A story about stories – the narrator is a young doctor telling her grandfather’s stories as she comes to grips with losing him. A novel about communities where ongoing war is just the norm. Magic realism aside, I enjoyed the warmth of Obreht’s Orange prize winning book.
Choose one of the case studies below. Think about how the knowledge you have acquired so far about the brain and learning could help the teacher deal with the situation described in the case study you have chosen. Add your personal views to your portfolio.
Pedro has attended EFL classes since he was a kid. His native language is Portuguese. Pedro is a demonstrably clever thirteen-year-old boy who has the ability to use English fluently. However, in his EFL classes he misbehaves, disturbs his companions, insists on responding to his teacher in Portuguese, and is perpetually distracted and restless. His teacher calls his attention every single class with no effective result. Pedro almost never does homework, fails marginally at the end of the semester, is benefited by the bonus class opportunity, and ends up passing with a low final average. Pedro is infamous among the group of teachers in the institution.
What I would have said before doing this course: “Pedro clearly lacks motivation. He needs to take control of his learning.” I would try and help with this, but probably give it up as a bad job.
What I would say now: “How can I figure what Pedro is interested in and discover existing networks?” Understanding what he thinks and the nature of his prior experiences/knowledge will allow the teacher to hopefully have better insight into his neuronal connections. Pedro needs to take control of his learning. Ask “How can I help Pedro engage with English? What interests does he have that might be fed by English? How can I engage his emotions through English?” 13 yr old boys usually have some passion that can be linked to English eg soccer players in the Premier League. From The science of learning summary reading. “The teacher’s role is to arrange conditions and challenges in ways that engage the learner.”"People cannot stay motivated enough to learn unless they experience some success… It’s the teacher’s job to find a pathway to success”.
Victoria has learning difficulties and copes with the problems connected to her parents, who are in the process of a tempestuous divorce. Her major difficulty lies in keeping a focus on the subject, but she really wants to learn. Her teacher sends her regularly to emergency help classes and she attends hopefully, but the results are less than their mutual desire. The teacher also contacts Victoria’s parents at predictable intervals, asking for their input and encouragement with regard to homework and study for tests. Victoria is afraid of her parents’ reaction to her low grades. She’s also afraid of being in the spotlight, so it’s hard to get her to participate in class.
Clearly Victoria’s learning difficulties stem from the trauma she is currently experiencing. As Janet Zadina suggests “The best way to reach the student is through emotional engagement and activity. Expect disorganization, forgetfulness, day-dreaming, and working memory problems. It may look like a student is angry, or bored, or disengaged, but that may be the trauma. Rework your lessons to temporarily require less demand on planning, critical thinking and organization. And change your expectations.” All very well, but a bit tricky when you have 24 other students in the class, all with their own needs.
I guess that institutional contexts and students’ home situations are contributing factors to not always succeeding in getting every student back onto the learning path. But I like the fact that I’ve got some more skills through the last five weeks to encourage me to keep trying!
a. From a brain-functioning perspective, speculate what could be wrong in the situations below. What other strategies could be more effective?
1) A group of students seem not to understand the target content of the unit. The teacher has been very patient and willing to help the students. The teacher has repeated the explanation several times, but they still don’t understand. Both the teacher and the students feel frustrated.
- No visible connection made with prior knowledge.
- Also need to make connection with value of the target content for students. How does it relate to what they need to know, as well as to what they already know? How is this content part of the wider picture over the course?
- Feelings are engaged negatively – frustration levels riding high.
2) A teacher spends several hours preparing a beautiful lesson. In class, students have fun and do the activity in 5 minutes. Later, while correcting the students’ tests, the teacher is disappointed at the student’s poor retention of that specific content.
- Lack of engagement with the content itself, perhaps. Engagement needs to include gathering, analzying, creating and acting – using four different parts of the brain.
- Was the task too easy for students, so there was not enough practice to actually fire the neurons sufficiently, and create strong connections?
- Did they have enough opportunity to practice the target vocab in various contexts and using different skills, especially production?
3) Students did poorly on a vocabulary exercise in the test. The teacher doesn’t understand it because they seemed to have understood the vocabulary in the class when the teacher taught that content.
- Possible lack of emotional involvement by students. So even though they may have understood, there wasn’t enough of the ‘emotion chemicals’ (adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine) to lead to much change in neuron networks.
- Also lack of engaged practice of the vocabulary.
These case studies are interesting because they so clearly highlight the need for
- connection to prior knowledge
- connection to the bigger picture of learning
- emotional engagement
- meaningful practice
- learning involving different parts of the brain – different activities ie, gathering, analzying, creating and acting
During this week participants will
- review important concepts about the brain and learning
- speculate how to improve practice based on concepts about the brain and learning
- discuss what they have acquired for their teaching toolkit and assess their own learning during the session
- evaluate the workshop
I like these wrap up activities – consolidating what we’ve learned to date. Look forward to following through the tasks step by step. I have found the explicit instructions about what to do very easy to follow. Thanks Brain Team!!
The stuff that comes in as sensory info is stored in all sorts of different places in the brain. But then we can retrieve the whole thing mysteriously as one. Scientists call this ‘the binding problem’.
My creative sum up on Glogster
And discovered that I can’t embed it here because Flash is disabled on WordPress.com sites!
- I can see that John Medina’s book is going to go on my wishlist, but in the meantime the website is useful. Still addicted to hard copies, I’m afraid.
- Carole suggested ‘Six Weeks to a Brain-Compatible Classroom’ by Janet Zadina. Carole says ‘A very practical book with clear classroom activities’.
- Also enjoyed (off the topic, but was a link that I clicked on along the way this week) Han’s Rosling’s TED talk on the magic washing machine!
- Sinead pointed us in the direction of Jamie Keddie’s website with lessons, specifically the one using Medina’s washing clothes process. Might use My Favourite Things early in semester
- Really like the visual of how memory works that Mila linked to.
Tools used by everybody to be creative about what we learned this week
We are all wired differently because of the different experiences that contribute to what we know. When learners come to a classroom, they bring what they already know (prior knowledge) and this is going to be different for every student. The intro to this week made this statement.
“The single most important factor in learning is the existing networks of neurons in the learner’s brain.”
So in the ensuing task 2, we had to discuss how we might plan a lesson in present perfect to take into consideration what we know about the brain so far. I’ve copied what I wrote on Edmodo here, as for me, this is one of the questions I have about teaching grammar. I don’t know how successful I’ve been with teaching tenses over the years and certainly with my current advanced classes, they don’t seem to have learned to use tenses especially successfully. So I wonder if there are better ways to connect neuron pathways in relation to this.
I don’t find myself teaching much grammar in my current teaching context and we have few Spanish/Portuguese speakers in our classes here in NZ. However, I do a lot of focus on speaking with advanced students. So I would maybe use a funny story/my recent experience (shameless exploitation of my family as a resource!) in both written and oral/video modes to focus on specific ways that we use present perfect. Ms Suarez had a ‘have you ever…’ exercise in her plan which is always a great hook to get students speaking. The repetition fits what we’ve been thinking about in terms of cementing those neural pathways. i teach lots of different L1 speakers so perhaps (in my advanced classes) I would also get them to identify a) if the present perfect exists in their L1 and b) if/when/for what purpose they do actually use present perfect in real life – activating their schema around that. And finally perhaps something that includes pictures where students have to create a sentence that uses present perfect but that is true about them from the picture. I found it interesting, when thinking about this, that much of what I would do probably uses brain-sensitive activities. But I like having to focus explicitly on thinking about emotions/memorization/schema/different kinds of thinking etc.
I’ve often wondered whether getting students to memorise a sentence or two about themselves and that they might use that includes a specific and obscure grammar structure might be useful input for future learning, rather than giving complex explanations about all possible ways in which the structure might be used. eg. people often ask international students when they first meet them ‘How long have you been living in NZ?’. The anwer ‘I have been living in Auckland for two years’ might be more useful and easier to remember than instances when you do and don’t use present perfect continuous. If the structure is memorised like this, then does that mean that the brain has something to latch onto as existing schema when a similar sentence comes up eg. if the student is asked ‘How long have you been studying English?’ Would neural pathways get activated by thinking about the structure of the sentence or just mimic the sentence they have already learned? Or maybe it’s different for different people?
I don’t know if this works particularly! But maybe I need to try it out for myself in my Te Reo classes that I’ve just started…