Laura Varlas

Turning Around the Teen Brain by Building Effort

Neuroplasticity means humans have the ability to change their brains through repeated, adaptive practice. Buy-in, however, can be a huge hurdle in getting students to invest effort in the actions that will grow their brains.

"If the brain's not buying in, then it's not changing," author Eric Jensen noted in his 2014 ASCD Annual Conference session, "Turnaround Tools for the Teenage Brain."

How can teachers get students to put forth effort? Jensen suggested seven powerful teen effort builders:

  1. Relationships: Students need to know you care and will support them as they strive for goals.
  2. Goals: Those goals need to be designed to be relevant to students' values, cultures, and personal history. Jensen also argued for "gaudy" goals that require both student and teacher to set ambitious expectations.
  3. Challenge: A common mistake is setting the bar too low; Students want to feel like their work is worth the effort.
  4. Feedback: Let students know where they are and what they need to do to get where they want to go. Feedback can reinforce effort by pointing out the strategies, perseverance, and attitudes students are using to achieve their goals.
  5. Peer affiliation: Teens crave social interaction, and building tasks that require interdependency give them opportunities to practice and strengthen interpersonal skills.
  6. Manage the risk/reward: If students are going to put themselves out there for a challenge, there has to be enough of a reward to make the risk worthwhile.
  7. Status-building: Jensen explained that the kid acting out in your class is really seeking a way to gain status. How can you give him or her other options to achieve status? For example, giving kids jobs or making them responsible for some aspect of the lesson conveys status in positive ways.

Giving kids real, meaningful work and teaching them the life and study skills to be successful in that work can help teens change their mind-sets and grow their brains to be better equipped for life inside and outside the classroom.

Register today for the 70th ASCD Annual Conference and Exhibit Show, March 21–23, 2015, in Houston, Texas. Learn how to create, share, and experience vibrant learning ecosystems that address global challenges and be part of the age ruled by innovation!


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