Adolescence is a time of transition characterized by rapid physical, emotional, social, intellectual, and psychological development. As students move toward adulthood, their bodies and minds change and those changes impact how they learn and, likewise, should impact how educators work.
Fortunately, knowledge about how students learn, particularly during the adolescent years, has grown during the last thirty years. Furthermore, there is increasing interest in aligning education policies and practices with scientific research on adolescent learning and development. This body of research—the science of adolescent learning—moves beyond solely studying student learning in the classroom. It draws from fields such as neuroscience, psychology, and sociology to understand how adolescent development and teens’ cultural, social, environmental, and emotional needs impact learning.
By aligning instructional practices with this scientific research, educators can create learning environments that capitalize on the unique opportunities that adolescence offers. For instance, teenagers prioritize socializing. Rather than limiting this natural tendency and stifling learning, educators can leverage the need for socialization by providing opportunities for more hands-on, engaging, and collaborative learning experiences.
But learning and development research must be useable and accessible if researchers hope to influence education decisions. Consequently, the Alliance for Excellent Education’s science of adolescent learning initiative focuses on translating and disseminating adolescent learning and development research to inform school improvement policy and practice, especially for secondary schools serving historically underserved students.
Through effective communication networks, policymakers, educators, and researchers can share knowledge from the science of adolescent learning and translate the findings into actionable recommendations. School and district leaders can turn to those recommendations and the Alliance’s related practitioner-friendly resources to implement more meaningful and developmentally appropriate learning experiences that prepare all students for college, a career, and success in life.
With a deep understanding of adolescent learning and development research, education policymakers and practitioners can implement secondary school improvement strategies based on science, rather than traditions. In turn, this alignment of policies, practices, and research will ensure that more students graduate from high school with the knowledge, skills, and mindsets necessary for success in college, a career, citizenship, and life.