This report explains how changes in the brain make adolescents more likely to be influenced by their peers, take risks, and even become disengaged in school as their motivations change. The report also provides recommendations to help educators, parents, policymakers and others navigate the changes students experience during adolescence and design learning environments that support adolescent learning and development.
As the education system seeks to prepare students for success in college, a career, and life, educators must ensure that school cultures and environments promote positive mindsets in adolescent students, motivate them to take risks associated with positive outcomes, and support them in developing supportive relationships with their peers and adults. As adolescents’ awareness of their social environments increases, their mindsets about learning evolve. During this developmental period, adolescents increasingly seek novel and thrilling experiences as their capacity for self-regulation matures. Meanwhile, the roles of peers and adults shift and take on new significance for adolescents, affecting their learning and identity development. Furthermore, recent evidence from neuroscience provides an increased understanding about how changes in the brain relate to these observed changes in adolescent behavior and inclinations.
This report examines learning and development research that supports the Alliance for Excellent Education’s (All4Ed’s) Science of Adolescent Learning (SAL) Research Consensus Statements 6–10. The report highlights the following essential findings about adolescent learning and development:
- The most effective methods for motivating students change as students reach adolescence as a result of changes in the brain’s reward-processing systems and students’ experiences in new social contexts. Educators can influence how adolescents engage in academic and social activities through the mindsets they encourage and the types of motivation they provide. A school culture that supports students’ positive identity development and allows them to pursue their own learning interests can inspire academic achievement and a lifelong passion for learning.
- Adolescents’ increased inclination to engage in risk-taking behaviors is not a deficit. During the adolescent stage of brain development, individuals are more sensitive to the effects of certain rewards, which can increase the likelihood that they will take certain risks to obtain those rewards. Educators can provide adolescents with school-based opportunities to take risks associated with positive academic and social outcomes, such as college acceptance, career preparation, and developing friendships, to allow students to benefit from their tendency to pursue new, varied, and intense experiences.
- The role of peer and adult relationships shifts during adolescence. Peers become increasingly important as they influence the reward systems within the adolescent brain. Meanwhile, adult roles must shift from seeking to meet the needs of adolescents to supporting adolescents in meeting their own needs. Educators can shape school environments to provide adolescents with opportunities to engage with their peers during learning experiences and support students as they take responsibility for their own learning.
This report also includes recommendations for how educators, policymakers, and advocates can apply adolescent learning and development research to policy and practice. By using developmentally appropriate motivation strategies; supporting positive relationships between adolescents, their peers, and educators; and providing opportunities for adolescent students to take risks that will enhance their own educational experiences, education leaders can design learning environments that support adolescent learning and development throughout the entirety of the education system, helping to improve schools and close achievement and opportunity gaps.