Getting adolescents to care about learning

If you are doubtful about the power of emotion to influence learning, consider the typical airplane safety lesson before every flight. Like many passengers, you probably pay little or no attention to the attendant demonstrating how to put on an oxygen mask. Bored and impatient, you probably leaf through a magazine or listen to your iPod instead.

Now, consider how engaged and attentive you would be if the plane was experiencing real technical difficulties and you were afraid. You would be riveted by the same lesson and hanging on the attendant’s every word. Your recall would be excellent because the information suddenly has become extremely relevant and compelling to you.

Emotion drives all learning, but this is especially so for adolescents, says Karen Hume in a recent webinar on the adolescent learner (Bring out the best in your adolescents: How to use developmental psychology to choose the best instructional strategies for your Grades 6-10 students). If adolescents feel left out or think the teacher doesn’t like them or don’t think they are doing well in the class, these feelings can get in the way of engagement and learning. They need to feel good about themselves and how they are doing in school and need to be pulled into learning by curiosity and and a sense that the material is relevant to them.

The hypothalamus, which regulates hormones and is the seat of the most primitive emotions such as fear, anger and aggression, is at its most active during the adolescent years, Karen says. As every teacher knows, early adolescents can be very self-conscious and display inconsistent and unpredictable emotions. To be effective, teachers must be attuned to the emotional state and health of their adolescents and engage them at that level, Karen says.

Here are 3 of Karen’s suggestions for reaching adolescents through their emotions to engage them more fully in learning:

How’s it going journal–Have students keep a journal in which they record their feelings about their progress in the class and the material you are covering. This journal will provide you with rich information about how well or not well students are doing from their perspective. Give them a few minutes in class to record an entry and then you can also make a response when you review the journals.

2 by 10–If you have a very disengaged student, spend 2 minutes every day for 10 days communicating with this student outside of class about topics outside of school, topics that are personally interesting and relevant to them. This technique is very effective in creating a bond with students and helping them engage more in class.

Anticipation guides–Before students read a book, story or other assigned material, have them read a list of controversial statements. These should not be factual statements. (This is a pretest, not an anticipation guide.)But controversial statements such as, ” If you love someone, you are morally obligated to take care of them no matter what.” You can discuss these statements and students’ views on these statements once they have begun to read the material.

Related resource:

Webinar with Karen Hume now available on CD-ROM “Bring out the best in your adolescents: How to use developmental psychology to choose the best instructional strategies for your Grades 6-10 students”

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