Young Adolescents: Developmental Hallmarks

We know that middle school childrens’ brains develop rapidly and yet are still in formative years.  Concrete thinking is becoming more highly developed and  more complicated materials and concepts are being presented to them.  These years are crucial years in which to instill a love of learning, of physical activity, of ethical values, and of social skills. Middle school students are capable of assessing complex moral issues and beginning to see things in more ‘gray’ terms.

Below is a summary of an interview with neuroscientist Jay Gieed: Intellectual Growth and Behavior

Jay Giedd, M.D. is a practicing Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist and Chief of Brain Imaging at the Child Psychiatry Branch of the National Institute of Mental Health

‘Adolescence is a critical time for brain growth.  Significant intellectual processes are emerging. Adolescents are moving from concrete to abstract thinking and to the beginnings of metacognition (the active monitoring and regulation of thinking processes). They are developing skills in deductive reasoning, problem solving, and generalizing.

This period of brain growth marks the beginning of a person’s ability to do problem solving, think critically, plan, and control impulses. This brain development cycle also impacts short-term memory. A middle school student can generally retain from 5 to 7 bits of information at one time, so teachers should not try to cram too much information into one lesson. The more engaged and “rich” the new information, the more likely it is that the new information will be retained. The short-term memory maintains information until it moves into another area of the brain (long-term memory) or until more, new information is introduced. At this point the short-term memory ignores the new information in favor of the previous information, or discards the previous information in order to deal with the new.

Some of these changes manifest themselves in behaviors that are observable and stereotypical of middle school students. Taken in concert with the other major development issues at this age, brain development reinforces the following typical adolescent behaviors:

◦     Engaging in strong, intense interests, often short lived

◦     Preferring interactions with their peers

◦     Preferring active to passive learning’