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.