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Thoughtful Learning

What's Inside?

  • 5 Social-Emotional Strategies for Teenagers
  • 8 Best Practices for Mentoring Young Writers
  • Help Students Clear the Way for Critical Thinking

5 Social-Emotional Strategies for Teenagers

Recipe for a Great Writing Classroom

It takes a special soul to want to teach teenagers. How often have you heard, "I'd never want to teach middle school!"?

I personally love that age. Teenagers haven't yet figured out who they are, so if I can teach them something that empowers them, they grab onto it and transform before my very eyes. They are so full of energy and potential that, given a meaningful direction, they will launch themselves toward a goal or endeavor.

Of course, without a meaningful direction, teenagers can also explode on the launchpad.

What's going on in that head of yours?

A recent article in Edutopia explains why teens can be so volatile. In "Decoding the Teenage Brain (in Three Charts)," Stephen Merrill points to a difference in development between two key parts of the brain. "Brain scans seem to indicate that the limbic system—the brain’s reward system—is mature and firing on all cylinders in teenagers, while the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for things like self-control, planning, and self-awareness, is still busy developing."

Neurologist Sarah-Jayne Blakemore explains this difference in her book Inventing Ourselves: The Secret Life of the Teenage Brain: “One major theory of adolescent development is that there is a mismatch between these two systems. The limbic system, which gives you the rewarding feeling of taking risks, is structurally more developed before the prefrontal cortex, which stops you from taking risks.”

This mismatch makes self-regulation challenging for teens, and peer pressure pours gasoline onto the risk-taking fire. In Age of Opportunity: Lessons from the New Science of Adolescence, Laurence Steinberg says that peer interactions “light up the same reward centers that are aroused by drugs, sex, food, and money.”

How can I help my students self-regulate?

First of all, recognize the amazing energy and potential in your students. Teenagers can tell if you really see them, rather than just look at them (or, worse, look through them). Until you can see the wonderful, flawed people before you, you can't effectively teach them.

Once you connect with students, you can try these simple, free minilessons to help them gain strategies for self-regulation.

  • Strategy 1: Teach students about their brains. Just as we help students understand how puberty changes their bodies, we should help them understand how it changes their minds. Teach "Understanding the Parts of the Brain." Then discuss how the reward center (the limbic system) is fully developed in the teenage brain, which is why teenagers experience emotion so profoundly. Afterward discuss how the prefrontal cortex is still rapidly developing—the spot that is transforming them from 13 year olds to adults.

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Get Daily Support for Social-Emotional Learning

In Focus

Do you want to help your students improve their focus, impulse control, conflict-resolution skills, self-esteem, and teamwork skills? Try the simple daily activities (10-15 minutes) from the In Focus series (K-2, 3-5, and 6-8).

Learn More!
Read the latest classroom research on In Focus, and/or request a free review copy. (Any copy you receive is yours to keep.)

8 Best Practices for Mentoring Young Writers

Free

“There are moments as a teacher when I'm conscious that I'm trotting out the same exact phrase my professor used with me years ago. It's an eerie feeling, as if my old mentor is not just in the room, but in my shoes, using me as his mouthpiece.”

—Abraham Verghese

Who was your mentor? Who first helped you see yourself as a teacher? As a writer?

Every day in class, you have the chance to be that person for someone else. Every time you respond to students' writing, you help them build confidence and competency, help them self-identify as writers. What's more, regular feedback drives revision, a crucial practice that beginning writers tend to misunderstand or ignore.

Of course, the awesome pedagogical value of individual feedback also poses an awesome teaching challenge. How can you ensure your responses to student writing are frequent, effective, and efficient? The eight best practices that follow will help you meet the challenge.

1. Approach the writing with genuine interest and curiosity.

We often ask our students to tackle tasks with a positive mindset, but sometimes we need reminders ourselves. Writing instructor and scholar Peter Elbow believes teachers must like students’ writing before they can offer the best guidance for improving it. “Good teachers see what is only potentially good,” he says. “They get a kick out of mere possibility—and they encourage it.”

Elbow is not saying you need to like everything about what your students write, but that meaningful feedback derives from a genuine interest in your students’ ideas.

2. Highlight what works and what has potential to work.

Whether your feedback is written or verbal, begin with a word of affirmation. Praising any aspect of the writing—no matter how small—boosts students’ confidence and shows you value what they have to say. In addition, pointing out what works increases the likelihood that students will repeat the behavior the next time they write.

After commenting on the strengths of the writing, focus your feedback on areas that show potential for further development. Use this peer-response minilesson to practice stating positives before focusing on suggestions for improvement. When you use this approach with students, you show them a best practice for responding to their peer writers.

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Online units provide step-by-step guidance to help students write effective narratives, explanations, arguments, and more. Students work through prewriting, writing, revising, and editing with activities, examples, models, and interactives.

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View how online units can work in your classroom.

Help Students Clear the Way for Critical Thinking

In order to get students to think critically, you need to help them break through their mechanical thinking and manage their emotional thinking.

What is mechanical thinking?

When students think mechanically, their brains are just repeating looped recordings of thought without considering them. For example, students might have the mechanical thought, “I'm not good at math.” It just crops up in their brains whenever they look at a math problem. Often that little mechanical loop doesn't even relate to reality.

Why do we think mechanically?

Group Expectations

Mechanical thinking is useful for routine tasks like walking, riding a bike, keyboarding, driving, playing an instrument, and other activities that have become part of muscle memory. To learn any of these skills takes a lot of critical thinking, problem solving, and practice, but once the skill is learned, it is stored in the motor cortex at the top of the brain. Often a person can do something with great ease but can't explain how to do it to anyone else. The skill is no longer conscious. But to learn new skills, students need to think critically, using the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain.

How can students break through mechanical thinking?

When students are thinking mechanically about a topic in school, they are treating it like a 'muscle-memory" subroutine instead of engaging the material in a new way. Most often, mechanical thoughts manifest themselves in statements that shut down possibility. You can teach students to recognize such statements, stop them, and replace them with questions that open up possibilities:

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Discover Inquire

Explore Student Handbooks for 21st Century Learning

The Inquire series develops the deep thinking skills coveted by colleges and businesses. These cross-curricular learning guides cover 21st century skills, traditional study skills, the inquiry process, and project-based instruction. Both student and teacher editions are offered in print and online versions for all grade levels.

Take a closer look at any level of Inquire, and sign up for free review copies.

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