Read My New Article on Student Choice in Education Week Teacher

Check out the latest online edition of Education Week Teacher, which today published my  article, ”5 Ways to Use Student Choice to Improve Learning.” In the piece, I focus on specific ways in which middle school and high school educators can provide more opportunities for students’ decision-making skills to be stimulated so that they are more likely to make good decisions outside of the classroom as well.  The 5 strategies I focus on include:

  1. Letting students make choices about required reading assignments
  2. Involving students in decisions about school policy
  3. Providing opportunities for independent study
  4. Offering more electives
  5. Using student polling

The areas of the brain that control decision-making are the last to develop in late adolescence and early adulthood and are highly sensitive to environmental influences (a feature of the brain known as ”neuroplasticity”). This article hopes to convince teachers that educating the ”choice muscles” in student’s  brain is as important as the content they’re learning in the classroom.

For more information about giving secondary students choices in the classroom, see my book The Power of the Adolescent Brain:  Strategies for Middle and High School Teachers (ASCD, 2016).

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Words of Wisdom in the Digital Age

“I’m not sitting there watching Twitter. I’m not on Facebook. If you’re speaking to me through Facebook or Twitter, I’m not listening. So let’s start there.

”I’m a fairly disconnected person who operates in a kind of old-fashioned way and I do that deliberately because drinking from this digital fire hose is too much for me.

I’m just not interested in hearing what everyone is saying about each other or for that matter, about me.

If you write me a paper letter, I’ll answer it. Other than that, I’m trying to slow down and get across that it’s all the stuff that is old and slow that you cannot download— that’s the stuff that matters most.”

— From “How to Thrive in Today’s Fast-Changing World,”  an interview with Thomas Friedman, age 63, NY Times Journalist and author of Thank You for Being Late.  Full interview here.

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New Feature: Trump Watch

Today I’m beginning a new category for my blog entitled Trump Watch.  It will consist of blog posts specifically related to Donald Trump and how his pronouncements and policies affect learning and human development, especially as it relates to our children.

In a Tweet Thursday, Trump said that the U.S should greatly expand its nuclear capability.  This may have been a response to a Vladimir Putin speech to Russian military leadership that Russia should increase its nuclear missile strength.  Clearly, both leaders are engaged in a risky game of tit-for-tat that could escalate both arsenals and tensions between the two countries, and endanger the existence of everyone on the planet.  In an earlier post, I had noted that the primary reason for not voting for Trump in the recent presidential election was that his erratic personality could increase the chance of an accidental or purposeful nuclear war, thus extinguishing our children’s chances to grow up and experience the opportunities in life that it is their birthright to have.  Thus, Trump’s statement today clearly endangers our children’s lives.  There can be no rational benefit to expanding our nuclear arsenal, since we already have enough warheads to put an end to virtually all life on earth (cockroaches and bacteria excepted).  Thus, before he has even become our nation’s leader he has demonstrated an extreme level of irresponsibility to our nation’s (and the world’s) children.

In future Trump Watch blog posts, I’ll be looking at Trump’s education policies, and other aspects of his administration in terms of how it could affect our children’s learning and development, as well as the realization of human potential in each of us.

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‘Learning Self-Regulation’ Is Needed on Path to Academic Success

Education Week Teacher has a feature ”Classroom Q & A with Larry Ferlazzo,” which has a different education topic every week, to which guest writers post responses.  Last week it was:  ”’Learning Self-Regulation’ Is Needed on Path to Academic Success.”  I was one of the contributors, and this was my response:

The issue of self-control is a particularly important one for adolescents because the areas of the brain that are associated with self-control are located in the prefrontal cortex (behind the forehead) and don’t fully develop until the early to mid-twenties.  During the teen years, the prefrontal cortex goes through a lot of reorganization.  Especially key in this transformation is the ”pruning’ of excess neural connections and the ”myelination” or insulation of nerve channels, both of which serve to carry neuronal impulses more quickly and efficiently to all centers of the brain including the limbic system where impulsiveness often runs rampant.  The pruning of dendrites in the prefrontal cortex (the branches of neurons that connect with other neurons) is highly subject to environmental influences, a feature of the brain called ”neuroplasticity.” 

This means that educators have a huge responsibility in providing experiences that effectively ”wire” those self-control connections in the brain.  Above all, educators need to refrain from using punishment, criticism, zero tolerance policies, or other authoritarian methods of ”getting kids to control themselves.”  None of these interventions allows the self-control areas of the brain to properly develop.  Instead, secondary educators need to give students increasing responsibilities and should provide them with opportunities make choices at all levels of the curriculum. This effort will help lay the educational, psychological, and neurological foundations for self-control. Specific interventions that can assist in this regard include some of the following strategies:

  • let students choose their own reading materials
  • use self-assessment frequently in the classroom
  • allow for greater student voice in how the classroom and the school is run
  • permit students to create projects in areas of interest and passion
  • offer more electives at the secondary school level
  • use student polling frequently
  • listen to students’ ideas and opinions with respect
  • give students the opportunity to learn material at their own rate
  • provide opportunities for independent study

In these and other ways, educators can empower students to take charge of their own learning, and optimally develop those prefrontal functions so important in developing self-control.

For more information about this and other topics related to the adolescent brain and secondary school education, see my book The Power of the Adolescent Brain: Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students.

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The Power of the Adolescent Brain On ASCD’s Monthly Twitter Chat

power-of-the-adolescent-brainCatch me on Twitter Tuesday from 8-9 pm ET at #ASCDL2L for Q & A on my new book The Power of the Adolescent Brain.  I’ll be talking about brain friendly and brain unfriendly approaches to helping teens learn in secondary school classrooms.  I hope to see you there!
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