Drugs seem like fun but they sure make you dumb

Wayne teaches at an inner city public high school. While he is really excited about his new job close to the inner city suburb where he lives and went to university, he’s finding that not all the students share his enthusiasm for learning. Wayne really enjoys the subject matter of his senior classes and spends a large proportion of his planning time ensuring he has the depth of content covered. However he is finding that his class is falling into two groups. In one a group a number of apparently highly motivated students are intellectually pushing him. Another group seems to consist of students who don’t really want be there. Both groups are causing Wayne concern as it appears that the ‘motivated’ group don’t engage at a deep level and instead want to know the ‘correct’ answers, while the ‘less motivated’ group are difficult for him to engage. A number of students seem to be distracted at school, he thinks they are tired or have perhaps been using drugs and alcohol. He is also concerned that a number of students seem anxious and fearful of not getting into the nearby University.

Analysis of scenario:

Wayne is justifiably concerned if he thinks his students are using drugs and alcohol. Not only it is illegal, but taking these substances can have a negative effect on their academic performance. As teenagers, Wayne’s students are going through a rapid period of neurological maturation. During this stage teenagers are particularly vulnerable to drug and alcohol abuse which have been shown to have inhibiting effects on cognitive development (Dahl 2004). Substance abuse is also related to negative effects on behavioural and social development; in particular, a negative impact on adolescent motivation and emotions (Dahl 2004). This could be an explanation as to why Wayne’s students seem to be distracted, anxious, and fearful. In theoretical terms, drugs and alcohol are constraining the students from reaching Piaget’s formal operational stage of cognitive development. This is because the substances are impacting the student’s ability to think in more abstract and logical ways (Chuchill 2011). The fact that Wayne should be knowledgeable about the these issues (rather than just pedegogical content) is strong evidence that teaching is, to a great extent, an intellectual pursuit (the 8th provocation).

It is very important that Wayne addresses the drug and alcohol use so as to give his sudents the best chance at becoming biologically, socially and emotionally mature. He should at the very least notify the school councillor, the principal, and the students’ parents of their suspected behaviour. It would also be beneficial for Wayne to explain the negative effects of drugs and alcohol to his students. While this may not stop them from using these substances, it would at least give them the opportunity to make an informed decision about their own health and education. In my opinion, Wayne should also emphasize to his students that they are valued members of society in order to combat the self-fulfilling negative stereotype associated with adolescents that is perpetuated by the media. If you keep telling them they are bad, they will be!

An equally concerning and probably linked issue (re: substances affecting emotional development), is that Wayne’s students seem anxious and fearful of not getting into the nearby University. This is very important because the emotional state of his students can also play a crucial role in their cognitive development. For example, fear and anxiety can shut down the brain’s ability to think clearly (as is evidenced by witnesses inability to accurately describe a crime ie. I was ‘too scared’), and has been shown to have a direct impact on a student’s learning capacity (Christianson 1992). These emotions are likely to be a result of a situation that his students perceive as stressful. This could include the fact that their substance abuse is affecting their ability to get adequate grades for University, or that the level of work they are receiving is above their capability.

As is the case in all classrooms, Wayne’s students need him to create a protective and safe environment in which negative emotions no longer hinder their cognitive development (the 6th provocation). This has strong links to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in which creating a safe environment will provide a solid base for improving self-esteem and help to maximize the students self-potential (Churchill 2011). To achieve this Wayne should give his students tasks that fall within what Vgotsky describes as the Zone of Proximal Development (Daniels 2005). Such task should be challenging in order to prevent boredom, but achievable so as to relieve some of the anxiety they are currently feeling.

Through these suggested strategies Wayne will hopefully nurture and encourage his students to cognitive, social and emotional success in high school, and University.


Christianson, S. 1992. The handbook of emotion and memory, research and theory. Lawrence Earlbaum Associates Inc. New Jersey. Available online at: http://books.google.com.au/books

Churchill, Rick.  2011.  Teaching: making a difference / Rick Churchill … [et al.] John Wiley and Sons Australia, Milton, Qld.

Dahl, R. E. 2004. Adolescent Brain Development: A Period of Vulnerabilities and Opportunities. Keynote Address. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1021: 1–22. doi: 10.1196/annals.1308.001

Daniels, H. 2005. An introduction to Vgotsky. Routledge, London, New York, 2nd ed.


About robeywankenobe

I am currently studying a Diploma of Education and will be teaching Science at high school next year.
This entry was posted in Ed Foundations and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Drugs seem like fun but they sure make you dumb

  1. nataliedarby says:

    I found your blog post very thought provoking so decided that I would like to comment :).

    I found your idea that the students’ substance abuse is affecting their cognitive development really interesting. I think that one thing to consider here is that it is thought about half the population does not reach Piaget’s formal operational stage in some (or all) areas (Churchill 2011; Woolfolk & Margetts 2010). How can it be determined that the substance abuse is stopping the students from developing as opposed to another internal or external factor? I am not disputing the idea that brain functioning is negatively impacted by substance abuse. This has been shown time and time again through huge amounts of research (for example Marieb et al. 2007 and Kumar et al. 2007). However, this idea about cognitive development created a big question for me: if many people do not reach the final stage of cognitive development and substance abuse is a big factor in this, then is the national problem of substance abuse the reason for about half of adults not reaching formal operations? Or, are innate factors of the capabilities of the individual more important? This leads to a nature versus nurture debate as to what has the greatest impact on brain development and cognitive functioning. Although, this is not the place for such a discussion, I found this idea so interesting (and thought provoking)!

    Another point that you made identified the negative impact of anxiety and distress on brain functioning. We know that too much anxiety leads to decreased ability to reason and function properly (Churchill 2011; Woolfolk & Margetts 2010). However, I think that a further factor here may be the way that Wayne is structuring his lessons. Yes, the substance abuse of the students will have an impact but there also needs to be focus on allowing them to learn in a distress free environment. As you mentioned the use of the ZPD would be beneficial in these circumstances. Perhaps Wayne also needs to think about factors such as the way the brain remembers information (i.e. via short term memory (STM) then into long term memory, along with the importance of relevance in making the learning ‘stick’ (Curchill 2011; Joseph 2003)) and also the amount of information that Wayne is giving the students (e.g. only 7 bits to account for STM needs (Churchill 2011).

    Thanks for an interesting read 🙂

  2. Emma Hilyard says:

    Hi robeywankenobe (not exactly sure who this is but thanks for posting your blog address on the wiki!!)

    The issue of drug and alcohol abuse in Wayne’s scenario is of high importance, and no doubt an issue that we as secondary school teachers will gain high exposure to over the coming years.

    In addition to this key issue, I found myself considering the learning styles of the students in Wayne’s class and how acknowledging these may have an impact on the extent to which the students are motivated and engaged to learn. I think it may be highly beneficial for Wayne to work with his students to determine their individual learning styles and preferences; “not all students learn in the same way, according to a single formula” (Sonbucher 1991 cited in Allen et al 2005: 7). Engaging the students in exploring their learning styles may assist in raising their self-awareness and self-understanding, and developing their own practical strategies for engaging and benefiting from learning (Allen et al 2005: 11). This, in turn, may have an affect on their motivation to participate in class.

    Of course, it will not be enough to simply assist the students to determine their individual learning styles. Wayne will need to adapt his own teaching style to meet the varying needs of the class. It is evident that Wayne is not currently considering these varying needs. The case study outlines his interest in ensuring he covers the “depth of content”. Whilst for the students who are already engaged in the content and are intellectually challenging him this may be important, for those who are not as engaged it may not be. For these students, what may be more important is being able to make connections between the content and real life. In meeting the needs of his students Wayne will need to increase his “skills, capacity and understanding of the relationship between the students and the subject matter” (Pym 2007: 175).

    Thanks for the insight robeywan!


  3. Hannah G says:

    Hi Stephen,

    You’ve written such a comprehensive analysis on Wayne’s scenario, I’m finding it hard to find things that I want to add! Well done.

    Finding the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD) is crucial. There is some brain science behind this: if the brain’s reward centre “is engaged in tasks that are challenging and meaningful with low risk of failure, motivation to succeed is increased.” (Churchill, 2010. p. 120). Working in the ZPD leads to emotions that reinforce learning in a positive way and hopefully students will become more receptive to new learning. As this occurs, they will experience progressive achievements in their learning that help to reduce the fear that arises from the “risks associated with high stakes assessment” (Churchill , 2011. p. 120).

    I have been reflecting on social cognitive learning theories, and in light of what I’ve read, I feel that the positive emotions associated with learning may be missing for Wayne’s students. They engage with learning superficially, or not at all. In this context it is important to consider the vital role that self-efficacy and self-regulation play in our learning processes. Wayne has partially identified this could be at play already in the fear regarding university admittance, however the reality is low self efficacy beliefs could also be behind the behaviour that indicates disengagement: “students who do not believe they have the cognitive skills to cope with the demands of a particular subject are unlikely to do much serious reading or thinking about the subject ”and sometimes these students are perceived to be “lazy, inattentive, lacking initiative and dependent on others” (Snowman, 2009, p307). One of the consequences of low self-efficacy is that students do not ever develop the self-regulation skills that are so crucial to learning success.

    If Wayne’s suspicions about drug use are proven correct, then this could be derived from the often-negative affects of having low self-efficacy beliefs about learning ability. People with a strong sense of self-efficacy are more likely to “consider a variety of goals and participate in a variety of activities. They may, for example, think about a wide range of career options, explore several study options while in secondary school, take a variety of subjects, participate in different sporting activities, engage in different types of social activities, and have a wide circle of friends” (Snowman, 2009, p309). If the selection of positive goals is dependent on high self-efficacy, I have wondered if low self-efficacy might lead to poor goal selection, including something like drug use as a way of avoiding the challenge?

    You have beautifully analysed the problems surround drug use in terms of hampering learning potential, I wonder if it might also be important for Wayne to consider that some of the factors influencing this behaviour may have their origins (as well as their consequences) in what goes on in the classroom.

    Thanks for such an informative read.



    Churchill, R. (et al), 2011: Teaching: Making a Difference. John Wiley and Sons Australia: Queensland

    Snowman, J [et al] 2009. Psychology applied to teaching (1st Australian ed.)(pp. 334-371). John Wiley & Sons Australia

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  5. toriabell says:

    It seems that Wayne’s class comprising students with a dichotomy with respect to their self-concept. Kraus (2010) defines self-concept as “the collection of knowledge, ideas, attitudes and beliefs we have about ourselves.” It may be worthwhile for Wayne to step back from his well-planned lessons of subject and take a moment to get to know his students and help them get to know themselves and in so doing understand the motivation for their actions in class. As self-concept can be formed by our environment, as well as the ‘significant’ opinions of those important to us, including teachers, helping the students take power over their own view of themselves may assist them to take power over their own lives and actions.

    The issue of possible drug and alcohol abuse is important and a widely recognised problem particularly in inner-city schools. As you mention ‘Substance abuse is also related to negative effects on behavioural and social development; in particular, a negative impact on adolescent motivation and emotions (Dahl 2004).’ By thinking about the 7th provocation ‘Should we teach subjects or students’ Wayne could teach his subject from the perspective of the students reflecting on their own self-concept. One topic could initiate a conversation about the effects of alcohol on the human brain, which could demonstrate the link to Piaget’s stages of development.

    Wayne could also engage the students and emphasise the relevance of self-concept through the use of interactive tests, which assist them to recognise their own intelligences as theorised by Gardener (2006). Alternatively Wayne could devise a self-test, which enables the students to examine how they learn and how their present make-up is a combination of everything they have experienced, and the impacts of the world and other people around them. This would give the students something to think about that relates directly to them as well as giving Wayne an insight into his students.

    Through this insight he can then build a closer relationship with the students and recognise those students whose anxiety is arising from the workload, those who may have anxiety arising as a result of their abuse of substances and those with any other outside influence. Once Wayne has those insights he can then build individual and collective study programs that will enable and empower the students to build self-esteem and thereby take responsibility for their education. By taking control of their own lives ‘ human agency’ and feeling empowered by it his students will also move towards an environment where cognitive processes and performance are high which includes quality decision making and academic achievement (Krause 201)

    The student’s abuse of substance could be a window to the deeper feelings of depression and helplessness as Churchill (2010) notes that feelings of ‘tension, uneasiness and apprehension’ can be caused by anxiety and that these negative feelings severely impact on children’s motivation and achievement. “High anxiety can lead to limited cognitive capacities, poor academic achievement and low self-esteem and possibly learned helplessness.” Often where stress of this type, for any reason, is applied a student will respond by escapism ‘fight or flight’ and can resort to substance abuse. By addressing the underlying influence it may be possible for Wayne to not only address the learning circumstances within his control but even to address and remove the cause for substance abuse.

    Your mention of Provocations 6 and 8 are important and although a teacher cannot possibly understand all social and economic influences and the psychological reactions to various influences, through careful observation, self tests and subtle teaching methods it is possible for the teacher to become a better diagnostician than many and to have a positive impact on his students lives in more ways then simply giving them an education.

    It is interesting that the future is not immutably written in stone but consists of a range of futures, which expand from a single point, decision or event. Wayne has the potential to point any child in a new direction and as with the basic concepts of mass and momentum, once the student is moving in a new direction it will resist any other influence to change that outcome. What a challenge?


    Churchill, R., Ferguson, R., Godinho, S., Johnson, N., Keddie, A., Letts, W., McKay, J., McGill, M., Moss, J., Nagel, M., Nicholson, P., Vick, M., (2011), Teaching, Making a Difference.Milton, Australia: John Wiley & Sons Australia

    Gardner, H. (2006). ‘In a nutshell (Ch. 1)’, In Multiple Intelligences: New Horizons in Theory & Practice (pp. 3-24). Perseus Books. Retrieved Feb 21, 2011 from EBSCOhost.

    Krause, K.L. …[et al.] (2010). Social, emotional and moral development (Ch. 3). In Educational psychology for learning and teaching (3rd ed.)(pp. 98-146). Cengage Learning.

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  7. hodgsons1 says:

    Poor Wayne! While dealing with students who are either tired and bored or using drugs and alcohol, he’s also dealing with students who are stressed about getting into university. Stephen did a great job of addressing the drug and alcohol issue, and I would only add one point. Because Wayne’s students are in Erikson’s identity vs role confusion stage, they may benefit from having a local celebrity or someone from the community that they admire to come in and talk to them about the dangers of drug abuse. (Krause et al 2010) They may respond more positively to someone outside the school, rather than Wayne himself.
    For those students struggling with anxiety, as Stephen mentioned, it’s important for Wayne to talk to them about how too much stress can disrupt their learning. (Churchill 2010, pp122-123) He could also relate what they’re learning to topics from the entrance exams. His students may not realise that what he is teaching them will help in their exams, and they also may not realise how much they are learning. (Joseph 2003) These discussions may help allay their fears.

    The provocation that stood out to me is #6, how will Wayne control his students? He has such disparate groups in his classroom that I think the answer may be found in embracing these differences. To engage students across varying levels of development and engagement, he could try to present a new topic of study to the class as a whole, and then allow the students to “work individually on follow-up activities matched to their level.” (Woolfolk, A & Margetts, K 2010, p48) Along with this method, he could pair students up from the different levels to allow opportunities “for peer teaching…and ways for students to contribute to each other.” (Joseph 2003) Hopefully this would help engage those who aren’t currently motivated, while also allowing those who are progressing to use their knowledge to help their peers. Perhaps this may also help Wayne feel as though he is being allowed to be the teacher he wants to be, as the whole class engages with the material he has prepared.

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  9. Hi Robey,

    This post was pretty comprehensive so in order to have something to say, I decided to view it using a paradigm of the “three dimensions of self : self-concept, self-esteem and self-efficacy”, as detailed in Krause (2010).

    Firstly, self-concept is a “cognitive judgement about one’s own competence”. (p.100, 2010). In this scenario, there are two divergent groups. Krause states (p.100, 2010) that social comparison has a large influence on self-concept, thus the lower achieving group may be adversely affected when viewing their marks in the broader class picture. The school is in the inner city, and the level of Wayne’s class is senior school. It is highly possible that several students came from surrounding Year 7-10 schools and therefore may be affected by the “Little Fish Big Pond” syndrome, particularly if the current school has a higher number of academic achievers.( p.101, 2010). This could result in a low self-concept regarding their ability to achieve, for some this is enough to disengage entirely.

    Secondly, the notion of self-esteem differs from self-concept, in that it judges self worth. ( p.103, 2010). A negative self-esteem can lead to drug and alcohol abuse, depression and suicide. Wayne demonstrates prudence in his concern and I concur with your advice to seek extant help in ascertaining whether or not this is occurring. Krause suggests specific school programmes that not only change student views relating to drugs and alcohol but also to foster high self-esteem in the face of social pressures and academic achievement.

    This leads to the third dimension, self-efficacy. This is based on Bandura’s concept of human agency, in which people believe in their ability to control and influence their own outcomes ( p.104, 2010). Anxiety and stress does affect performance, as it acts as a physical marker for students that they have a low self-efficacy, e.g. feeling sick with nerves before a test because a student fears failure, is a sign that they are lacking in self-efficacy (p.104, 2010). This is an indicator that Wayne’s students are lacking self-efficacy regarding university acceptance and could thus become a self-fulfilling prophecy and adversely affect their academic performance. By specifically targeting their self-efficacy, Wayne could help his students in both groups gain higher marks, as research has shown that those with “strong self-efficacy believe they can cope with challenges” and feel more in control of their own destiny. (p.105, 2010).

    Krause, K.L. …[et al.] (2010). Social, emotional and moral development (Ch. 3). In Educational psychology for learning and teaching (3rd ed.)(pp. 98-146). Cengage Learning.

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  12. Amelia Chauncy says:

    Thanks for your post!
    I have been finding it really interesting that even though the students in the grad dip are provided the same scenarios and the same reading list that people have been coming up with really different posts! It’s great that it makes you think about them from different angles.
    I also looked at module D, scenario Wayne. Although I covered the drug and alcohol issue briefly, I did not go into as much detail as you did on this particular issue – I focused more on Wayne’s teaching methods and ways he could motivate and engage the students. Your blog emphasis that it is an equally important issue and that a classroom teacher would be wise to seek out additional support from colleagues in handling the problem.
    I briefly stated in my post that it would be beneficial for Wayne to discuss options with the school counsellor, PE/health teacher or have private words with students. I agree that by talking to the students and explaining the negative effects of drugs and alcohol it may not stop them from using the substances but would help them make an informed decision. I agreed with your opinion that Wayne should emphasize to his students that they are valued members of society and that if you keep telling them that they are bad they will be. This is discussed in (Re)conceptualising student engagement: Doing education not doing time by Zyngier. “Such negative constructions of young people appear in our media on a daily basis—youth as at risk/deviant/victims/offenders/ aliens/dole bludgers3 and so on, not surprisingly can produce negative results such as early school leaving and low achievement in the young people themselves (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1992)”.
    I also think that feeling like valued members of their classroom would help this situation. Churchill states that while you can be well prepared in the teaching area, establishing relationships within the classroom are also important. (Churchill 2011).

    Thanks 🙂

    Churchill, R. et al (2011). Teaching Making a Difference. John Wiley and Sons Australia, Milton, Queensland.
    Zyngier, D. (2007). (Re)conceptualising student engagement: Doing education not doing time, Teaching and Teacher Education 24 (2008) 1765–1776.

  13. Eliza Bell says:

    What if Wayne used a non-interventionist approach, “with greater weight on students’ roles and responsibilities” (Krause, 464)? William Glasser connects group learning and its social benefits with intrinsic motivation, the most important factor in getting students to take responsibility for their learning. Since the students in Wayne’s classroom are so divided, it would seem worthwhile to take an approach with clear social-emotional outcomes.

    The specifics of Glasser’s method involve building relationships with the students, then working together to outline specific “rules, rights and responsibilities” in the classroom. The substance use Wayne suspects points to a lack of regard for rules, so if he could pull it off, there might be some very applicable hidden curriculum here in developing a classroom culture with mutually agreeable, freely chosen rules. Students might begin to value their own learning experiences more highly if they were socially and emotionally invested in them.

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