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Applications of Brain-Based Research to Second Language Teac

By Kevin Edwards,2014-02-12 20:33
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Applications of Brain-Based Research to Second Language TeacAppl

    Applications of Brain-Based Research to Second Language Teaching and Learning: Part 2by Mary Ann Christison This article is adapted from the author's plenary speech at the 32nd Annual TESOL Convention in Seattle, Washington. The informal nature of the presentation has been retained. Part 2 of this article focuses on five basic mind-brain principles (Caine & Caine, 1994) that are applicable to our work as second language educators.Mind-Brain PrinciplesThe human brain is a parallel processor. Second language theme: Applying learning styles, multiple intelligences, and other strategies and techniques for dealing with diversity in learners Educational application: There is no one method, strategy, or approach to language teaching that can encompass all learners and the variations of the human brain. Teachers who select from a broad repertoire of techniques and strategies are more successful in engaging their learners. The brain downshifts when under threat. Second language theme: Promoting a positive affective climate in second language classrooms Educational application: Studies in brain physiology now support the notion of downshifting, in which the perceptual field narrows and the second language learner feels threatened and stressed. As a result, the second language learner becomes less flexible, reverts to more routine behavior, and has difficulty processing new information. Second language teachers have known intuitively and experientially that affect is important in second language learning. Caine and Caine (1994) suggest that teachers should work to create a state of relaxed alertness (p. 95) -- a balance between feeling challenged and feeling relaxed and unthreatened. The search for meaning occurs through patterning. Second language theme: Creating meaningful environments in second language classrooms Educational application: Patterning is the meaningful categorization and organization of information. The search for meaning occurs through patterning, as the brain attempts to discern, understand, and generate patterns. When the brain's natural tendency to construct meaning from patterns is used in second language teaching, classroom learning can become more like learning in real-life situations. Because the brain creates patterns, the task for second language teachers is to create, organize, and present material in a way that allows the brain to create meaningful and relevant connections to extract the patterns. This type of second language learning is most easily recognized in the whole language approach and content-based learning because both approaches seek to connect meanings through the development of problem-solving and critical thinking skills. The brain is meaning driven. Second language theme: Creating meaningful activities and materials for use in second language classrooms Educational application: Students can get very good at rote memorization. We know from experience that students can memorize large numbers of facts without the facts carrying any real meaning. Students are not able to use this information in significant ways, except to regurgitate it. Facts and skills that are taught in isolation and not connected to something meaningful cannot be remembered without considerable practice and rehearsal. Information that carries meaning is handled differently in the brain and is connected to meaning. It is processed almost automatically and requires little practice or rehearsal. Second language classroom activities that are meaningful create an ideal learning opportunity for second language students to learn more information in a

    shorter time, with less effort. Each brain is unique. Second language theme: Developing an open and inclusive attitude toward second language students Educational application: Second language students are not unique simply because they come from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. Different languages and cultures are outward signs of diversity. True human uniqueness lies within each individual. Every student is unique because every brain processes information differently. Although each person has the same set of systems, each one integrates these systems differently. As second language educators, we need to be open to many interpretations and different ways of viewing information. Emotions are critical to learning. Second language theme: Creating a positive learning environment Educational application: Students' feelings and attitudes about language learning play a vital role in how successful they will ultimately be. Because it is not possible to separate emotions and cognition, teachers must be concerned with what students learn as well as with how and under what circumstances the learning takes place. Learning involves focused attention and peripheral activities. Second language theme: Developing curricula that include a variety of student activities and tasks Educational application: It is important to remember that the human brain can sustain concentrated focused activity only for a short period of time. Teachers should work to create language learning activities that allow students time for reflection on and processing of the information. ConclusionWhat we are discovering has the potential for making great contributions to the field of second language learning. Our task as language teaching professionals is to ensure that the knowledge gained from brain-based research becomes more than just rhetoric. As educators, we must acquire more scientific knowledge of the brain so that we can determine educational applications. I, personally, do not wish to leave choices about the application of brain-based research to second language classrooms to cognitive researchers and neuroscientists. We cannot remain on the sidelines.Brain-based learning has captured public attention. Knowing more about how the brain learns can raise our level of expertise and restore public confidence in our work as language educators. As language teachers, we must all be advocates for our profession. I hope that we take this assignment seriously and that brain-based teaching and learning becomes an important key in moving us forward.ReferencesDudai, Y. (1997). How big is human memory, or on being just useful enough. Learning and Memory, 3, 341-365. Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of mind: The theory of multiple intelligences. New York: Basic Books. Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books. Jensen, E. (1998). Teaching with the brain in mind. Alexandria, VA: Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development. LeDoux, J. (1994). Emotion, memory, and the brain. Scientific American, 270, 50-57. LeDoux, J. (1996). The emotional brain: The mysterious underpinnings of emotional life. New York: Simon and Schuster. MacLean, P. (1990). The triune brain in education. New York: Plenum Press. Shoda, Y., Walter, M., and Peake, P. (1990). Predicting adolescent cognitive and self-regulatory competencies from preschool delay of gratification. Developmental Psychology, 26, 978-986. Mary Ann Christison is serving as past president of TESOL.(FROM: TESOL Matters June/July 1999)

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