Friday, 24 May 2013

Teenage Brains and Tricky Subjects

This week I have been reading (and watching) The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas with a lower-attaining Y8 group. The students have been, by and large, engaged and thoughtful in their discussions.

However, I have noticed that certainly in terms of the empathetic aspect of their learning, I have had to regularly coach them in appropriate comments and put in place clear boundaries (as some attempted to make 'jokes' by comparing one another to the Jewish character Schmuel). I mentioned this to the educational psychologist I work with, a colleague I hold in very high esteem, who noted that the teenage brain's frontal lobe - which is responsible for higher-level emotional skills, higher-level reasoning and plays a key part in inhibiting inappropriate behaviour - is one of the final parts to develop into adulthood, lagging somewhat behind other aspects. I find this fascinating as we often base much of our classroom management on encouraging teenagers to empathise and reason.

I guess, in terms of the content of The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, knowledge of this has helped me be far more patient and calm (but nonetheless assertive) in responding to 'jokes' which for such an emotive issue as The Holocaust, would ordinarily cause high offence.

I think, also, that some of their insensitivity is perhaps also borne out of them coming from a younger generation - I heard first-hand stories of World War Two and the experience of Jewish people from my grandparents. For my students, born in 2000, this is unlikely to be the case.

I also think this has relevance to one of today's news items, the prevalence of teenagers accessing pornography and other explicit videos online - and the risks this poses to them developing a healthy psychology.

It is also worth noting that for lower-attaining students - many of whom have what we terms as 'dyslexia', 'attention deficit' and so on - it stands to reason that they may encounter more difficulty in activating their frontal lobes! The infographic below, which I developed some time ago for a presentation, summarises this (to download it as a pdf poster, click here):

If you want to read more into this issue, I also recommend the following:

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