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Three Things You Didn’t Know About Adolescence

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August 07, 2018 01:56 pm


Most people know that adolescents face dramatic changes in their appearance, but they do not know those changes are accompanied by biological changes in their brains too. These years of adolescence are a time of great opportunity and a time of increased vulnerability for students.

How can educators, policymakers, and advocates can support adolescents’ academic, social, emotional, physical, and health needs? It’s no easy task, but understanding the science behind adolescent learning and development is one important step.

1. Adolescence is a second critical window of brain development (it’s not just early childhood).

Early childhood has long been recognized as a key point for an individual’s development and learning, with positive effects lasting long into adulthood. Recent research has identified adolescence as a second critical window of brain development. What does that mean? Adolescence is a period of immense opportunity and vulnerability for students.

2. Adolescence is a ‘use it or lose it’ period.

Changes in students’ bodies and brains during adolescence affects how they learn. An absence of engaging, rigorous, deeper learning opportunities can restrict students’ brain development now, with implications for the rest of their lives. The more students engage in challenging learning experiences, when paired with the appropriate support, the more their brain cells grow.

For example, working memory skills strengthen when students engage in assignments and assessments that require that they solve complex problems and connect information to their own experiences, rather than simply regurgitate memorized information.

3. What educators do matters for students’ brain development.

What educators do in the classroom and decisions made by district and school leaders have an impact on students’ brain development.

Educators can positively impact brain development by providing rich learning experiences that connect academic learning to students’ personal interests, prior knowledge, and current events, capitalizing on adolescents’ increased ability to remember personally relevant information.

District and school leaders can provide teachers and counselors with support and professional learning necessary to provide students with guided opportunities to develop social and emotional skills and emotion-regulation strategies as they navigate increasingly complex social environments.


What Do Educators, Policymakers, and Parents Need to Know?

All4Ed gathered twenty-two of the world’s leading researchers on adolescent learning and development and produced a set of essential findings, or consensus statements, that educators, policymakers, and parents need to know about how adolescents learn and develop to better prepare students for success in college and adulthood.

01-Consensus Report-Boday and Brain-COVER A new report, Science of Adolescent Learning: How Body and Brain Development Affect Student Learning, focuses on five of these statements centered on changes in the body and brain. It is the first in a series of four reports that will focus on consensus statements related to risk taking, rewards, and relationships; valuing culture, experiences, and environments; and how identity and empowerment influence student learning.

Download the report at

Get caught up on this topic by watching the webinar below, which includes a practitioner and researcher perspective on how to ensure that learning opportunities support adolescents’ development.

Stay In Touch! 

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Knowledge about how students learn and develop has grown during the last thirty years, but what does it mean for policymakers, practitioners, and parents? All4Ed’s Science of Adolescent Learning (SAL) series will keep you updated.

Join the mailing list to stay up to speed on SAL news!

Featured Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for American Education: Images of Teachers and Students in Action.

SAL Resource, Science of Adolescent Learning, Science of Learning

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Every Child a Graduate. Every Child Prepared for Life.