Brain-Based Strategies for ELT by MaryAnn Christison

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Mary Ann Christison is a professor in the Department of Linguistics and the Urban Institute for Teacher Education at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. She has taught in elementary, secondary, …

Mary Ann Christison is a professor in the Department of Linguistics and the Urban Institute for Teacher Education at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. She has taught in elementary, secondary, and adult education contexts. At university level she teaches courses in both undergraduate and graduate programs for pre- and inservice teachers. She is the author of over 80 published and refereed articles on language teaching and second language research and 17 professional books including What English Language Teachers Need to Know I (Volumes 1 & II) and Leadership in English Language Education (co-authored with D. Murray), Multiple Intelligences and Second Language Learning, A Handbook for Language Program Administrators (co-edited with F. Stoller), Seeking the Heart of Teaching (co-authored with A. Palmer), Learning to Teach Language, and numerous activity and resource books for teachers, such as Look Who’s Talking, Community Spirit, Purple Cows and Potato Chips, and Drawing Out. Christison was TESOL president 1997-98 and currently serves as a trustee for TIRF (The International Research Foundation for English Language Education) She has been a classroom teacher for over 30 years and a teacher educator for 25 years, working with teachers in over 20 different countries.

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  • 1. What do you think? 1. The brain weighs only about 1 to 1.5 kilograms and takes up only 2-3% of the total body mass. Brain-based Strategies for ELT 2. The brain can use up to 25% of the body’s energy. 3. Autopsy studies are still the most important way for neuroscientists to learn about the human brain. MaryAnn Christison, Ph.D. 4. Proficiency level and early bilingualism are factors which influence how language is structured in the Professor brain. Department of Linguistics and the 5. Humans have about 100 billion brain cells Urban Institute for Teacher Education (neurons) at birth and about 1,000 trillion synaptic University of Utah, USA connections. 6. fMRI is a new technology used for learning about the living brain. Organization of this Positron Emission Presentation Tomography (PET)• Brief introduction to a neuroimaging • The patient receives a small amount of technologies-- PET and fMRI scanning radioactive glucose water (non-invasive).• A little brain biology 101 for EFL teachers • The brain needs oxygen and glucose which it gets from the blood.• Seven strategies for EFL/ELT that can help • The radio active tags adhere to the us develop brain compatible classrooms (i.e., molecules of glucose. classrooms that take advantage of how the • When a patient is put into the scanner, the brain naturally learns) scanner reads the amount of glucose utilization in the part of the brain being utilized most prominently in the activity.
  • 2. Lobes of the Brain • What are these different parts or colors of the brain called? • Lobes • There are four lobes – Occipital = vision – Frontal = purposeful acts of judgment, problem solving, and creativity – Temporal = (sides) hearing, memory, and meaning, – Parietal = (top and back) higher sensory and certain language functionsMagnetic Resonance Imaging Magnetic Resonance Imaging• A large part of the body is made up of water. • A beam of radio waves fired from the• The water is made up of magnetically fMRI scanner makes the molecules of polarized molecules. water in the body resonate and give off• Hydrogen atoms in the body’s water can be radio signals. made to act like tiny magnets if they are • The waves are detected by sensors in placed in a strong magnetic field like the the scanner. fMRI scanner. • This information is assembled into an• The oxygen in the blood changes the magnetic field image by a computer. so the radio wave emitted becomes more intense.
  • 3. Magnetic Resonance Imaging Magnetic Resonance Imaging • The fMRI scanner produces a rapid• The primary goal of fMRI is to show series of images which result in a how many brain cells or neurons are “movie” of brain activity. involved in a given activity. • Four images every second.• As subjects engage in an activity, the parts of the brain responsible for the activity cause certain neurons to fire. Parts of the Brain: The Neocortex • Why does the neocortex look the way it does? • Neurons multiply at an astounding rate during fetal development. • 20 weeks into fetal life there are 200 billion neurons. That’s about 250,000 neurons every minute. • About 1/2 of the neurons die off before birth. You are born with 100 billion. • Why do these neurons die off?
  • 4. What do we know from this Brain-based Strategies research?• Factors that influence the neural basis • Translating for the bilingual language system. Research for Classroom Practice – Age of L2 acquisition (early or late bilingualism) – The degree of proficiency of the learner – Production and comprehension – Practice – Exposure Strategy 1: Create Positive Action Steps for Strategy #1 Affective Climate • Use small group work• Language learners can become stressed and sometimes feel threatened by activity in the • Give students planning time classroom. • Use familiar routines• Blood, glucose, and nutrients, downshift to the limbic area of the brain (to the emotional centers known as • Give students wait time in answering the amygdala) questions• The amygdala momentarily hijack the brain, diverting the blood flow away from the neocortical areas and • What else? pre-frontal lobe• Emotional Intelligence can be taught and learned• Marshmallow study
  • 5. Strategy 2: Vary Classroom Activity and Strategy 3: Make Connections Focus on the Different Ways Students Learn and Create Patterns in Learning• The human brain is capable of doing many • Patterning is the meaningful categorization different activities and tasks at one time. and organization of information• There is no one method, strategy, or • The brain attempts to discern and approach to language teaching that can understand events and stimuli in its encompass all learners and variations of the environment. human brain. • The patterns we seek may be different from• Teachers who select from a broad repertoire our neighbors of techniques and strategies are more • Teachers must present material is such a successful in engaging their learners. way as to allow the brain to create meaningful and relevant connections to extract the patterns Strategy 4: Focus on Meaning and Action Steps for Strategy #3 Information That Is Meaningful• Before beginning a topic, give global overviews • The job of the brain is to learn and it will do using overheads, videos/disks, and posters so naturally if new information is meaningful.• Before starting a topic, pre-expose learners with oral previews, games, mind maps, etc. • Create activities and materials that are full of• Help learners to form patterns during a particular meaning, not just rote memorization of facts lesson by allowing them to discuss the material in • If students are to use the information, it must small groups, solve problems, construct their own carry meaning rules, etc. • Meaning is often loosely defined• When you finish a lesson, discuss the relevance of what they’ve learned, find examples in everyday • Think about this language. – Our students are frequently drowning in information and starved for meaning.
  • 6. Strategy #5: Provide Strategy #6: Use Movement Appropriate Feedback to Assist Learning• The brain needs feedback on its own activity • Aerobic exercise can improve thinking and for optimal development and growth. learning• The brain loves feedback because it needs it • Aerobic exercisers show improvement in to survive. short-term memory and have faster reaction• Feedback rules: the more the better, the times more immediate the better, the more specific • Aerobic exercisers score significantly higher the better, the more appropriate to the on working memory tests. situation, the better • Increased blood flow to the brain does help• Give students feedback that will assist them you to think better and be smarter in recalling information in a variety of ways. Action plan for Strategy #6 Strategy #7 Keep Learning• How can you give learners exercise and • The brain is enriched by continued learning movement in your lessons? • Give students an enriched environment – Plan activities with a built in component of • Learning new things grows better brains in movement. humans because there are more connections – Plan a project that requires them to move about to get in groups, collect materials, interview each between neurons and total dendritic length is other increased – Do all types and levels of TPR with beginning and • Positive engagement with others, high intermediate students challenges, travel, cultural events – Take a short “exercise” break in the middle of the • There is no difference between the brains of lesson a 25 year-old-person and a 75 year-old person.
  • 7. What do you think?• Number 3 is false.• The remaining questions are true! • mac@linguistics.utah.edu