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Here’s What’s Inside

Did You Know?

5 Little-Known Facts about the Adolescent Brain

Dos and Don’ts

For Teaching Adolescents


About Secondary Students

  • How do I properly address my students’
    behavioral problems?
  • How do I help my secondary students
    who struggle with school?
  • How do I engage secondary students
    and inspire them to succeed?
  • How do I establish trust with my
    secondary students?

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1. Adolescents need 8-10 hours of sleep.

Inadequate sleep can lead to cognitive, behavioral, and emotional issues, since the brain’s prefrontal cortex (the area responsible for complex thinking, decision-making, and emotional regulation) is sensitive to sleep deprivation.

2. Adolescent brains lack impulse control.

The adolescent emotional brain is on overdrive without a fully-developed rational brain to pump the brakes. The result? Risky, emotion-driven behavior. The limbic system, which drives emotions, intensifies at puberty and remains hyperactive throughout adolescence.

What Can Teachers Do?

Give students a boost in developing their prefrontal cortex. Foster selfcontrol and time management through daily planners or offering extra points for submitting assignments early. Mindfulness exercises and socialemotional learning programs foster self-regulation and self-awareness. Brain-training technology like the Fast ForWord program builds working memory, focus,  and attention skills.

3. Adolescent brains are incredibly adaptive.

Brain plasticity offers an incredible learning opportunity for adolescents, because their brains let them learn more quickly than adults. Impressions on the adolescent brain tend to have stronger emotional associations, so the lessons learned could last longer.

What Can Teachers Do?

Leverage this impressionable time period by providing students with opportunities to develop lifelong social-emotional skills.

4. Adolescent brains are socially sensitive.

The adolescent brain feels outsized peer influence. Increased hormones, such as a dopamine spike when taking risks, intensifies the desire for social inclusion and acceptance. Such hypersensitivity to peer judgment is a double-edged sword.

What Can Teachers Do?

Facilitate group work, which funnels adolescents’ peer-driven, thrill-seeking impulses toward positive, educational risk-taking, such as taking the lead in a group project.

5. ACEs have a huge impact.

Students who suffer from Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in the home, such as financial distress, marital discord, or parental depression, this as toxic stress. Continual failure in school has the same effect. These adolescents are at risk for negative health issues, compromised academic achievement, and behavioral problems.

What Can Teachers Do?

Implement social-emotional learning (SEL) approaches, such as group activities, meditation, or exercise breaks. Supplemental technological educational programs that increase academic success and confidence have been shown to reduce the effects of toxic environmental stress in students in high-poverty school districts.

Social Emotional Learning

The adolescent brain is incredible, but also incredibly misunderstood. When secondary educators better understand cognitive development during adolescence, they will discover the answers to these common questions:

  • How should I address disruptive behavior?
  • How do I help my struggling students?
  • How do I engage and inspire teens?
  • How can I help my students be self-motivated?

The last question is especially important in periods of remote learning, which is likely to continue in some form during the 2020-2021 school year.

Self-directed learning requires the cognitive skills of goal-setting, focused attention, and perseverance. These are executive function skills, and the prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain responsible for fostering them.

The prefrontal cortex develops during adolescence and may not fully mature until one’s mid-twenties.

Meanwhile, the amygdala, which is the area of the brain responsible for impulsivity, desire for instant gratification, and reward-seeking, is firing on all cylinders during adolescence. As a result, adolescents’ brains lead them to seek risks in order to secure dopamine-fueled rewards.

Self-motivated learning, then, requires an adolescent to power up their still-forming prefrontal cortex while satiating their hyperactive amygdala. One tool that does both is Elements I


Elements I, the innovative addition to Fast ForWord Literacy for secondary readers, leverages this knowledge about the adolescent brain by simultaneously strengthening executive functions and providing the rewards and immediate feedback to satisfy the dopamine reward system.

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