IATEFL 10 April 2015

What makes teenagers tick?

Notes for my PCE IATEFL presentation, 10 April 2015

 1.     I wish I was anywhere else but here. I hate school.
Over time for teenagers school becomes a place, not of learning, but enforced memorization and personal restrictions, with a focus on exam success and no real connection to the outside world.

2.     My legs are too long and the chair’s uncomfortable.

Teens go through many changes connected to their physical growth and development. These include tiredness, lack of sleep and aches connected with actual growing bones and muscles, dropping of voice for boys, onset of menstruation for girls etc. All these can make them feel uncomfortable, tired and even irrational.

3.     I got to sleep at 4 a.m. and I’m tired.

Once kids reach puberty, their wake-sleep cycle changes and stays that way until their early 20s This is a biological change.
They tend not to get sleepy until after 10:00 p.m., and then when they do wake up, it takes them longer to get fully wake. In fact, most aren't really wide awake until early afternoon.

Sleep experts say today’s teens are sleeping less than they ever have.
Physiological changes, social pressures and factors such as TVs and other stimulating gadgets in the bedroom contribute to late nights and mood swings.

Lack of sleep also impacts on teenagers' education as it can leave them too tired to concentrate in class.

NHS report, 2008

Hampton Court House, in Surrey, UK, said the change to 13:30 from the usual time of 09:00 will be more productive and less stressful for students.
Teenagers have a biological disposition "to going to bed late and struggling to get up early", the school said.
Headmaster Guy Holloway added that scientific evidence had shown that many did not sleep sufficiently during the week, causing a "significant impact on teenage cognition and mental and physical health generally".

BBC News, 10 May 2014

4.     My hair is greasy and I have spots. Don’t look at me!
Are those girls looking at me and laughing?

It’s bad enough to have the nasty side effects of hormonal changes like spots and greasy hair, but they coincide with feelings of self-consciousness and inadequacy with the fellow students we find attractive.

5.     Why are we reading about xxxx?

 Dropouts don’t leave school because we don’t give them enough facts, but because they don’t find any meaning in them

Gertrude Moskowitz, Caring and Sharing in the Foreign Language Class, 1978, Newbury House

Teens want to know how what they do connects, how it’s relevant. We need o engage in a dialogue with them about this.

6.     I’m thinking!

Silence may be an honest reaction to what the teacher is saying.
We know that young people develop at separate ages. Why do we insist that they should develop at the same pace?

Charles Handy

7.     I’m not lazy. I’m BORED!!!

Human beings feel best in flow, when they are fully involved in meeting a challenge, solving a problem, discovering something new.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Finding Flow, 1997, Basic Books

Everyone can experience feelings of resolve and a commitment to think more and to dare more … and of being poised to learn and ready to take the next step.

Martin V. Covington, The Will to Learn, 1998, Cambridge University Press

Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.

Albert Einstein

8.     Stop telling me what I’ve done wrong. I know I’m useless at English.

Young people who seem stroppy and uncooperative .. simply cannot help blocking out negative remarks when they feel they are under verbal attack. When criticised … there is reduced activity in the areas of the brain relating to emotional control and empathy. They have difficulty controlling this emotion and find it challenging to understand others’ perspective.

Journal of Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience

Adults have a developed anterior cingulate cortex, which … can help detect mistakes..
This part of the brain is still being wired in teenagers, making it more difficult for them, even when they recognise a mistake, to learn from it.

Frances E Jensen, The Teenage Brain, 2015, Thorsons

John Atkinson’s Motivation Theory:

All individuals can be characterised by two learned drives, a motive to approach success and a motive to avoid failure.

Martin V Covington, A Will to Learn, 1998,     Cambridge University Press

Researchers have found that nothing contributes more to a student’s sense of self-esteem than good grades, nor shatters it so completely as do poor grades.

 J Rosenberg, Society and the Adolescent Self-Image, 1965, Princeton University Press

Learned Helpnessness:
A state of depression or loss of hope which accompanies a belief that no matter how hard or how well one tries, failure if the inevitable outcome.

Coyne & Lazarus, Handbook on Stress and Anxiety, 1980, Jossey-Bass

What’s wrong with this student’s writing?

What’s right with it?

 On year 10,000 scientists found a very big problem! A very tiny microchip was into a computer. This microchip could destroy the hole world. Scientists were trying over five years to destroy it but it was so impossible.

Aims of marking

u To show students what they are doing right

u To show students where they need to make improvements

u and how?

u To encourage students

u To enable students to reflect on their own writing

u To celebrate the effort the students have made

u To enable teachers to notice skills / language areas that need to be readdressed in class


         Our job as teachers is not to point out differences between our students’ language and standard English. That is too negative a role. Our job is to encourage the growth of language by appreciating the learning steps.

Julian Edge, Mistakes and Correction, 1990, Longman

9.     The dog ate my homework.

They need …superb attention, planning and organisational skills, all of which develop more slowly in boy.

Frances E Jensen, The Teenage Brain, Thorsons, 2015


How can we help?

Introduce different ways of planning

Bring in texts on effective study skills

Have a discussion / role play on topic

Check that students have own strategy / scheme

Get parents onside


In summary, Teens:

Brain still developing

Can’t deal with mistakes

Over-sensitive to criticism

Need to know why they are doing something

We need to take into account how the developing brain works


What they are really saying is..

Help me!

Praise me!

Understand me!

Give me some space!

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