Thomas Armstrong

Consultant

Cloverdale, CA

Interests: Brain and learning,...

  • Posted 14 Days ago
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8 ”Adolescent Brain Hostile” Practices in Middle and High School

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I've just completed 'the final video in my video series based on my book The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students published by ASCD. In this video we look at 8 ”brain hostile practices” — in other words, ”worst practices” in middle and high schools, because they fail to consider the needs of how the adolescent brain works and how it develops. The 8 worst practices include:
1. Pre-set college bound curriculum (doesn’t provide choices)
2. Posting class grades and test scores on ”data walls”
(humiliates students in front of their peers).
3. Ban on social media use in class (deprives students of many
fine educational apps and from connecting with each other
in class appropriate ways)
4. Emotionally flat classrooms (leaves students feeling
disengaged)
5. Limited PE, recess, and exercise breaks (deprives students of
activities that would boost fitness, energy, concentration,
engagement, and academic achievement)
6. Emphasis on teacher lectures, textbooks, and tests (turns
students into regurgitation machines rather than teaching them
how to think and how to use their minds to learn more
effectively.
7 .Limited expressive arts offerings (prevents students from
channeling creative energy)
8. Artificial classroom environment (prevents students from
true engagement with the world in which they will soon
live as independent adults)

To watch the video,go to my website, or you can read the transcript of the video below:

‘’Hi, I’m Dr. Thomas Armstrong, and this is Video #13 in my video series based on my book The Power of the Adolescent Brain:  Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students (published by ASCD).  As part of this series we’ve been looking at eight adolescent-brain-friendly practices that middle and high school teachers can implement in the classroom which are in line with recent research concerning how the adolescent brain develops.  In this video, we’re going to turn this around a bit and instead of learning about ‘’best practices’’ we’re going to look at 8 ‘’’worst practices’’ or what I’d like to call ‘’adolescent-brain-hostile’’ practices that fail to take into consideration the requirements of the adolescent brain and may even act against those needs.

The first adolescent brain friendly practice we looked at in this series was ‘’giving teens opportunities to make choices’’ – so the opposite of that would obviously be, NOT giving teens the opportunity to make choices. We see this in the tendency of educational institutions from the federal and state level down to the district and school level, to emphasize college and career readiness, and as part of this, to establish a set of required courses that all students must complete.  The emphasis on getting ready for college and career weighs down students with course requirements that may not be tied to their own interests, strengths, and abilities – and more importantly for our purposes, students are given little to no choice in the matter. In many cases students are prevented from taking electives because of the heavy load of required courses, thus goes unrecognized and unfulfilled the need for teens to make choices in school so that they’ll have practice in this important function when engaged with activities outside of school.

In our video series, we looked at the importance of giving highly self-conscious middle and high school students activities that help them explore their personal identities.  One specific school practice that violates students’ need to sensitively explore their own identities is the practice of posting school grades and/or test scores on bulletin boards in the classroom or in the hallways. This worst practice violates the privacy of students.  Rather than creating activities that carefully provide teens with a safe way to construct a coherent sense of self, this practice comes in with a wrecking ball and exposes students’ academic performance for all the world to see, humiliating students in the process, accentuating their already acute sense of self-consciousness, and shaming them in front of their valued peers.

The third adolescent brain friendly practice we looked at in this video series was establishing positive peer connections in classroom activities.  One educational practice that goes against this important need for teens to learn in conjunction with their peers is the banning of cell phones and, thus, the use of social media in class.  Advocates for this brain hostile practice believe they are preventing teens from being on their phones and off-task while a lesson is going on, or even, heaven forbid, that they’re texting each other within the class.  However, there are many apps on mobile phones that have educational applications, and the use of social networking channels such as Twitter, can be used in a variety of way, including doing student polling, having students share written work and projects they’ve created, and receiving feedback from their peers on those assignments.  The problem of off-task on-line behavior can be dealt with by simply telling students that when not being used for in-class educational activities, the phones are to be placed face down in a corner of their desk where the teacher can see them.

The fourth adolescent brain friendly practice we looked at in this video series was the need to use affective learning in the classroom, that is, to teach with emotion.  This practice clashes with what is all too often an everpresent reality for millions of middle and high school students:  an emotionally flat classrooms.  I’d like to call this the Ben Stein classroom, from his famous role as a boring teacher in Ferris Buhler’s Day Off.  In a Ben Stein classroom, the teacher drones on and on without affect, leaving students unengaged, alienated, resentful, and in some cases, fast asleep.

The fifth best practice, or adolescent brain friendly intervention that we covered in this video series is to engage students physically in learning.  Unfortunately, many administrators have done just the reverse and cut back recess, PE classes, and exercise breaks, to make time for more academic learning to raise standardized test scores.  A study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that only 2 percent of U.S. high schools required physical activity breaks in addition to P.E., and only 11.7 percent recommended this practice for all students. In middle schools, the numbers were only slightly higher, with 10.8 percent requiring physical activity breaks and 23 percent recommending the practice.

The sixth adolescent brain friendly practice we looked at in our video series was the need for metacognitive learning at the middle and high school level – essentially helping students learn how to think and how to think about their thinking. This contrasts with what is too often the case in many middle and high schools, and that is instruction based on content that is delivered through lectures and textbooks, and assessed through standardized testing. In this sort of learning environment, the student becomes, in a sense, a regurgitation machine, instead of a thoughtful learner.

The seventh brain friendly practice for middle and high school education consists of expressive arts activities including the use of visual arts, music, drama, and multi-media production. Most people, however, will not be surprised when I say that if there is a budget crunch, music, art, and drama are often the first programs to be cut.  While most secondary schools do offer music and visual arts courses, only 12 percent offer dance, and less than half offer drama.  More importantly, virtually all programs are graded, which from the standpoint of creativity research, represents a perfect way to blunt or suppress creativity, not support it.  And finally, the expressive arts are rarely integrated into academic coursework.

The final adolescent brain friendly strategy we looked at earlier in this video series was the need for teens to have real world experiences.  All too often, however, students are confined within classroom spaces that are artificial and not conducive to active learning.  These spaces bare little resemblance to the world that lies outside the classroom walls.  Instead, teens long for real life experience, and as their brains mature, they become more and more capable functioning within these environments.  Consequently, offering students the opportunity to get involved with job shadowing, internships, apprenticeships, service learning, career academies, entrepreneurial learning, and other forms of real life activity, the better we’re preparing them to be independent once they become adults.

If you’d like more information about adolescent brain hostile practices at the middle and high school level, or want to know more about the eight practices that are adolescent brain-friendly, get my book The Power of the Adolescent Brain, available through Amazon or other online sources including the publisher ASCD. You can also find the other videos in this 12-part series by going to my blog on my website or to You Tube. For more information about my work, go to my website:  www.institute4learning.com, or contact me at: thomas@institute4learning.com.  Thanks so much for your attention.  I hope this information helps you appreciate the need to reform many of the practices that middle and high schools have been doing over the past fifty years so that teaching and learning aligns with what we now know to be true about how the adolescent brain develops.’’

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