brain-based approach to teaching
English as a second language
by Tanju Deveci
content is a subjective concept. Therefore, it is difficult
to define it. However, Dorner (2002) asserts that the following
factors need to be considered.
It comes from real life, the natural word around us. The brain
has been equipped for millions of years with the ability to
adapt to natural surrounding to ensure survival. Therefore,
the content matter should provide the most powerful context
for learning the target language. It depends on the prior
experiences we have had. We can learn most easily when we
can relate content to what we already know. Making that connection
enables the brain to see a pattern and make a mental program.
This also helps assimilate new learning and raise expectation
of success. Learning never happens in a vacuum; learners always
have some starting knowledge, understanding, skill or experience.
We need to bear in mind that students learn the most and remember
the most at the beginning of the lesson. Therefore, this is
a critical point of learning. There are some key questions
that a learner need to ask himself/herself at this stage:
What's in it for me?
Is this a puzzle I want to solve?
What do I already know?
What do I need to know?
What do I need to do to find out?
It is understandable, in part, because it is age-appropriate.
Our brain develops in predictable stages, becoming capable
of increasingly more difficult tasks. Each new stage is dependent
on complete development of the previous stage. Students who
are presented with information that their brain is not yet
capable of processing will not "get it."
It allows the brain to seek patterns as a means to creating
meaning. The brain learns by sifting through massive amounts
of input, processing thousands of bits of information per
minute arriving through all 19 senses. This information is
processed in a multi-path, multi-modal way. As the brain attempts
to make sense out of the chaos which surrounds each of us,
it constantly searches for patterns that can impose meaning
on the input it received.
It creates intrinsic rewards rather than relying on an extrinsic
reward system. When our brain perceives new information as
meaningful and therefore understood, it sends out feelings
of well-being. This sense of accomplishment is heady and effective
and does not require an external reward.
role of teachers is different in meaningful learning. They
are not the only possessors of knowledge, but they guide students.
Actually, knowledge is constructed by the learners themselves,
it is not transmitted form teachers to the students. In contextual
learning students learn better when they think about what
they are doing, and why they are doing it. Therefore, teachers'
primary role is to stimulate and support activities that engage
learners in thinking. Teachers need to be more careful with
the ways they check their students' understanding. They should
ask more questions such as "Why did you say that?".
If they know more about a student's thinking, they can more
accurately help the student learn.
is known that people think and process knowledge in different
ways, which is also acknowledged and supported by Multiple
Intelligences Theory put forward by Howard Gardner. Kennedy
(2000) notes that according to this theory, the frontal cerebral
cortex is made of thousands of modular units responsible for
our conscious thinking, remembering and behaving. Constellations
of modularities are responsible for the strengths or insufficiencies
of individual intelligence. Modularities on the right and
left cerebral cortex are interconnected through the corpus
callosum. Modularities may vary in size, density, and connectedness
which alters conceptual complexity among individuals. With
this theory, some individuals would likely possess different
language competencies. Students can attach meaning to the
language input in foreign language classrooms only if this
information matches their individual language competency.
Here the responsibility of language teachers is to vary their
instructional strategies to address multiple intelligences.
Howard Gardner suggests that there are eight intellectual
variables associated with human performance. Some activities
that can be used in English language classrooms for each intelligence
type are as follows:
- Activities that strengthen the verbal-linguistic intelligence:
Listening and tape exercises, lectures, vocabulary activities,
word games, word memory devices, working with metaphors and
similes, summarize in your own words, situations and dialogs,
grammar skills, oral presentations/reports, group discussions,
debates, story telling, reading-literature, newspapers and
magazines, writing activities, journal writing, word-processing
programs and on-line communication.
- Activities that strengthen the logical-mathematical intelligence:
Word order activities; classifying and categorizing; sequencing
information; prioritizing and making lists; outlining; word
puzzles; grammar relationships and drills; number activities;
logic games and activities; problem-solving activities; developing
patterns and pattern games; creating functional situations;
hypothesizing; critical thinking activities; gap activities;
cause and effect activities; computer games; activities involving;
develop equations to describe phenomena; utilize statistics
to develop arguments; examine demographic data deductive/inductive
reasoning and cultural comparisons and contrasts.
- Activities that strengthen the visual-spatial intelligence:
Craft and art projects; draw/color or illustrate concepts/things/ideas;
design a logo that communicates a concept; mind mapping; graphic
organizers; creative visualization and response drawing; color
clues; visual presentations (video, slide, photography); creating
video/slide projects (computer); creating models; design,
construct or build models; improve a product; graphs and diagrams;
reading/creating maps and interpreting directions.
- Activities that strengthen the bodily-kinesthetic intelligence:
Flashcards; dance; using self to act out an event or thing;
field trips; team construction projects; cooperative or competitive
games like classroom board races and the fly swatter game.
- Activities that strengthen the musical-rhythmic intelligence:
Creating songs; creating rhythms to practice grammar; writing
lyrics to illustrate a concept; linking historical periods
to music of the period; creating music for drama related activities;
singing; linking familiar tunes with concepts; creating songs
or jingles to summarize concepts or ideas; playing music in
the classroom to stimulate appreciation; developing a score
for a video or audio presentation.
- Activities that strengthen the interpersonal intelligence:
Paired activities; board games; interactive software programs;
surveys and polls; letter writing/pen pals; leadership development;
collaborative activities such as team problem solving; jigsaw
expert teams; group mind mapping and webbing; group brainstorming;
peer teaching; group note taking exercises; developing an
interview schedule with an individual to learn a specific
concept; tape an interview with a significant mentor; simulations;
peer teaching; and class or group writing projects.
- Activities that strengthen the intrapersonal intelligence:
Independent study and individual instruction (one on one activities);
monitoring of own skills; developing a complete set of personal
goals; developing a family history; mapping places in the
environment where they feel comfortable, most creative and
happiest; personalized authentic assessment; exploring personal
interests; researching and online activities; as well as writing
activities such as keeping a diary; journaling; learning logs;
essays; and personal reflection.
- Activities that strengthen the naturalist intelligence:
Descriptive in nature; identifying and categorizing one's
surroundings; hands-on learning; and taking nature walks or
our learning activities can let individual students attach
emotional meanings to the activities done in class, which
will enable them to remember the content matter in the long
run. This is because emotions stimulate our brains to recall
things better. Choosing activities which are new, or require
students to engage their emotions facilitates learning.
activities mentioned above will bring color to our classrooms.
However, there is still something missing: BRAIN GYM, which
is as a series of simple and enjoyable movements. Besides
varying classroom applications, brain gym exercises will make
all types of learning easier. They are especially effective
with academic skills. For complete learning to take place,
the information received by the back brain needs to be accessible
to the front brain. Otherwise, students will be locked into
a failure syndrome. We can avoid this by ensuring whole-brain
learning through Brain Gym activities that enable students
to access the parts of the brain previously inaccessible to
them (Dennison & Dennison, 1994). Brain gym activities
connect left and right brain. They include physical movement
and co-ordination, which encourages diffusion, unconscious
processing of learning, relaxation, alertness, re-organization
of the brain and right/left brain integration. Some of the
short bursts (3/4 minutes) of gross muscular physical activity
gross muscular activity which demands movement outside our
comfort zones e.g. pat head/rub tummy
hand-eye co-ordination exercises
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