From the Principal

This week we have a special guest introduction from Brett Trollope, Head of Middle School…

“She Said, He Said – The Differences in Teenage Brains”

How the human brain works and processes information is something that has been studied for a very long time; however, there has been a real acceleration in this since the early 1990s as neuroscientists begin to discover new ways to measure brain activity. These new methods include the ability to observe changes in blood flow within the brain and more specifically, to the different regions of the brain that activate during different activities. This has been a huge discovery for the education industry and in the development of our understanding as to how we learn; more so, how boys and girls learn differently.

The left side of the brain is responsible for controlling the right side of the body. It also performs tasks that have to do with logic, such as in science and mathematics. On the other hand, the right hemisphere co-ordinates the left side of the body, and performs tasks that have do with creativity and the arts. There are many variations in the brain development of teenage girls and boys, however two significant differences that have a huge impact on teaching and learning for adolescents are the pre-frontal cortex and the corpus callosum. The pre-frontal cortex is our decision making and organisational part of the brain, whilst the corpus callosum is the bridge between our left and right side of the brain. This part is responsible for our ability to process information and share between both sides of our brains.

The functions of the pre-frontal cortex and the corpus callosum are obviously incredibly important for the ability of our adolescent girls and boys to learn and it is here where significant challenges lie. During adolescence, the Middle Years at school, there are generally huge differences in the developmental stages of these brain parts between the two genders. There are of course differences within genders, however, the differences when looking at the data by gender is significant.

  • Pre-frontal Cortex: This is one of the last parts of the brain to mature and is sometimes referred to as the CEO of the brain. It is in charge of the executive functions such as organising, planning, setting priorities, making sound judgements, calming unruly emotions, and handling confusing information. This part of the brain generally matures far quicker in females than it does in males. Because of these differences, girls are less likely to be involved in risk-taking behaviours compared to boys and are more capable of coping with their school day in terms of organisation and self-management. Boys on the other hand find it more challenging to remain calm, to resist risky behaviours and control impulsivity, and find it harder to develop their organisational patterns and behaviours.
  • Corpus Callosum: This part allows our two sides of the brain to talk to each other. For girls this connection is denser and larger than for boys, resulting in a greater ability for cross-talk to occur between their two hemispheres. This allows them the potential of greater success in multitasking including watching, listening and writing notes at the same time, and connecting feelings and emotional content to thoughts and verbal processes quicker. Boys generally therefore require further time to process information and respond accordingly, especially when required to respond in words.

This information is by no means meant to highlight the failures of the boy brain, more so, the importance of understanding these key differences in brain developmental stages by gender and then approaching the teaching and learning in a way that is based on an understanding of these key brain developmental differences. Our parallel model at Tintern has been developed because of these and other key differences.

Our staff are passionate about understanding the differences between boys and girls and therefore what this means for their classrooms. An outcome for a particular topic in a Year 7 subject may be the same for both genders, however, the approach to teaching this content may vary significantly between the girls’ class and that of the boys. An example of this may be the text(s) we use at each year level for English. One of the challenges sometimes faced in adolescent boys is to engage them in reading and therefore look to improve their ability to comprehend information being presented. Doing this in a co-educational classroom results in challenge to find a text that suits both genders in terms of interest, but also in terms of complexity. Our English classes have the luxury of choosing texts that suit each gender more and therefore provide greater opportunity to engage and develop the outcomes we are chasing. This is just one example of how we are doing things differently across the genders to maximise the learning of both boys and girls. Other key factors include:

  • Providing the girls with an environment that allows them the ability to take greater risks with their learning.
  • Recognising the importance of movement in the classroom for boys and that there is generally going to be a higher level of energy (noise, discussion, movement, etc.) than in the girls’ classroom.
  • Choosing topics/themes in subjects that are more specific to the interests present in our gender separate classes.
  • Providing elements of challenge and competition appropriate to the boys’ and girls’ classes.
  • Encourage leadership and social justice in our girls by helping our girls practise respectful assertiveness.
  • The development of a pastoral program aimed at the age and stage development of each gender.

The above points, along with many more, highlight the strengths of having separate gender classes, particularly during the Middle Years. Our parallel model is further strengthened when, once out of the classroom, our students have the ability to socialise and integrate with each other through recess and lunchtime activities, co-curricular activities, house events and camps. This allows for the development of important friendships to occur across genders and helps in their future transition to the Senior College where they embark on their final three years in a co-educational environment, before heading out into a ‘co-ed’ world.

The three years our students spend in the Middle School are aimed at inspiring them to gain a love of learning, to develop their confidence, an understanding of who they are as individuals, and to aspire them to becoming key contributors in creating a better world. An ability to understand, and then utilise effectively, the key differences in the teenage boy and girl brains during these three years of Middle School is crucial, not just for us as educators, but also for those who are parenting girls and boys of this age.




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