For years, common experience and studies have prescribed that human beings learn best in their early years. Recently research has suggested that the optimal learning period extends to adolescence.
The flood of new findings may force a complete rethinking of how educators and parents nurture this vulnerable age group, turning moments of frustration into unprecedented opportunities for learning and academic excitement.
New evidence shows that the window for developing brain training continues at the onset of puberty, between the ages of 9 and 13, and probably through the teenage years, according to Ronald Dahl, professor of health Community and human development at the University of California, Berkeley. Dahl spoke at a recent seminar by the Writers Education Association on motivation and commitment.
Adolescence is a tornado of change: Not only is the period of physical change faster in life. There are profound changes in metabolisms and sleep cycles as well as social roles especially in the context of schools. During these years, motivation is not driven by a tangible goal to work forward, but by a feeling of want and thirst. In the turmoil of preteens or teens is an opportunity to improve their desire and interest in learning.
In the last decade, neuroscientists have been able to identify what makes the adolescent brain oriented this type of research that can pay dividends in the classroom. When children enter adolescence, some developing neural systems have already stabilized, Dahl said. But puberty creates a new set of elastic neural systems that, when interacting with systems already stabilized, offer unique windows of opportunity for commitment and experience the world around them in multiple ways.
“Adolescence is a perfect storm of opportunity to align these changes in a positive way,” Dahl said. “Learning, exploring, acquiring skills and habits, intrinsic motivations, attitudes, setting goals and priorities: There is imperative need for transdisciplinary research to understand unique opportunities for social and emotional learning. But few people do so out of fear of these challenges.”
These new scientific insights have great implications for how schools teach adolescents, who have traditionally seen this age group as problematic.
The feelings of acceptance, rejection, admiration, among others, are the entire history of adolescence. Children in this age group also seek physical and emotional sensations. There is a greater awareness of their social status, especially in what they realize that acts of courage can gain social status among peers. His wildly oscillating neurological systems also mean that teens can adjust quickly make those critical years for educators to engage students in “the right way,” when the brain is learning to gauge the emotional complex systems of social values and using the Feelings like quick signals, Dahl said.
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Contrary to common belief, children in this age range do not actually have “broken brains.” Rather, these children undergo a profound updating of how they process the world around them. Teens are often considered bad decision makers who are adrenaline lovers. These myths, however, derive from the desire of young people to show courage, which are valued in all cultures and adolescents who constantly seek the emotional satisfaction of being admired. In fact, Dahl said teenagers take risks to overcome their fears.
“Teens are learning about the complex of the social world they must navigate, including hierarchies, social rules to achieve acceptance and status.
Adding to the confusion about how best to respond to teens is a wave of research showing children from all over the world who are entering puberty at younger ages. One report found that in the 1860s, girls’ puberty began at age 16. In the 1950s, it occurred at 13. Today it is closer to eight years of age. The transition for children is similar, according to the report. The earliest beginning of these pronounced biological changes pushes educators and parents to update their expectations of what it means to be young, and how young people play in adulthood.
“This is an interesting opportunity with great potential, over time to learn the motivational systems activated, more time to increase skills and develop patterns of knowledge development,” Dahl said. “If children grow up in convenient environments, they can take advantage of scaffolding and the freedom to go adult roles. But the risks are likely to be amplified by opportunities for children in disadvantaged backgrounds.”
It is still unclear how previous development occurs in children as it could create another set of challenges, Dahl noted, but it is clearly a key development window of motivational learning, a time when the brain perceives more intensely Feelings of motivation, strengthening the connection schemes of sincere goals, and creates the potential for deep, sustained learning.