‘Between Brains’: Motivating Tweens and Teens with SLCN


by Juliet Leonard
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Supporting adolescents with SLCN as they move into KS3 is crucial, to ensure progress continues and the vital skills required for all aspects of learning and life beyond education are fostered; but this is not without its challenges: Adolescence is a time of significant physical and emotional change, prompting sizeable shifts in communication and interaction. 

Although considerable brain growth has already occurred, a teenager’s brain is still ‘under construction’. In the adolescent years, the brain remodels itself by ‘pruning back’ areas that it no longer needs. This is coupled with a time of changes in hormones, sleep, and emotions resulting in impulsivity and an increased appetite for risk taking.  Add to that a period of intense self-scrutiny, with shifts in peer and family relationships and is it any wonder that teenagers get a bad press? 

Young people with SLCN, are increasingly aware of their ‘difference’, of potential social exclusion and the pressure of keeping up with an increasingly challenging curriculum, including complex and abstract language. 

SLCN activities previously considered motivating for students may no longer feel as relevant.  Although their language targets may be from KS2, the tone of activities will need to match students’ age rather than stage. Teachers and parents may have to dig a little deeper to establish connections, understand their motivations and remain relatable, whilst also fostering independence, autonomy and mutual respect.   That’s not much to ask for, is it?

The Strategies 

A changing brain means a changing relationship – and this is a reciprocal process.  Here are some tips when working with tweens and teens: 

Relate it –Using materials which students can both understand and relate to results in greater engagement for learning.  It can be challenging to delve into teen culture to find relatable activities, but a little research goes a long way.  Finding a ‘hook’, by taking the essence of a game, scenario or TV show which students like and translating this into an accessible language activity can successfully meld your content with their curiosity. 

Invite them to take control – The challenge of balancing personal integrity with teen culture is a tricky one, but this is where the students’ knowledge comes into its own. Teenagers with SLCN often perceive themselves to be ‘helped’, perpetuating feelings of dependence on support and guidance from others.  Supporting students to develop autonomy, independence, and confidence, putting them in the driving seat, can be a powerful tool.  Giving students the opportunity to teach the ‘teacher’, to make decisions and, with support, to be a leader is empowering and motivating. There are plenty of subjects that they can teach us about!  With a little creativity, any subject can be turned into a language activity. 

Leave space for responsibility  In the not-too-distant future, this teenager will be an adult.  With employers consistently citing the difficulty finding employees with appropriate skills in communication, reflection, negotiation, conflict resolution and team working, it has never been more important to foster self-awareness.  Allowing time and opportunities for spoken problem solving, personal reflection and identification of strengths and needs enables students to join the working world, equipped with self-awareness skills they can build on. 

Remember their age –Rewards and resources designed for primary aged children are likely to suddenly feel immature.  Consider more mature alternatives:  Ask students to doodle pictures if they are needed, use ‘real life’ objects for activities and jointly develop meaningful rewards for individual students. 

For more ideas and information about working with tween and teens, watch our ‘Between Brains’ workshop at the Link Live conference on 21st and 22nd May 2021. Book your tickets here.