Close your eyes and imagine that you are a teenager. What you would want from your teachers? What lessons would inspire you and make you love learning?

Every student has the capacity to grow and improve in content areas, but educators must consider where the student comes from, who the student is, and how the student thinks in order to foster the knowledge and skills that are so essential for adolescent learning. In our efforts to become better educators, it is essential to reconsider how we approach the job of teaching young people.

The science of learning – research from disciplines such as neuroscience, biology, and psychology – yields insights that can better inform how we educate adolescents, especially those who are also encountering challenges in their cultural and social environments. This is a topic the Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) examines in detail in its webinar “The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain” with Sarah-Jayne Blakemore and Bob Wise.

Adolescence is a crucial time for learning, since it represents a second period of increased brain plasticity. It is a critical time for students to engage in rigorous learning experiences, and if they’re behind, to catch up academically. Engaging learning opportunities help activate the neural networks associated with higher-order thinking and promote memory, cognition, and socioemotional learning.

“Educators can use the natural tendency for adolescents to take risks to get them to try new and different activities.”

Adults can engage adolescents in activities that require deep thinking about their lives, their experiences, and their community. They can help adolescents explore values and social interests, and they can encourage positive risk-taking behaviors. This might mean allowing teenagers to explore, on- and offline, various careers, social activities, and hobbies. With adult support, they can use that information in conversations about their aspirations and plans for their lives.

Educators can use the natural tendency for adolescents to take risks to get them to try new and different activities, including sports, the arts, cultural endeavors, and language experiences.

When parents, educators, and other adults understand what research tells us about how students learn and develop, they can leverage the best of what adolescence has to offer and act in proactive ways to ensure that more students from underserved populations graduate from high school prepared to tackle life’s challenges and make the most of its opportunities.


All4Ed’s report Science of Adolescent Learning: How Body and Brain Development Affect Student Learning includes additional research findings that can help educators get to know adolescents; support their transition into confident, successful, and conscientious adults; and increase academic and life success for all students, particularly those who struggle to “make the grade.”

All4Ed participated in the 2018 IMBES conference.

The purpose of the biannual IMBES Conference is to facilitate cross-cultural collaborations in biology, education and the cognitive and developmental sciences. Our objectives are to improve the state of knowledge in and dialogue between education, biology, and the developmental and cognitive sciences; create and develop resources for scientists, practitioners, public policy makers, and the public; and create and identify useful information, research directions, and promising educational practices. The 2018 conference took place in Los Angeles, California.

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