Discussing Brain Development

Yesterday my class discussed the special nature of the adolescent brain and how the development of the pre-frontal cortex presents both a challenge and an opportunity for us as teachers. So today we did some thinking about the methods we frequently use to motivate our students. First, we sorted common motivators into two categories: intrinsic and extrinsic. It was a joy to hear the lively discussion among the teachers as they debated the nature of more complex motivators such as fear of failure, the desire to please one’s parents, or praise from peers. After the big reveal about what motivators belonged in each category came the true surprise – that so many of these common extrinsic motivators (that we experienced as students and which we were trained to use) actually inhibit learning and negatively affect the development of our students. I was excited to share these ideas with my Chinese colleagues because I felt just as surprised when I learned about this research, and it has truly changed my pedagogy. It’s clear that what we all have in common is our love and respect for our students and the great responsibility we feel for guiding them during this critical developmental period to become the best possible version of themselves.

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