‘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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10 Ways to Empower Yourself in Trump’s America

americanflagsThe election of Donald Trump as president of the United States has left many people upset, confused, angry, and powerless.  A good way to defuse these feelings is by becoming proactive, particularly in those areas where Trump is likely to promote destructive legislation, formulate dangerous foreign policies, modify cultural discourse, or ignite irrational elements within the U.S. public.  Here are 10 ways you can fight back:

  1. Become fluent in Spanish and visualize a bilingual America (a good online way to learn is Duo Lingo);
  2. Redouble your efforts to promote ecologically sensible practices in your home and community (click here for a list of 25 environmental agencies and organizations);
  3. Raise a huge public stink if you are witness to any discourse that seeks to denigrate people of color, individuals from other cultures, or people of diverse gender identities, sexual preferences, or disabilities (a good resource for support and advocacy of toleration, and strategies for confronting bigotry is The Southern Poverty Law Center)
  4. Support your school’s anti-bullying program (and if there isn’t one, start one – go to No Bully);
  5. Begin supporting Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren as the 2020 Democratic candidate for U.S. President (friend the Elizabeth Warren for President Facebook page).
  6. Withdraw your support of network television and other news outlets that put sensationalism over responsible journalism (note: the three major networks gave three times as much airtime to Hillary’s email issues as they did to all of the major domestic and foreign policy issues of the campaign combined), and support news outlets that are committed to thorough and responsible news coverage (one international suggestion:  the Guardian).
  7. Support efforts to stop nuclear proliferation and abolish nuclear weapons worldwide (a list of anti-nuclear organizations is provided in Wikipedia);
  8. Fight any effort to inhibit the exercise of America’s first amendment right of free speech (support the American Civil Liberties Union);
  9. Write your representatives at Congress saying that you will not support them in the next general election if they do any of the following (click here to find your local representative and senators):
    1. vote to repeal ObamaCare
    2. support pro-life Supreme Court nominees
    3. cancel federal funding to sanctuary cities
    4. vote for anti-immigration policies
    5. support routine vetting of individuals coming from the Middle East
    6. vote for cutting off funding or support for climate change efforts worldwide; or
    7. support measures that will serve to harm our environment in any way;
  10. Support efforts to eliminate standardized testing, textbook-driven learning, and other one-size-fits-all forms of education, and promote critical thinking, creativity, social justice, innovation, civics, history, and political science in our nation’s schools so that our next generation of citizens will be less likely to become emotionally reactive to sensationalist journalism in subsequent U.S. elections, and more apt to think rationally and clearly understand all points of view (one excellent resource is the journal Rethinking Schools).

These suggestions are just a start, but they provide a foundation upon which we can affirm that our nation is a land dedicated to tolerance, freedom of speech, cooperation with our international allies, the rights of minorities, equality and respect
for women, multi-culturalism, nuclear nonproliferation, progressive schools, healthcare for all, a green economy, and the rights of human beings to live in dignity, prosperity, and peace.

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14 Things American Children Learned Today

kindergarten-classThe election of Donald Trump as president-elect of the United States yesterday sends a number of strong messages to America’s children. Here are 12 things they learned today:

  1. You can win if you bully people around;
  2. You can make fun of people with disabilities;
  3. Building walls against people is better than taking them down;
  4. Learning how to beat the system is a clever thing to do;
  5. Scientists don’t know what they’re talking about concerning climate change;
  6. People who are different from you can be dangerous;
  7. Shaking things up internationally is a good thing even if it leads to nuclear war;
  8. Rich people deserve bigger tax breaks than poor people;
  9. Women who climb too high politically will be cut down to size;
  10. It really doesn’t matter what you think as long as you can shout it loudly enough and get it spread around on a lot of social media sites;
  11. Reality television is indistinguishable from real life;
  12. Being obnoxious, loud, arrogant, and brash are good things because they get people to notice you.
  13. Lying to people is a good way to get what you want.
  14. Threatening your political rival is acceptable in America.

Do we really want our children to learn these things?

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Vote for Hillary; Stop Trump Now!

nuclear-explosion-facebookI am writing you today with an urgent message.  The United States has not faced a more critical moment in its history since World War II as American citizens are being asked to choose between two candidates in Tuesday’s election.  There are many things that can be said on each side about the two major candidates.  However, there is one critical matter that I wish to bring to your attention and that is the question of which candidate is more likely to keep the world safe from nuclear war.  In my estimation there is no debate here:  Hillary Clinton is the candidate you must choose.  The rival candidate, Donald Trump has no previous experience in foreign policy, has displayed erratic and unpredictable behavior, has indicated little to no understanding of the idea of nuclear weapons as a deterrent (indicating at one point that there is little point in having nuclear weapons if one doesn’t intend to use them), and has projected an aggressive attitude toward other powers on the world stage including China.  Each of these traits marks Trump out as the candidate most likely to put the world at risk of a nuclear conflict over the next four years.

So, you need to ask yourself, regardless of how you feel about any of the other political issues at stake in this election, do you want to vote for a candidate who will be more likely to place the world at risk of a nuclear conflict?  Do you trust a man with an unstable personality with the nuclear codes that can be used in launching an attack?  I hope you will say no by supporting Hillary Clinton, a distinguished stateswoman who understands the stakes involved, who stood by President Bill Clinton for eight years as he faced and dealt with complex international political issues, who has led the U.S. State Department and knows the inner workings of American foreign and nuclear policy and the responsible management of American deterrents to nuclear conflict.  It is Donald Trump who will put the world at risk of World War III!

I am afraid for our children.  This is why I am making an exception here and sending out this message to contacts and through social media channels that I normally reserve for my views on children, learning, and human development.  If Donald Trump is elected next week our children will be less safe, their lives more at risk.  If Americans elect Trump, our children will be less likely to have the option of growing up in a safe world or even of growing up at all.

With just four days left to the election, I urge you to do the following things to help support our children’s future growth and development:

  1. Donate money to Hillary Clinton’s campaign at https://www.hillaryclinton.com/donate/.
  2. Volunteer to help get out the vote for Hillary Clinton at https://www.hillaryclinton.com/start/.
  3. Call your friends in key battleground states (Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, North Carolina, Virginia, Colorado, Ohio, Wisconsin) and tell them to vote for Hillary, to get their friends to vote for Hillary, and to convince undecided voters in their state to vote for Hillary
  4. Make sure that you vote on Tuesday for Hillary Clinton in your home state. For those who live in other countries, please email your American friends and remind them to vote on Tuesday for Hillary.

The stakes have never been higher, not only for our own nation, but for the safety and stability of the entire world.  Don’t put Donald Trump, an unstable and aggressive candidate with no previous foreign policy experience, in charge of America’s nuclear codes.  Instead, vote for Hillary Clinton, who will meet foreign policy conflicts with determination, wisdom, and caution.  Do this for our children and for our children’s children!  Thank you!


Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D. Executive Director

American Institute for Learning and Human Development

Author of The Power of the Adolescent Brain:

Strategies for Teaching Middle and High School Students


Phone: 707-894-4646

Fax:  707-894-4474

Email: thomas@institute4learning.com

Website:  www.institute4learning.com

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