Armstrong highlights several risks that adolescents face and the impact that they have on young people.
- traffic accidents- a leading cause of death
- violence- another leading cause of death. In a study 40% of males and 25% of females in high school reported being in a physical fight in the past year (p. 21)
- suicide- another leading cause of death
- alcohol abuse-over one third of teenagers reported alcohol consumption in the last 30 days. Alcohol consumption inhibits the creation of new neurons and damages areas of the brain including those associated with impulse control (p. 22)
- marijuana abuse- heavy users have depressed processing speed, memory, flexible thinking, attention and learning as well as decreased motivation. It results in structural changes in the brain including decreased ability of the amygdala to filter incoming information (p. 22).
- tobacco and nicotine use- more likely to become addicted with use than adults and leads to long term health risks. It causes changes to the limbic system including reduced ability to inhibit impulses (p. 23)
- mental disorders- The onset of half of all mental health issues begins by the age of 14. As many as 20% experience an anxiety disorder. Eating disorders, school refusals and suicide are often results of mental health concerns (p. 23)
- Sleep difficulties- 45% of all adolescents experience sleep deprivation. It causes increased risk taking and failures of cognitive control (p. 23). While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends schools start after 8:30 the CDC reports that over 75% of secondary schools do.
- Sexually Transmitted Diseases- Over a third of sexually active females between 14 and 18 carry an STD. (44% of females and 49% of males in this group are sexually active).
- Prescription Drug abuse- Adderall, Vicodin and narcotics are the most abused drugs. Abuse of narcotics and Vicodin can lead to coma and death. 4% of males report steroid abuse which causes changes in brain structure and neurotransmitter levels (p.24). Recent research indicates that narcotics overdose is steadily climbing as a leading cause of death for teens.
- Internet Addiction- approximately 4% of teens (it seems like this number might be low) which reduces connectivity in regions of the brain responsible for learning ( p. 24).
- Bullying- 20 % of teens reported being bullied in the last year on school grounds. This can result in suicide and an increased risk of psychiatric disorders (p. 24).
- Stress- It can contribute to all of the above factors. Chronic stress can lead to anxiety, depression, panic attacks, difficulty concentrating and insomnia as well as high blood pressure and low immune function. Teenagers are particularly vulnerable to stress and its long term impact on the body and brain. THP, a neurotransmitter that is calming in children and adults, is antagonistic to the brain of adolescents (p. 26).
Armstrong lists choice as the number one brain friendly practice. Often in high school choice of classes is practically nonexistent. Students are required to take English, math, social studies and science. Often mandatory electives are needed: PE, a fine art, and language. The day is full and complete. Back when my sister was in high school, they offered electives in English. Students opted to take a class for a quarter. Options included violence in literature, science fiction, drama, poetry, and Shakespeare and film. They were offered choices that my sister assured me included lots of reading and writing and writing and writing. We could provide these sorts of choices but then English teachers would have to plan extra classes. Instead of four sections of English 9 and two of English 10 it would be 4-6 unique classes. I am sure that open rebellion by the staff brought about this downfall. (Teachers in small schools can laugh- they have all those different classes because they are the English department at the high school and teach all four levels.) I know it is work, but it might help student engagement which might lead to better success on the part of the students.
Armstrong repeatedly emphasizes the role of peers in teenage lives. Peer approval stimulates high levels of satisfaction in the brain and disapproval or lack of acceptance triggers high levels of negative responses. He suggests letting peers critique each others work. I have heard many teachers say they tried peer revisions or editing, the students hated it and were terrible at it so they gave it up. Interestingly if we discover they hate writing or are terrible at it we do not abstain from assigning written work. He quotes Ron Berger,
"In order to create beautiful work, we must be willing to refine. To refine, we must require critique and feedback. In order to critique, we need models and standards. For feedback to be useful to us, it must be kind, helpful and specific." (p. 73)
If we want to use peer feedback we need to teach it. We need to model it. Good job does not provide any useful information- not for what you did well or what you can do to improve. Preferable would be,
- You identified three quotes to highlight your thesis. What made you choose the second one?
- I liked the way you used imagery to showcase the character's delemia in the third paragraph. What made you choose to stop using it after that point?
- Most of your sentences are a simple subject-predicate form. How can you change the sentence structure around to make the language more interesting to the reader?
- Be careful with your sentences. While they are full of vivid and specific verbs, they also are often run-ons.
- I am not sure why you chose to include _____. Could you explain it better or remove it and still make your point?
- I didn't understand it when you ______.
- I really like the way you _____.
- I want to know more about _____.
- I was confused when _____.
- You evidence here seems weak/strong because __________.
Throughout the book, Armstrong identifies a brain-friendly practice and then provides examples of how to implement them. His writing is easy to read. Each chapter ends with a key takeaway section that summarizes the material. Appendix B contains a variety of specific examples to use each of the ten strategies in each of the core subject areas. A great book that furthers the discussion of brain-friendly learning.