Science of Adolescent Learning: How Body and Brain Development Affect Student Learning
The Alliance for Excellent Education Invites You to Attend a Webinar
Science of Adolescent Learning:
How Body and Brain Development Affect Student Learning
Winsome Waite, PhD, Vice President of Practice, Alliance for Excellent Education
Richard Clark, EdD, Emeritus Professor of Educational Psychology and Technology, Rossier School of Education, University of Southern California
Robyn Harper, Policy and Research Associate, Alliance for Excellent Education
Jesse Washington, III, PhD, Superintendent, Orangeburg Consolidated School District Five (SC)
Ever wonder what makes adolescents tick?
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, making these years in adolescence both a time of great opportunity and a time of increased vulnerability.
On August 1, 2018, All4Ed held a webinar, with Dr. Jesse Washington, III, a practitioner, and Dr. Richard Clark, a researcher, to examine biological changes that occur during adolescence, both in the body and the brain, and to discuss how to ensure that learning opportunities support adolescents’ development during this critical time.
The webinar featured the release of the first of All4Ed’s four-part series on the science of adolescent learning, How Body and Brain Development Affect Student Learning. The report highlights five essential findings about adolescent learning and development and includes recommendations for how educators, policymakers, and advocates can support adolescents’ academic, social, emotional, physical, and health needs.
Webinar participants also addressed questions from the online audience. Follow the event on Twitter at #scienceoflearning.
The Alliance for Excellent Education (All4Ed) is a Washington, DC–based national policy, practice, and advocacy organization dedicated to ensuring that all students, particularly those underperforming and those historically underserved, graduate from high school ready for success in college, work, and citizenship. all4ed.org
If you are interested in renting the Alliance’s facilities for your next meeting or webinar, please visit our facilities page to learn more.
Winsome Waite: Welcome. My name is Winsome Waite, Vice President of Practice here at the Alliance for Excellent Education. Thank you for joining us today as we talk with Dr. Richard Clark, Dr. Jesse Washington, and Miss Robyn Harper about All4Ed’s first report, How Body and Brain Development Affects Student Learning. This is part of For Science of Adolescent Learning Report Series. The series translate adolescent learning and development research for policy maker and practitioner audiences to better inform their work.
Let me introduce our guests. Dr. Jesse Washington is a Superintendent of Orangeburg Consolidated School District 5 in South Carolina. He has served in that position for three years. Previously he was a Chief Human Resources Officer in that same district. He’s also an Adjunct Faculty member from Grand Canyon University, has been an Assistant Principal, elementary school principal, and school district public information officer. Jesse is also a member of All4Ed’s high school advisory group. Thanks for being here today Dr. Washington.
Jesse Washington: Thank you.
Winsome Waite: Dr. Richard Clark is joining us via Skype from his office at the University of Southern California. Dr. Clarke is an Emeritus Professor of educational psychology and technology in USC Rossier School of Education. He’s also Emeritus Clinical Research Professor of surgery in the Keck School of Medicine. Dr. Clark’s evidence is in evidence-based practice for developing advanced expertise for children and adults. He teaches courses in learning theory, motivation research, and instructional design. So glad to have you Dr. Clark.
And finally in the studio here is Robyn Harper with us, a Policy and Research Associate here at All4Ed. Content Lead for Science with Adolescent Learning Initiative and lead author of this report. Glad you’re with us Robyn.
Robyn Harper: Thanks Winsome.
Winsome Waite: And now a few details before we dive into today’s report. Please join the conversation via Twitter using the hashtag science of learning. You can also ask questions using the box below this video window. Today’s event will be archived at All4Ed.org/webinars. Now let’s get started.
At All4Ed our mission is to ensure that every student graduates from high school prepared for success in post-secondary learning and in life. We know that in order to make this happen we need to effectively capitalize on the expertise and the actions of researchers, policy makers, and practitioners through aligned efforts.
Through its Science of Adolescent Learning Initiative All4Ed is working to connect all three areas, research, practice, and policy. And we support brokering of these efforts for effective implementation of research that advances educational outcomes and close opportunity gaps. With the help of research experts we developed 20 consensus statements on adolescent learning and development, which we expand upon in a four-part report series.
Robyn what can you tell us about the first report in the series, how body-brain development affects learning?
Robyn Harper: Thank you Winsome. So as you mentioned All4Ed, alongside a multidisciplinary group of researchers developed 20 research consensus statements and I’m going to go to my slides so that we can learn a bit more.
So the Science of Adolescent Learning Report Series expands on the research supporting each of the statements and describes the implications of this research for education practice and policy. The series includes four reports listed here on the screen. The first report in the series as you mentioned is titled, How Body and Brain Development Affect Student Learning.
Report One focuses on consensus statements one through five and includes topics such as “The biological beginning of adolescence,” which describes the biological processes that lead up to the onset of puberty. The second, “Critical Window of Brain Development,” a section that debunks the myth that the human brain only goes through significant changes during early childhood. “Increased Capacity for Advanced Cognition” and “Improved Ability for Complex Memory Task,” both of these sections discuss the opportunity that arise during adolescence for students to engage in advanced social and cognitive skills. I’m excited for Dr. Clark who is joining us here to discuss this more with us. Last, but not least, “A Time of Risk for Certain Health Issues.” This section describes how changes in the adolescent body and brain may put adolescents at a greater risk for certain health issues.
Overall the report showcases the evidence that shows that adolescence is not only a time of risk but a great opportunity for learning. Environment plays more than a significant role in shaping biological processes and education leaders have an essential role in shaping the formal learning environments for middle and high school students.
The key takeaways from Report One are: (1) adolescence is a second period of increased plasticity; it’s not too late. So the adolescent years are critical for both students and educators. (2) Opportunities matters. Adolescents need opportunities to perform complex mental tasks. Without these opportunities the neural networks related to a person’s capacity to do those types of tasks remain underdeveloped, creating greater challenges for those adolescents to engage in advance cognition as adults. Finally the third key thing is health matters for educators. Due to the stage of development that adolescents are in they face an increased risk for certain health issues that can affect both their behavior and ability to learn.
I must admit that I’ve only scraped the surface of what this report entails and I highly encourage viewers to read the report in its entirety.
Winsome Waite: Great. My first set of questions Dr. Clark are for you. The report describes how adolescence is a time where the capacity to perform higher-order functions is developing. Can you elaborate more on what high-order functions are and how they develop during adolescence?
Richard Clark: Well the report really puts a lot of affect on something that a lot of people call “metacognitive skills,” that is general thinking skills that once they develop they generalize to a lot of different areas. Examples of those are things like being able to plan, to make a plan. We know that a lot of students for example and adults for that matter procrastinate constantly and then wait too long to do things and by the time they start it’s too late, they don’t do as well; so planning is a key issue.
Monitoring yourself, knowing where you are and what you’re doing and whether you’re making really progress towards a goal that you have is another thing. A lot of teachers I think and school administrators and parents are really concerned about something we call “critical thinking,” a variety of sort of general skills about how to be precise and how to use evidence and so on.
Let me give a quick example of what planning might involve, that is at this more general level that adolescents really have the capacity to learn. There’s a five-part kind of approach to it that a lot of teachers illustrate for students. For example, “What you’re goal,” number one. Number two, “Where are you now in relationship to that goal?” Thirdly, “Why aren’t I there already?” “What’s happening?” “What’s preventing me from reaching it?” “What problems do I have to encounter?” Fourth, “What solutions are there to those problems?” “How do I implement them?” And then fifth, “What kind of progress am I making towards that goal,” which gets into that self-assessment thing that I think a lot of adolescents have difficulty with. So that’s an example of those more metacognitive general skills that students we now know have the capacity to acquire much earlier than we thought.
Winsome Waite: Thank you Dr. Clark. The second question for you: What is the “use it or lose it” principle and why is it important for educators to provide adolescent students with those opportunities to practice cognitive skills and strategies?
Richard Clark: You know that’s a great term that phrase “use it or lose it.” It pertains to physical activity and also pertains to mental activity. One of the things we’re learning is that memorizing is not the most important part of learning. I think we’ve felt that before, but what we’ve learned recently is that actually applying knowledge and getting working experience at application is just absolutely critical.
There’s a fellow named, David Merrill: M-E-R-R-I-L-L, who has a great system called a “Five-star model.” If you get online and search for it you’ll find it. He talks about five things that are really important during learning and instruction.
First of all the attempt to solve problems that are meaningful to students, that is applying what they’re learning by trying to solve problems that relate to that knowledge. Secondly, to get them to activate what they already know about that problem as they’re learning how to solve it. Third, give a demonstration of how to solve something, show them step-by-step in a sort of work example how to do something. Fourth, give them the opportunity to solve related kinds of problems, again ones that motivate them, ones they’re interested in and give them feedback that helps correct the approach they’re taking. Then fourth, don’t just teach parts of things, but try to bring them to the point of understanding the whole approach to something by constantly repeating what they’re learning. So that “use it or lose it” really applies to application knowledge being a very critical thing that we need to help students with.
Winsome Waite: Thank you Dr. Clark. We hear that very often in your profession that practice makes perfect.
Another question for you Dr. Clark, I think these are flowing very nicely into a story. Adolescents are developing capacities related to social cognition, what should educators also know about the development of emotional regulation and cognitive reappraisal during this time?
Richard Clark: You know it’s not difficult for any of us to think back of when we were adolescents I suspect, because one of the things that characterize it is some very strong emotions, some of them helpful and some of them not so helpful. So it’s possible actually we know through research for teachers and for parents and for people that are around young people to help them understand how to cope with their emotions, how to regulate their emotions.
There are some very simple strategies they can use. Teachers can engage them in questions about the emotions that they’re feeling. Ask them what upsets them and listen carefully to that. Let other students listen too, either one-on-one or in groups that help them label their emotions. The evidence is that young people are not all that aware of what emotion they’re experiencing, they’re in the grips of it so to speak. So learning actually how to label it, “I feel anxious,” “I feel angry,” “I feel sad,” “I’m embarrassed,” whatever it is it’s more helpful than it appears.
Then to learn to relax and accept themselves. There are a number of relaxing strategies people that are high anxious or who are embarrassed about things can learn. Learn to understand others, that is practice empathy, not agree with people that are different from you are all the time, but at least try to understand them. Then finally since anger is a big issue for a lot of people in adolescence, learn how to postpone expressing it in situations where you’re going to get into trouble, delay it and let it dissipate enough and try to deal with it in a more positive way. So that is one example here is coping strategies, “motional regulation strategies” they’re called.
Winsome Waite: Great, thank you. I am coming with a fourth question Dr. Clark and this is the final one in this section for you. One of the key takeaways from this report is that adolescents are going through a significant period of brain development. What should this evidence mean for educators about their education system?
Richard Clark: Well I think in the past there’s been this general belief that the best investment is in early childhood or even preschool education, because children are more flexible, they’re more mentally evolved, they learn quicker and easier at those points. We’ve made actually some huge strides at a national level and state level and even at a district level in elementary school and in preschool education.
I think the takeaway for me here is that we really need to do a lot more in middle school and high school levels, because students have the capacity to learn extraordinary amounts at that point. Policy I think there’s a number of things it means. Not only considering making more investment at that level, but at the very least that we should look at eliminating state and district policies that force teachers and school administrators to implement teaching and learning strategies that are known not to work for most students.
For example discovery learning is mandated in a lot of states and the evidence is it only works for a very small percentage of students who actually don’t need it probably in the first place. That what’s most important is that system like the Merrill System I described a while ago where you demonstrate, you guide students through things and then give them the opportunity to practice and be at the side giving them feedback while they’re learning something, rather than just throwing a problem at them and asking them to discover the solution to it.
Winsome Waite: That’s wonderful. Thank you Dr. Clark, thank you so much.
I’m going to turn my attention to you Dr. Washington. So what was your reaction to the report itself and was there any information that was a bit surprising to you?
Jesse Washington: I would like to – can I comment just real quickly on the statements that Dr. Clark just made?
Winsome Waite: Please comment.
Jesse Washington: Well we were talking about early childhood learning. Until you’ve been a superintendent in South Carolina right now there is a heavy push on students being able to read by the third grade. So there’s a lot of resources and a lot of funding that is being put into early childhood kindergarten and first grade and second grade students to have them to be able to read by third grade. And if they’re not reading by third grade then the idea is to hold them back until they are able to read. So this really stood out to me when in your research that we also have a second chance coming into the adolescent years, because we want them to be on a path to progress, but you know what about the students that are in the middle school and the high school now what can we do for those students other than just hope for a transformation type thing? So that was something that really stood out to me.
As an educator in South Carolina this report is very powerful. I don’t think we spend enough time looking and going deep into this type of research. It’s more about practices, teaching delivery, best practices in the classroom and what is going to impact at that immediate moment for students to pass statewide testing. So this is something that I feel like a lot of visionary leaders can use that can see down the road and not just for this next upcoming year. So that stood out to me a great deal.
Winsome Waite: That is wonderful. This follow-up question I think follows that train of thought: How knowledgeable do you think other school district leaders, principals, teachers are about this research and how important do you think this research is?
Jesse Washington: Frankly Winsome if I can honest with you I have not heard of this until we actually shared a conference call back in December.
Winsome Waite: Wow.
Jesse Washington: Again all of my studies have been more for immediate needs. This is something that I feel like a lot of superintendants and school leaders could definitely take into the future; leaders that have foresight, that can plan, and that can see a bigger picture other than just right now. This is a lot of time, this is a lot of intentional and deliberate planning and I think in the long run it would be very beneficial. It may not be something that we could see right away, but definitely trending over years.
Winsome Waite: That’s great, thank you, that’s a great message.
So we put an emphasis on bringing researchers, practitioners, and policy makers together to the table to have these discussions around this research. It’s really important to us that all three are working together and sharing this information and informing. So how do you think organizations like us at All4Ed might be better positioned to support education leaders in getting this information?
Jesse Washington: I would love to see All4Ed inside of school districts, inside professional development days, inside and actually working one-on-one, because before I knew about this organization these are thoughts that I’ve never had and I’ve met with you all several times and the ideas and the research and the concepts are so large that I don’t think a lot of people really know.
When we were having the conversation about this research this particular study really stuck with me. You know being able to work with adolescents and help them and move them forward will benefit society as a whole in general. So I’m not sure what the future plans are for All4Ed, but if you can get into school districts and have these kinds of conversations with building-level principals, with teachers, with parents and community I think that would help a great deal.
Winsome Waite: That’s great. Understanding the middle and high school students. [Laughter]
Jesse Washington: Yes.
Winsome Waite: So Dr. Washington one of our researchers, Dr. Jay Giedd, he said this and I just want you to respond to it.
Jesse Washington: Okay.
Winsome Waite: He says, “Wow adolescence is such a great opportunity because it’s so changeable. For these children that are underperforming we still have ample time to make changes. It may be hard for us to change the world around them, but there’s nothing in biology that constrains us.” What does that mean?
Jesse Washington: That was a very ah-hah moment for me, that statement gives me hope. A lot of our school districts where I am from and some of my colleagues around the nation that I have met their communities are very rich in tradition. They’re very rich in cultural and repetition. I think this is something that is new, it’s a different idea, it’s a different concept. It may be rejected at first, you know there may be some pushback, but I believe in it. I think it’s something that is very positive and I think it’s something that will really help to move our students forward in South Carolina and as a nation definitely.
Winsome Waite: That’s great. Thank you so much Dr. Washington.
So Robyn having worked on this report for hours if you had your choice what’s just that one or even two, but one main thing that you really want the ready, the audience to take away?
Robyn Harper: Oh wow. One thing, that’s hard, I think aside from the three takeaways that I mentioned earlier, one of the things that I would love for readers to take away is this more complex idea of what adolescence is. So in the paper we talk about how adolescence starts biologically and ends somewhat socially. I’m enjoying the process of writing the report series because we get to kind of take readers on that journey with the adolescent.
We’re starting in this really complex and fascinating space of biology, going into more cognitive research conversations and then as the series goes on we start to then talk about what does that mean as adolescents begin to develop their own identities, how they socialize with others, how they see themselves in their communities and their cultures and the world at large?
If I could say one thing for readers to take away it’s when you understand adolescence as being this complex space of changes happening in so many different areas think about how you could design an educational experience for those adolescents, that help them develop in all of those capacities.
Winsome Waite: Mm-hmm, that’s great, thank you.
I see Dr. Washington wants to – do you want to respond?
Robyn Harper: Yes do. [Laughter]
Jesse Washington: I just want to mention you know and when I talk about tradition you know we talk about school and classrooms and students come in, we teach lessons, they go home, we hope they learn it. But in this work I mean you’re teaching, you’re wanting an adolescent to choose for themselves you know? And as educators being able to provide that opportunity not me coming in and designing a lesson, but exposing you, giving you ideas and you being open to, “I’m not confined. I can do anything I want to do. I mean I can learn, I can grow.” I think that’s a big point that if we could just get across more we would progress.
I think a lot of times and I may be wrong for saying this, but a lot of times I feel like we as educators are the ones that are in the way of this type of stuff, this type of work for students.
Robyn Harper: Yeah I will say the more I learn about this work and just the natural capacity of humans to learn it does make me rethink how systems work. That’s why it’s so important to get education leaders involved in this conversation because we’re not just talking about individual. While the teacher interaction with the student is important it’s really about this systems-level approach to providing the greatest experience possible. How are we involving not just teachers, but counselors, but extracurricular leaders, parents, communities, everyone is involved in the natural learning process, so how do we help our formal schools and districts reflect and support what’s going on just in the background automatically?
Jesse Washington: Right exactly.
Winsome Waite: Yeah. I’d like to push on that idea and bring Dr. Clark back in and just have a conversation, because you brought it up Dr. Washington the students themselves. We’re talking mainly about secondary school students who are preparing themselves for a life after high school. What does this information really mean for them and how can we as the adults really provide the conditions to support them to better understand themselves as learners during this stage? And what are some of the strategies or activities that we might be able to implement to ensure that the students actually know this about themselves? I know that’s quite a bit that I’m asking and you can respond from any angle. We could talk about the student at this point and where they fit into this information sharing around this time.
So Dr. Clark any thoughts on that?
Richard Clark: Well let me start out first of all Winsome by saying that I think people ought to actually pay attention to the fact that 20 years ago, 15 years ago there was very little from research that was going to make a difference in the classroom or in schools and that has changed dramatically in the intervening years. I’ve watched this field develop for about 40 years and it’s amazing what’s happened in the last 10 years.
One of the things we’ve learned are I think a number of the very practical answers to the questions that you were just asking there are a whole lot of indications that some of the things that we believe actually even fervently about education may not necessarily be true. And other things actually that we could implement and could do quickly and efficiently are not necessarily being done.
For example this what I was talking about before this need to be active, to actually tackle problems, to actually solve them, to actually try to learn by doing things as much as possible and do that in the context of today’s classroom, which let’s be clear has a lot of challenges in it for teachers and for students. The numbers and variety of problems that students experience in a classroom make it difficult, but not impossible to do a lot of these things.
I think we’ve always believed in the past that any approach to teaching has to be either positive or neutral. In fact we’ve learned that certain things as we do it with students can make learning much worse for them. One of the things that shocked me was to find out that if we teach students in certain ways they actually can lose knowledge about things over the course of their education, rather than gain it. So it’s not just a zero-sum game, it’s like we have to really try to tackle some of these instruction and learning strategies for students in order to be positive and in order to avoid the difficulties that we may have experienced in the past.
What we know is that telling them things is not necessarily teaching. What we know is engaging them and learning things by doing them is most important; that’s number one. I think number two is that teachers are the most important models in the classroom certainly for students. That is the more that they model what they want students to do the more interested I think students to pick it up without even realizing it sometimes, they imitate what they see. I think this modeling activity is very important.
But when it comes to for example modeling the coping with emotions, when it comes to modeling things such as strategies for planning and for avoiding procrastination and so on all those things can be learned by students more or less unconsciously actually, that’s exciting to me also.
Winsome Waite: That’s great, thank you Dr. Clark.
Jesse Washington: You know Winsome is in speaking to Dr. Clark and this is a practical example, but you know I actually learned how to drive better when I was in the car by myself. [Laughter]
Winsome Waite: That’s a scary thought.
Jesse Washington: It is scary and it’s risk taking, but my parents trusted me enough, they taught and I did better. The pressure of you know stop or slow down and turn you know wasn’t there and that’s just a small example I think as to what Dr. Clark was saying definitely. [Laughs]
Winsome Waite: That’s great. Any thoughts on the student around here Robyn?
Robyn Harper: Well and this is a preview down the line in the series, but student agency, student – the student’s ability to connect themselves with their learning seems to be one of the best things that we could do for adolescent learners. Rather than saying that, “This is that class I took, I don’t know why it matters to me,” helping them make the connections to them so that it’s more not only is more memorable, but it will probably be learned in this way that has more depth, that can be connected to other learning opportunities.
I think back would you believe that I didn’t like science before?
Winsome Waite: Not at all.
Robyn Harper: Right. When it was connected to a cause that I cared about all of a sudden it opened so many doors and I thought, “Oh now I – not only do I get it, but it matters to me” and I just wanted to learn more and more. I was motivated.
I think I’m sure Dr. Clark can speak much more to the cognitive reasoning for why this works, but I just can speak from experience and form observation when we bring students to the table and make the learning theirs, rather than keeping it for ourselves it has great benefit.
Winsome Waite: That’s wonderful. Thank you so much Robyn.
I’m going to ask a question about our local school boards. I happen to know that Dr. Clark is also a practitioner, researcher. I’m going to start with you Dr. Washington.
Jesse Washington: Okay.
Winsome Waite: What does this all mean for your local school board?
Jesse Washington: I think it means that they need to have a great deal of trust in the leaders that they put in charge at the school districts, [chuckles] to be just very basic and plain. But also it’s learning for them. You know it’s learning what districts can be, what students can be. You know we’re not just confined to you know what we think is the best, but there are so many more places that students can go that we may not be aware of at this time.
Some of the local school board members may not necessarily be educators, but may be businessmen or construction workers or retired whatever from their professions, but the board that we can educate and make connections like what Robyn just said with getting students to own learning for themselves. You know I think they will support decisions that may be beyond tradition at this point.
Winsome Waite: Yes that’s great, thank you. Dr. Clark any thoughts on the school board?
Richard Clark: I hardly know where to start. I think that there’s a huge number of things not only in this first report, but as Robyn was saying in the ones that are coming up that are really critical. The one that Robyn was talking about this whole think of motivation I think is just an extraordinarily important thing that we haven’t explored nearly enough either in research or in schools.
I mean we know for example that we try often to motivate students by telling them things that are important to us as teachers or parents, when in fact it’s so important to look at their view of the world and see what’s important to them and try to attach the things that they need to do to progress in life to their own values, to the things that they think are important.
Secondly I think we now understand how critical it is when students believe that they are stuck or unable to accomplish something that’s important to them, because of some reason they can’t control. For example we place too much emphasis on intelligence. Everybody believes they’re just not smart enough to do something. Intelligence of course is important, but what’s most critical is effort. If you work a bit harder, if you try some of these strategies you can succeed at this. And the moment a student believes that they can’t succeed they’re finished. They have to believe that there’s a way to achieve the goals that’s important to them.
I think there’s a role here for parents and teachers, for school administrators, for everybody in a social group that includes a student to always encourage them not to believe that they’re hopeless, that there’s anything that’s hopeless, that they’re the wrong color, the wrong gender, the wrong whatever it is, none of those things are as important as just having a goal and being willing to invest the effort and to use the strategies that they can actually achieve something. That to me is one of the most exciting takeaways from this agreement that all of these researchers have made about what’s out there to learn.
Winsome Waite: Mm-hmm. Thank you Dr. Clark. Dr. Washington when you think about your own district or you think about other districts, what’s happening actually in the low core policy and practice arena in the district level is there a successful story? Is there a good practice? Is there anything you want to highlight that you think our audience could benefit from that this is a good thing that should be done in middle and high schools?
Jesse Washington: I do believe this is a good thing that should be done. If there is something that I could highlight I think we’re moving closer in the direction. When Robyn mentioned students connecting to their learning that person in the classroom is the key to making that happen. If I can get my teachers to believe that the possibilities for students are unlimited. I think that we have made steps in that direction. I have seen hints of positive things moving in that direction, but the closer we can get to that I think the better we’re going to be for sure.
Winsome Waite: So I hear you saying part of our strategy or work is to ensure that this gets to at least the teachers and the classroom too.
Jesse Washington: Yes, yes and for them to understand and be able to see beyond just the 9 months or the 180 days that they have these students, but in the long run anything is possible.
Winsome Waite: That’s wonderful, that’s wonderful. Thought I’d just open up the discussion a bit.
Robyn Harper: Sure.
Winsome Waite: I’m sure each member of the panel, the panelists you have thoughts. Maybe I didn’t as the question, but there’s a burning thought. So why don’t I just open it up to just anyone. I think Robyn I’ll go with you and then maybe ask you, Dr. Washington and then Dr. Clark just thoughts that you have in general about this report.
Robyn Harper: About the report. So I think one of the things that I found really important for organizations like ours the in-between connective tissue if you will between researchers, policy makers, practitioners, I think this report really shows how possible it is to take very complex research and put it in a form that is usable, but not – and knowing that it means not getting all the wonderful nuances that were in the original research paper, but putting it in a form that’s usable for practitioners and policy makers and therefore starting a conversation between all three groups that singles in on this goal of producing the most effective education system possible.
So it’s not in the report, but it’s a sign of the report where we’re not taking away so much from the research that it feels like educators have been doing it the whole time. It elevates not only their knowledge, but their connection to the next steps on the research side, it connects them to, “Okay what does this mean for my policy decisions?” “What does this then mean for what I do in practice and I am now excited to share it with everyone else.”
Trying to I guess at the end of the day my thought is the more that we can bring together, whether it’s around reports like this, whether it’s around activities, whether it’s us going and visiting face-to-face I think the better the work will be going forward. Because at the end of the day we are the ones who really shape the environments that adolescents are put in, so we have a responsibility to make sure that we’re pulling from every body of knowledge possible.
Winsome Waite: That’s great, thank you Robyn. So you just explained part of the work we do here, the translating of research for the policy and practice audiences and also the brokering of these efforts to ensure that the information is just not on paper and can be read, but can be actualized in a plan and in implementation and in activities in schools. Thank you very much.
Robyn Harper: Okay.
Winsome Waite: Dr. Washington.
Jesse Washington: I do have I guess a statement/question if that’s okay. One of the takeaways from this report were you were talking about opportunities matter. So when I hear this and I read this research and I’m trying to go granular into an actual school, into an actual classroom as to what this may look like, there’s a big push now for college and career readiness.
We were very fortunate enough to be able to implement a STEM lab in one of our middle schools to where seventh and eighth graders are exposed to that. So do you see that as a vehicle towards moving in this direction? We’ve had it for two years now, it’s been very positive. In our world it’s getting students ready for college career, but in this world it is a much larger scale.
Robyn Harper: I think so. I think and of course I welcome Dr. Clark to also add, but I feel like having things like the STEM lab involved within middle schools and high schools it’s so critical, because not only is it providing access to a specific field, but it provides a visual evidence for adolescents to know it’s possible and particularly for historically underserved students.
The fact that STEM is a possibility goes a very long way. For certain students they never even see certain occupations, they don’t know and it becomes kind of off-limits to them, whether they think so, think this implicitly or explicitly. They feel like you know, “Oh I grew up in this rural district, we don’t do STEM here. I haven’t’ seen STEM.” So by bringing it into the schools, bringing it into the classroom these opportunities not only provides students the ability to practice the skills necessary for doing STEM well, but it p[provides them this outlook and to say, “I can do it” or “My best friend can do it.” Now I’m more excited about going to college and I’m more invested in my own education.
Jesse Washington: So you would pretty much align this with we were talking earlier about early childhood and the concentration that we put there for early learners, but for adolescents this would be a way to capture or at least one way to capture these students.
Robyn Harper: Mm-hmm, yeah, yeah.
Winsome Waite: Right, right and the word “confidence” keep coming up in my head, what building of confidence of those students as they’re experiencing these opportunities. That’s really closely aligned to after high school.
Jesse Washington: Correct.
Robyn Harper: And to go back to the quote that you mentioned from Dr. Giedd there are biologically no restraints. So when we all accept that then for me and you know I’m coming with a little bit less time in the trenches if you will so I could be a bit more hopeful than some who you know have seen it and tried it and maybe feel like, “Yeah but you haven’t seen the system in how it stops you.”
I’m actually leading into another question for you Dr. Washington.
Jesse Washington: Okay.
Robyn Harper: For those who want to move forward but they’re feeling like, “You know I tried the visionary approach and it’s not quite working for me,” is there something that maybe this work or maybe you could say to them?
Jesse Washington: Well the concept that you just mentioned there are no biological restraints that’s a very deep concept for me. I mean that’s going to take me a minute to chew on and understand and how do I get my school leaders to understand exactly what that means? You know just because you grew up in this environment or our school is in this environment or you know we may serve you know rural areas biologically there are no restraints. So does that mean it becomes a choice you know of the students? And can they make that choice based on exposure that we as educators provide for them? That’s what I’m getting from that statement.
Winsome Waite: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Jesse Washington: I would love to learn more about that. [Laughs]
Winsome Waite: And we should talk more about that, because that word “choice” we associated right now with the students, but what about the choice of the adults in the student’s life to make choices that are supportive of those students, all of those students.
Jesse Washington: Correct.
Winsome Waite: So we talk about all students, for the most part that’s a common phrase in our profession “all students,” but really meaning that it’s every student.
Jesse Washington: Every student.
Winsome Waite: And providing those opportunities. So yes I think that’s a – glad you went back to Dr. Giedd’s phrase.
I wonder if Dr. Clark has some other thoughts about that phrase too.
Robyn Harper: Mm-hmm, absolutely.
Winsome Waite: Dr. Clark?
Richard Clark: Well actually I have a number. A moment ago I mentioned that one of the most drastic things that can happen to any adolescent is to believe that there’s nothing they can do about a serious problem or nothing they can do about achieving a goal that they have. It’s also important to notice that we’re tempted as educators to think that there’s nothing we can do with certain students. That they’re fixed in place, they’re not going grow, they’re just inadequate somehow. They’re underperforming is their fault. And in fact knowing that it’s the case that they are capable of anything, they’re capable of an extraordinary arrange of things during adolescence ought to make us more optimistic and more inclined to redouble our efforts to use the types of teachings strategies and classroom strategies and school design strategies and so on that make this more possible.
The second thing that comes to my mind is that as a researcher I’m a bit distressed at the fact that people in research don’t think it’s their responsibility to be clear about how we might implement the things that they find work really well. I know there are more journals now that try to focus on implementation, but I’m amazed at even today I can read a wonderful research article that has produced some very dramatic insights and yet not at all understand how they accomplish the goal that they reported. So there’s this temptation not to actually be very clear about how you do things.
I don’t think that’s a need to not to share it with other people, I just think there’s no culture in research that focuses on this. What it means is that we’ve got to begin to revolutionize the way that we review research articles. Journal editors have to ask for different things from people and we have to put much more stress on how to apply in the settings where students live, which is school, their homes and so on and to be very clear about how to accomplish these goals so that people who actually are responsible for implementing can take that information and turn it into something meaningful and reasonable and culturally appropriate and so on given the context that they’re in.
I think if we were able to be more optimistic about how much we can accomplish with adolescents first. Secondly, believe that there are strategies out there that will achieve some enormously important goals for them. But the way many of those strategies and many of those findings are described in the subsequent reports that are going to come out that we’re going to be talking about.
And then if we’re clear about those strategies and how to implement them in different context I think we could make enormous inroads in education. I think we could help close some of this achievement gap that has deviled us all for way too many years. I feel optimistic that that’s possible now.
Winsome Waite: Yes. Thank you Dr. Clark. There is so much that you just said in that statement, so much we should unpack that later, but thank you.
Robyn I’m going to ask you at this time just to give Dr. Washington and Dr. Clark a minute to think about their other thoughts, final thoughts. I’m going to ask you to talk about these upcoming reports. What would you like to tell our audience about them?
Robyn Harper: So our next report, Report Two, is focusing on risk taking, rewards, and relationships; diving a little bit deeper into that biologically to socially definition of adolescence. We’re really unpacking how these changes in the brain can affect how students take risks and perhaps even how they are motivated by reward and what does that mean for educators as they’re interacting on a personal basis? Like educators shouldn’t be thinking as they go into the classroom, “How can I change their brain?” Like they are people and how are the relationships that adolescents have with both the adults in their lives and their peers affecting how they’re learning?
From there the third report talks about culture and environment, really getting deep into valuing all of the diversity that comes into the classroom with students. It gets back into understanding what students find important and shaping an experience around that versus what we find important.
Then finally the fourth report goes into identity and agency and really getting at so now that we know that they can what are we prepared to step back and let them do?
So I’m excited for what the series looks like going forward and hope everyone is captivated as we go along. I really do want to take the moment to thank every researcher that has helped us along the way, whether you were involved directly with the writing of the report or whether it was your incredible research that you did that informed the paper that we read.
It was so interesting to hear from Dr. Clark. It is only just recently that we could even begin to have this sort of conversation. There was a whole lot of work that went into getting us to a point where we can say, “It is,” versus “We think.” [Laughter]
Winsome Waite: Thank you Robyn.
Robyn Harper: Thank you.
Winsome Waite: Thank you for thanking the many, many researchers and experts who have come to our call out to help us and to continue we are every so grateful to them. Thank you very much.
So I’m going to ask for final thoughts. I’m going to start with you Dr. Washington and then Dr. Clark as we come closer to the end of our webinar.
Jesse Washington: Okay. Robyn you have excited me today. [Laughs]
Robyn Harper: That’s great.
Jesse Washington: I am very interested in how this is going to proceed. I am all about anything that is going to have impact in the classroom with students. This is research it’s a very different way of thinking for me, but I am highly interested in it. I think there are some pieces here that I can take back and begin to just ask some different kinds of questions of principals and ask different kinds of questions of teachers just to see what reaction I get or if there’s a possibility that we can begin to move you know in that direction.
But this is the kind of the work I believe, I really believe that is going to be needed, that is needed now to move our students forward. School has just changed so much over the years and I think if we give students enough tools for them to be able to choose for themselves we will have greater impact and I believe this is heading in that direction. And as Dr. Clark said it will take leaders, visionary leaders with optimism to move forward and make that happen so thank you.
Robyn Harper: Thank you, thank you.
Winsome Waite: Thank you Dr. Washington. Dr. Clark any final thoughts?
Richard Clark: Well you know I think that the challenge for today is not finding out what works, it’s not necessarily knowing what will happen if we do what works, it’s scaling it. It’s taking these powerful ideas that have been developed and where there’s consensus about those ideas with people that usually frankly don’t agree with each other and finding ways to implement them using through the offices of organizations like yours.
Because I think this is where the future is. It’s trying to scale things from small, effective events to broad, inclusive events and that’s where we need to be investing our money and our effort right now. How do we scale? How do we get from laboratory research, to field research, to understanding what’s needed in classrooms, to applying it broadly, continuing to feedback information that helps us sort of shape and partition these things in ways that are more effective and make sure that a huge majority of students get the opportunity to experience them. That’s what exciting I think about the future.
Winsome Waite: Wonderful. Thank you Dr. Clark. Well that’s all the time we have for today. I want to thank Dr. Richard Clark, Dr. Jesse Washington, Miss Robyn Harper for joining me today discussing how adolescent body and brain development can affect learning and the implications for both policy and practice.
Stay tuned for the next report in our Science of Adolescent Learning Series: Risk Taking Rewards and Relationships. Please keep in mind that today’s events will be archived on All4Ed.org/webinars.
I’m Winsome Waite for the Alliance for Excellent Education. Thanks so much for joining us today.
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