Teaching & Learning

Report: Adolescent Learning Requires a New Science-Based Approach

There's a science to adolescent learning, which addresses how the many changes — physical, emotional, social, intellectual and psychological — teenagers experience impact how they learn and should impact how educators instruct. A new report from the Alliance for Excellent Education offered strategies for making sure that "critical education decisions are driven by science," as author Bob Wise put it.

The Alliance is non-profit that advocates for all students to excel in high school, ready for college, career and citizenship, especially those in under-performing or underserved environments. Science of learning draws from brain and cognitive research and the social sciences. Now the Alliance, known as All4Ed proposes setting itself up as a "broker" to make sure science of adolescent learning (SAL) "knowledge is adopted and implemented." The report was published as part of a launch of a new initiative focused on bringing the science of adolescent learning into education policy and practice.

As "Synapses, Students, and Synergies" explained, the next two years in education under ESSA will see a lot of change in how underperforming schools are identified and retooled. The Alliance is concerned, as the report stated, that practice will be separated from research: "Despite federal legislative requirements for schools and districts to implement 'evidence-based' solutions to improve student outcomes, there is no assurance that they will use the [SAL] to guide this crucial decisionmaking."

According to the report, while research and "technical advances" have increased understanding of how adolescent students learn and develop, too often that research doesn't reach the districts, schools, classrooms or communities that could most take advantage of the insights to improve student learning outcomes.

Wise made two major recommendations:

  • First, that "researchers, practitioners and policymakers" work together. After all, he noted, "Research supports good practice, good practice influences sound policy, and sound policy leverages and expands practice to inform further research."
  • Second, that partner organizations "embrace brokering" not just to translate "academic findings into language for educators and policymakers," but also to help implement it.

"Traditionally the researcher and the practitioner are actively communicating, but the policymaker is largely left out," Wise noted in a prepared statement. "If science is to drive crucial education decisions, then all three must continuously interact. Adding brokering with school and district leaders about how to implement SAL in their unique situation avoids important research getting lost in translation or another unread book on an educator's crowded shelf."

To support the alignment of policy, research and practice, the Alliance has begun working with a group of researchers, practitioners and policymakers to create a set of SAL "consensus statements" on adolescent learning that represent common agreements among leading researchers and their specific areas of study. In the coming months, the organization will issue reports introducing these statements, along with the supporting research, and pointing out the implications for policy and practice. The Alliance will also produce a podcast and webinar series.

Learn more about the Alliance's SAL initiative on its website. The report is openly available on the website as well.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.