Learning & the Brain – Jeb Schenck (teen brain, learning & memory)

Jeb Schenck’s name first crossed my path in Robert Greenleaf’s two-part Brain & Learning workshop of December 2004 and February 2005. Various studies and writings of Schenck were referenced, and I was determined to one day hear him in person. A compelling set of circumstances brought Schenck into the world of learning and the brain, as you can read in this bio.

In person, he practices what he preaches while providing brain-based tips on how to reach the sometimes befuddling world of the teenage brain. Schenck’s session Teaching to the Teen Brain followed Frances Jensen’s Paradox of the Teen Brain, and built upon the framework she introduced. What follows are some of his tips, many of which will make particular sense if you have also read the two posts about Frances Jensen’s sessions.

  • Teens do not anticipate the consequences of how an action will make them or others feel.
  • Particularly in the teen years, becoming an expert in one area does not automatically transfer to becoming an expert in another area.
  • Emotions and memory are chemically based. A change in chemistry can change an emotion, and the chemical state can last for a long time beyond the initial change.
  • In order for learning to stick, teens need to see the personal consequence that makes the lesson meaningful to them.

Schenck reminded us that long term memory is organized in a number of ways: by categories, by time of event, by powerful emotional events, and by procedures. He cited a study of tenth graders that showed students had 71 percent retrieval after 81 days when sorting, categorizing and naming were part of the initial lesson activities. Keeping that in mind, he shared additional ways to facilitate long term memory, which are applicable to anyone (not just teens!):

  • remind students about the details
  • have students point out details to one another
  • present details in multiple ways
  • provide verbal and physical cues
  • engage in a post activity to refocus attention
  • provide hands-on activities
  • provide a choice of activities
  • tell stories
  • incorporate physical movement
  • provide visual imagery
  • ask students to describe their actions and processes
  • ask questions regularly throughout a lesson rather than waiting till the end
  • frame questions to focus on actions, processes and relationships to tap into emotions cueing memory

Schenck wound up his presentation by talking about the benefits of physical activity in all areas, not just phys ed classes. In particular, he noted the usefulness of activities to get student heart acceleration and respiration up prior to taking tests, thus getting them to relax.

One of the most fascinating facts I learned is that ADD/ADHD kids “self-mediate” by moving their legs or tapping their fingers. Thus, one of the worst things educators can do is to tell them to stop! If this fidgeting is irritating to other classmates, surely we can provide squeeze balls as a silent substitute.

Cerebrum is The Dana Foundation’s publication about the brain. For more about the teenage brain, read Ronald Dahl’s Summer 2003 article Beyond Raging Hormones: The Tinderbox in the Teenage Brain.


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