teachers face in the classroom with teenagers.
To make matters worse, the teenage brain has low levels of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters that provide us with a sense of well-being and pleasure.
In a nutshell, the teenage brain is a recipe for disaster!
One usual difficulty that most teachers have when teaching teenagers is how to deal with behaviour problems. Understanding more about these characteristics of the brain can help us with that in many ways. To illustrate, it might lead us to have more empathy towards teens. In order to understand them, we must put ourselves in their shoes and embrace the fact that some of their attitudes and misbehaviour is directly related to their life stage. Therefore, we should not take it personally when a student misbehaves or has impulsive attitudes because this is part of their physiology. This does not mean we have to turn a blind eye for these issues, but from the moment we learn that they are inwardly going through a hard time, it is easier to look at the situation from a more sympathetic perspective.
As far as learning goes, by studying the teenage brain we can draw two conclusions:
1 it is way harder for teenagers to concentrate and keep focused because their brains are not entirely developed;
2 emotional experiences are to be more easily remembered than neutral ones.
Hence, one of the keys to success in teaching teenagers is trying to bring to class topics that they are interested in. This will cause much more impact than being always guided by coursebooks. Bearing this in mind when planning lessons for teenagers will come in handy if we want to create memorable learning opportunities. We may not be able to think of something extraordinary every class, but that is OK, providing that we keep them motivated.
Classes for teenagers must be dynamic in order to make a difference for them. There are a few things that you might want to start doing to make your lessons more engaging. Firstly, include videos, songs, and games in your lessons whenever possible. Secondly, bring updated relevant topics that you know students like. And last but not least, find out what you and your students have in common now and, occasionally, when you were a teenager yourself. Giving them engaging activities that at the same time shortens the generation gap and make them sure you understand how they feel and why they like what they like will certainly boost their learning experience. As long as they are moved, they are learning.
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