isabel Du Toit, Head of the International Middle Years Curriculum (IMYC) describes a curriculum designed with the adolescent brain development in mind and answers your questions..
Adolescence can be a very taxing and challenging time for students, teachers and parents alike. Students may exhibit such radical changes in behaviour and personality that we hardly recognise them! They may look for sensation, take dangerous risks, value their peers’ opinions more than an adult’s and disengage from their learning. Key developmental changes in the adolescent brain, which seem to be triggered by puberty, make it significantly different to the brain of an adult or younger child. Jay Giedd, famous for his neuro-imagining project studying developing brains, says that the adolescent brain is not a "broken or defective adult brain, it is exquisitely formed... to have different features compared to children and adults."
We studied the implications of these findings for teaching and learning and focused on developing creative curriculum solutions to support students through this challenging transition. We identified five key needs of the adolescent brain and built elements into the IMYC that were specifically designed to support each one. For example, we organised the IMYC around a set of carefully designed conceptual ideas – ensuring that students have the opportunity to learn what they should learn in KS3 – to support students to continue making links in their learning. The curriculum also uses a specific process of learning (based on the way the brain learns) consistently across all subjects. This helps students with planning and organising, both regulated by the maturing pre-frontal cortex of the adolescent brain.
In his report, Sir Michael Wilshaw, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector, expressed concern that the performance of secondary schools had stalled and that one of the major contributory factors of this was that, too often, the transition from primary to secondary school is poorly handled. KS3 seemed not to be a high priority for many secondary school leaders and consequently, many students' learning was not sufficiently challenging through their KS3 years. He called KS3 the wasted years; seeing them as wasted learning opportunities for students. Our own research suggests that something more subtle may be the underlying cause of these findings. Most neuroscientific researchers agree that the adolescent brain is undergoing major changes that challenge these students' learning, which often go unnoticed, or at least unaddressed in secondary schools.
We offer many, varied forms of professional learning opportunities, ranging from the more traditional in-school training, online training, regional courses to blended learning courses. We also have a dedicated members' support team that are available to support schools with any issues. Our Improving Learning Group, which consists of curriculum experts in the company, also provide curriculum support to teachers and schools. As the head of the IMYC, I am also available to support schools in person or via Skype.
We wanted to ensure students left the middle years/KS3 with the necessary academic rigour and transferable skills to prepare them well for GCSE or iGCSE, A levels, IB Diploma and beyond. So, we drafted the IMYC Learning Goals from a review of eight different curricula to design a truly international curriculum. We train teachers on how to make sure they get coverage of these goals alongside their country's curriculum requirements. This means students leave their lower secondary/KS3 with a wide range of personal and international (global awareness) skills that prepare them for the more subtle challenges ahead in school.