Using Our Brains to Help Adolescents’ Brains

When I was fortunate to take a study tour of the US in April 2011 and meet some of the leading figures in the world of education, I had many memorable conversations. One that has stuck in my mind was with Ms Deborah Stipek, the Dean of Faculty of Stanford Graduate School of Education.

Among many interesting insights she told me that she was frankly embarrassed and felt it was a little shameful that only 6 months before (in late 2010) the Graduate School of Education had formalised a genuine relationship with the Department of Neurology in the Stanford Medical School. Sad to say, as the following article shows all too clearly, where Stanford may have been sluggish to acknowledge the reality and progress of neurological science, so the rest of the world is positively shameful in its slothfulness.

Education Week – Neuroscience Should Inform School Policies

If we stop and think for just a moment – the human brain is the very raw material, the plasticine with which educators work. If we care about how our pupils are learning (as opposed to what they are learning and in what quantity), then we have to be immeasurably fascinated by the new insights offered to us by the field on neurology in the last 15-20 years.

The article is interesting for many reasons, not least that it looks specifically at what neuroscience is telling us teachers should do more of (or less of) when working with adolescents. Inevitably, it suggests that a large part of how we continue to approach secondary education is working directly in opposition to what we now know about how teenage brains are working and developing. When our approaches to education take these issues on board, perhaps then we can tell pupils that we genuinely care more about them, their learning and their experience growing up than we do about the ‘stuff’ we teach.

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