What Is Maturity?
Consider this…You have a classroom full of students who are about the same age. Does this mean that they are equally ready to learn a particular concept, skill, or idea? The surprising answer is, probably not. While it is fair to say that age is typically a measure of maturity, age and maturity are not necessarily the same thing, especially when it comes to learners. Maturity plays a major role in student success.
What do we mean by maturity? Generally, the term refers to the changes and development in the brain structure as well as in the rest of the human body. Maturity is also seen as a measure of using good judgment, understanding cause and effect, being able to associate what you are doing now with the results of your actions later, and other thought processes that go along with reasonable and acceptable behavior.
Maturity plays a role in a person's ability to accept responsibility for his or her own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It affects their ability to keep track of his or her thinking and, in this case, to control the various emotions they may experience in a learning situation. Maturity governs personal responsibility, shared communication, openness to new ideas, and ability to find solutions to problems. Teachers already know that it is directly relatable to emotional control and reasoning, too. There are many different types of maturity, and we will address two important ones here.
Cognitive maturity is related to how we think. It can be defined as the way our brains develop: how we process knowledge, abstract concepts, our ability to recognize and analyze, language learning, and more. We now know that the brain is plastic—it changes with experience and development. Evidence shows that rather than ending development at childhood, brain development continues into our twenties and even until age 25 for some. Individuals' brains develop at different rates and are affected by both genetic and environmental influences.
Social maturity is a measure of how a person relates to friends, family, coworkers, and the society in which they live. Social maturity progresses and develops in successive stages just as cognitive maturity does, moving people from the simplest understanding of the world around them to a more thorough grasp of the social world we live in. Not surprisingly, social maturity increases with age, but not always.
It's very important for teachers to understand that how the brain develops influences maturity, and by extension, learning readiness. For teachers, this is especially important when selecting which instructional strategies to use when designing lessons. Recent educational research indicates that cognitive maturity—and by extension, age—do matter when it comes to choosing either a deep or surface learning approach.
A deep learning approach includes learner engagement and self-motivation; a shallow approach relies on faster approaches to the material. Deep learning usually results in better outcomes. More mature students have been shown to be more likely to adopt a deep learning approach and less likely to adopt a surface approach.
In order to achieve the best possible learning outcomes, teachers need to go a little deeper. They'll need to be able to evaluate students' levels of cognitive development across different domains, as well as determine how they best process information. They should ask themselves, ''What are my students' areas of strength?'' Only then can teachers start to begin to develop appropriate learning experiences, schedule and pace their instruction, and provide learning content in ways that truly match their learners' abilities and learning styles.
Finding Instructional Success
Here are some suggestions for finding and achieving instructional success:
- Understand your students' cognitive and developmental levels and recognize individual differences. Learners have different styles, approaches, and capabilities that change with their level of maturity.
- Be aware that there are likely to be developmental differences among your students, and remember that normal development varies widely within the same age and the same grade. Just because students started school at the same age doesn't mean that they are all at the same level of cognitive and social maturity at every grade after that.
- Use assessments as diagnostics, which will help provide a clearer picture of your students' levels. Give one before you teach the actual content to help gauge beginning knowledge and skill levels.
- Progress tracking will help you keep track of who has mastered which objectives. It's an important tool for supporting those who are performing at lower levels because it helps you to target the areas of improvement where each of your students may need increased support and determine who may not need any more instruction.
- Students learn better if tasks are a close match for their skills and understanding. If a task is way beyond their reach, learners won't have much motivation to try it. It's always a good idea to teach where the levels of challenge and learner ability meet in order to develop the student's ability to self-motivate and learn new things.
- Self-efficacy, or a belief in one's own abilities, has been shown over and over as an excellent indicator of learner success. Teachers can use these four strategies to build self-efficacy.
- Mastery experiences: Successful experiences encourage self-efficacy, and failure inhibits it. Be sure to include small victories wherever possible in lessons.
- Peer success: Seeing a peer succeed can strengthen belief in their own abilities.
- Positive feedback: Teachers can boost self-efficacy with feedback throughout the task and motivate learners to do their best.
- Positive energy: A positive outlook can work wonders at any age. Teachers can contribute to strong performances by acknowledging a positive outlook even if the results are less than optimal.
All right, let's now take a moment or two to review all of that. As we learned, maturity simply refers to changes and development in the brain structure, though it also relates to using good judgement, understanding cause and effect, being able to associate what you're doing now with the results of your actions later, and other thought processes that go along with reasonable and acceptable behavior. Individuals' brains develop at different rates and are affected by both genetic and environmental influences.
We more specifically learned that cognitive maturity is related to how we process knowledge, abstract concepts, our ability to recognize and analyze, language learning, and more, while social maturity is a measure of how well we relate to and co-exist with friends, family, coworkers, and others. We also looked at how learners mature at different speeds and at different times.
How the brain develops influences maturity, and by extension, learning readiness. This is especially important when selecting which instructional strategies to use when designing lessons. By recognizing, evaluating, and addressing the different levels of maturity students have, as well as addressing a sense of self-efficacy, which is simply a belief in one's own abilities, teachers can tailor activities for improved learner outcomes.
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