“What were you thinking?” Raise your hand if you have ever said that to a teenager. Whether you are a parent or a teacher of an adolescent, I’m sure that question has crossed your mind at least once. Thanks to Professor Abigail Baird, we may not know for sure what teenagers are thinking, but we have a better idea of how they think. Of course, understanding how someone thinks helps us teachers respond more effectively to behaviors in the classroom.
Related to the topic of emotions and learning, let’s consider what motivates teenagers to partake in risky behaviors that can lead to broken limbs or poor grades. Professor Baird explains that adolescents engage in risky behaviors by over thinking dangerous scenarios. In her research, she found that both adults and teenagers responded to questions about risky behavior similarly: risky behaviors are bad ideas. However, she discovered through brain imaging that adults used the emotional centers of their brains when considering these behaviors, whereas teenagers used the underdeveloped rational sides of their brains. The teenagers were not connecting their emotional centers with abstract, unfamiliar experiences, which hampered their ability to make a good decision. Her findings underscore the importance of emotional relevance in learning, and help teachers understand their students and respond appropriately to their perplexing behaviors. See the explanation of the study in the video for unit 2, “The Unity of Emotion, Thinking, and Learning,” section 4, Making the Case, of Neuroscience & the Classroom.
Tell us your best “What were you thinking” moment with your adolescent students. How does Professor Baird’s research motivate you to think differently about how you respond to teenagers in your classroom?