Role of Brain-Based Learning and Alternative Methodologies
by Marjorie Rosenberg
last step in the model, Step Seven, Functional Integration,
includes the integration of new material in a functional way.
For language learners this means being able to use what he
or she has learned to reach a particular objective, whether
it be making or receiving a telephone call in English, booking
a hotel room, asking the way or negotiating with business
partners. We can practice this in the classroom in the form
of simulations but the responsibility ultimately belongs to
the learner who must decide when, where and how he or she
is going to put into practice what has been learned.
addition to this seven-step model, there are several other
points to consider in "brain-compatible learning".
One very important one deals with the different memory retrieval
systems used by the brain. The brain basically stores information
either explicitly or implicitly. The Explicit Memory
is a short-term one. Information stored in this way is divided
into "Semantic" (a word or picture) or "Episodic"
(a location). These memories can easily be talked about. They
can change, however, depending on the way in which we discuss
them and are subject to outside influences. On the other hand,
the Implicit Memory is the long-term one. It is divided
into "Procedural" (motor skills, sensory, and learned
behaviors) and "Reflexive" (triggered feelings,
automatic responses). It is here where we find information
that we sometimes "don't know we know". These memories
are more permanent and less subject to influences from outside,
but they not always accessible. The feelings, emotions and
movements sometimes have to be moved into our explicit memories
in order to be expressed in words. In teaching, we can use
multiple pathways to help our learners store information both
explicitly and implicitly to guarantee that the information
will become encoded in the brain. When we connect movement
with words, use grammar games to reinforce structure and meaning,
and relate vocabulary to the emotions of our learners, we
are presenting for both the implicit and explicit memory retrieval
next important point deals with novelty and ritual. This goes
back to setting up a safe learning atmosphere for our learners
and establishing parameters for our lessons. In NLP training
we often use anchors for classroom management. This can include
a special bell or a song which indicates that it is time to
pay attention again (this is an auditory anchor). We can also
use a particular OHP transparency with a message to get the
learners' attention. (a visual anchor). When we ourselves
stand in one place and use a particular tone of voice to indicate
that our learners should be listening to us, this is an anchor
which incorporates visual, auditory and kinesthetic channels.
Other rituals include having specific ways to begin or end
a class, setting up for group work, singing together, using
different colored paper or pens to code grammar or game worksheets,
etc. By creating rituals, we give our learners something that
they can fall back on and a place where they can feel comfortable.
We also offer them a low stress, no threat learning environment.
When that has been established, we can then go on to novelty.
This includes the introduction of new material, guest speakers,
field trips, projects, etc. Here the learner feels challenged
and opportunities for excitement and fun are provided. The
brain also releases specific chemicals which it needs to continue
to grow and to learn. When we use novelty as a teaching device,
we can create curiosity and anticipation in our learners,
an optimal learning state.
last point which I found particularly interesting, concerns
the influence on the brain of the sheer volume of words which
children (or adults) are exposed to. According to the latest
research, children who simply hear more words (less "caretaker"
language and more "real" language) from adults around
them become fluent in their mother tongues quicker than children
who do not have the same amount of "language rich"
environment. The implication here for us as language teachers
is to also consider moving away from texts that have been
too simplified. The brain does not need to know every word
in order to make sense of a text. When we can present material
using other means of communication (tonality, body language)
our learners can make sense of text which they have previously
not been exposed to. We generally understand more than we
can say but the simple enrichment of the language environment
can increase the passive vocabulary of learners and eventually
help them to become more fluent speakers with a larger range
of vocabulary at their fingertips.
I reflect back on my experiences with "brain-compatible"
learning, I am happy to say that I found many affirmations
that my teaching and teacher training has been moving in a
"brain-friendly" direction. Superlearning, with
its fantasy identities, games and relaxation techniques, certainly
fits the model and takes into account the stages of acquisition,
elaboration, memory encoding and functional integration. NLP,
which stresses the importance of different learning styles,
teaches us how to establish and maintain rapport with our
learners, and addresses the issue of anchors in classroom
management, can contribute a great deal to the field of "brain-friendly"
learning. Many of these NLP techniques help us to create a
safe and comfortable learning environment and make use of
the implicit and explicit memory retrieval systems. Being
aware of the possibility of multiple intelligences in our
classrooms can help us to understand the neural history of
our learners and set up a context for them to be successful.
Using cooperative learning groups gives us the chance to incorporate
novelty with ritual to help our learners discover their own
optimal learning states and make learning fun and successful
Righting the Educational Conveyor Belt, Michael Grinder, Metamorphous
In Your Hands, NLP in ELT, Jane Revell and Susan Norman, Saffire
Dynamic Learning, Robert Dilts and Todd Epstein, Meta Publications,
Superteaching, Eric Jensen, The Brain Store, Inc., 1995
Brain Compatible Strategies, Eric Jensen, Turning Point Publishing,
Multiple Intelligences, the Theory in Practice, Howard Gardner,
Basic Books, 1993
Cooperative Language Learning, Carolyn Kessler, Prentice Hall,
Rosenberg is an instructor of English at the Pädagogische
Akademie des Bundes in der Steiermark. Marjorie also works
as a free-lance language trainer for various companies
and for the state government of Styria, Austria and a
free-lance NLP trainer for both teachers and business
people. She is an active presenter and has given talks
and workshops on NLP, Cooperative Learning and Learning
Styles at conferences in Europe and Canada. In addition,
she contributes to various ELT and educational journals.
Her book 'Communicative Business Activities' which
uses an NLP approach to teaching business English, came
out in autumn 2001 and she is currently working in an
international team to create a new English text book for
the Austrian school system.
Rosenberg can be reached at:
A-8010 Graz, Austria
Tel and Fax:
+43 316/ 473499
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