Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Teenage Brain is Wired to Learn

Adolescence is an exciting time as teenagers become increasingly independent, begin to look forward to their lives beyond high school, and undergo many physical, emotional, and cognitive changes. In that last category, teenagers can learn to take charge of their developing brains and steer their thinking in positive and productive directions toward future college and career success.

The brain’s prefrontal cortex, which functions as the control center for executive functions such as planning, goal setting, decision making, and problem solving, undergoes significant changes during the teenage years. In an NPR interview, Laurence Steinberg, author of Age of Opportunity: Lessons From the New Science of Adolescence, notes that ages 12 to 25 are a period of extraordinary neuroplasticity. “Science suggests that it’s important for kids to be challenged and exposed to novelty in order to facilitate healthy development of brain systems that are important for things like self-regulation,” Steinberg says.

The potential that comes from neuroplasticity—the capacity to change the structure and function of the brain through learning—provides the foundation for two crucial messages for middle and high school students:

    1    They have the capacity to become functionally smarter. By their early teens, many youths have already formed an image of themselves as intellectually capable—or not. It’s important to emphasize for students in the latter group that past school performance need not be a predictor of future outcomes, if they are willing to persist in the hard work that may be required when learning gets challenging.

    2    Success in school is largely determined by the learning strategies students employ, and not by some innate talent for academics. Students across the continuum of current performance can learn and improve effective problem-solving and study skills to nudge their grades in a positive direction.

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