Young Adolescent Development in the School Setting

Instructor: Laura Gray

Laura has taught at the secondary and tertiary levels for 20+ years and has a Ph.D. in Instructional Design for Online Learning.

In this lesson, you will explore typical development for adolescents between the ages of 10 and 15 years old. You will also see how different areas of adolescent development relate to the need for appropriate school settings and programs.

Who Is the Early Adolescent?

Lucas is 12 years old and he is no longer the little boy his parents knew a few short years ago - literally. He is a young adolescent who has grown two inches in the past year and whose appetite has made his family's weekly grocery bills jump. He's expressing his own ideas more and wants to be more independent, which has led to some arguments with his parents. In short, Lucas is a typical boy in early adolescence.

Most sources define early adolescence as the period between ages 10 and 15 years old. As you might imagine, lots and lots of changes are taking place during this time, and it's not only in the physical realm. In addition to the astounding physical changes that occur in young teens, intellectual, psychological, and social-emotional developments are also taking place. In this lesson, you will not only explore these areas of development, but also the importance of schools having both the appropriate settings and programs to foster adolescent development.

Physical Changes

You are certainly aware of the myriad physical changes that take place during adolescence, especially where bodily changes are concerned. But did you also realize that early adolescents are gaining improved motor skills (both gross and fine), and that their bodies are slowly working toward biological maturity? All of this growth doesn't happen evenly; rather, it is very uneven. Because of the acceleration and unevenness of this growth, kids this age may be very active one day and lethargic the next. It's perfectly normal.

To support young adolescents' physical development, it's important that schools offer them nutritious lunches, as their bodies need all of the nutrition they can get. In addition, physical education programs are also important so that early adolescents can get adequate exercise and improve their coordination. Finally, classes on health, nutrition, and the dangers of alcohol and drugs are important as well.

Intellectual Changes

Intellectual development deals specifically with a person's ability to reason and understand. Kids between the ages of 10 and 15 are developing this capacity rapidly. They are developing metacognitive skills, or the ability to 'think about their thinking.' They are also learning to think independently rather than to accept what others tell them as certain. Overall, they are also learning to think reflectively on their actions and to develop their powers of perception. In short, a great deal is taking place intellectually during early adolescence.

It is at this time that introducing constructive practice into the classroom is important. Constructive practice, or simply, constructivism, involves students deriving their own meaning from what they see and do. This is in direct contrast to a situation where the teacher lectures and they take notes. The learning is more authentic, and students have an opportunity to explore 'real-life' scenarios.

Here's an example. If you, as a teacher, give a 20-minute lecture on the Civil War and have students take notes and then take a test, that is not constructivist, authentic learning. On the other hand, if you have them discuss the effects of the Civil War in small groups and relate those effects to modern, real-life events, that is a constructivist approach.

Psychological Changes

As you have probably learned in your child development classes, psychological development at this age revolves primarily around adolescents' forming an identity and becoming more independent. The quest for independence can be likened to that of a toddler. 'No! I can do it!' is a statement that is commonly heard from children this age. Although they are keenly interested in approval from their peers, early adolescents are struggling to find their niche in the adult world.

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