Saturday, March 09, 2013

Webheads and Friends in Dallas 2013

I'm looking forward to attending the TESOL Convention in Dallas later this month. I'll be sharing what's happening here on my blog and on Webheads and Friends in Dallas 2013.

Denise and I will be giving a presentation on our EVO session, *Neuroscience in Education: Braining Up Your English Lessons* in the Electronic Village on Friday, March 22 at 8:30.

Can't wait to see my TESOL friends and colleagues!

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Personal Literacies Part II

In yesterday’s post, I briefly introduced the personal literacies unit. The following passage is fromEngaging Emotions: Role of Emotions in Learning.”

I have witnessed this to be the case for many students who repeatedly disengage from new learning material and attribute this to a lack of confidence. These students lack confidence in their abilities which are often attributed to repeated experiences of difficulty and/or failure. This generates a negative interpretation in the limbic system fostering negative behaviors that exhibit frustration, anger, intimidation. It is not surprising then, that when students do not think they can do something, they often pretend to not care about it and denounce it. Even on the occasion that they do make an attempt at learning, they are quick to give up, proving to themselves that they cannot do it. The negative feelings associated with learning repress the students’ engagement in the learning process. To combat these negative feelings and encourage perseverance, the teacher must find a way to create a positive learning experience for the student, transforming their negative associations into positive ones.  By doing so, the teacher sheds light upon the vast capabilities for the students’ success and paves the way for future learning endeavors.

Many students come to my class with a dislike of reading books and writing essays. They associate feelings of difficulty, failure, and disinterest with these activities. Some even say, “I hate reading” or “I can’t write in English.” Through the personal literacy unit, I want students to examine these sentiments. First, they read personal literacy narratives of well-known writers. After reading these essays, students prepare their own personal literacy narrative in order to examine something related to their experiences with reading and writing. Through this process, students often realize that they dislike reading because they usually don’t “enter” the story or don’t choose texts that interest them. Or perhaps they dislike writing because of a humiliating experience in their childhood or their fear of failing to meet their or the teacher’s expectations. By encouraging students to reflect on these previous experiences, they can become better prepared to make a fresh start and to believe that reading and writing can actually be enjoyable!

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Personal Literacies Unit, Part I

Last week I read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. An excerpt can be found in the article, Haruki Murakami: Talent is nothing without focus and endurance.

As someone who occasionally runs and writes, I loved the content of this book because I’m interested in learning about how people work and construct their life routines. I plan to use the above excerpt as part of my Personal Literacies unit. In this unit, students read texts on the themes of reading and writing by authors such as Terry Tempest Williams and George Orwell. Then the students reflect on their own literacy experiences and how these have affected their attitudes about reading and writing. As I prepare to teach this unit again, I’m going to further develop these ideas and teaching materials.

This is the first in a series of posts about the personal literacies unit.

Tuesday, March 05, 2013


My favorite article from this week of Neuroscience in Education: Braining up Your English Lessons was “How the Memory Works in Learning” by Judy Willis. The most interesting section of this article was entitled “Memory is Constructed and Stored by Patterning.” This article is written especially for educators.

One point the author stressed in this section of the article was the need to link new information to prior knowledge. Taking a pre-quiz, making a prediction, or brainstorming about the topic may all be methods of setting up the connection between old and new information. If we consider this EVO session, one of the first tasks in week one was to take a neuromyths quiz.

In this section of the article, Willis also claims that teachers should work to make links between information clear. One practical suggestion she makes is to use graphic organizers. The classic K-W-L chart comes to mind because it includes the following three columns: what I know, what I want to know, what I learned. In my class, I like to use a variety of graphic organizers, such as time lines or charts, to analyze reading content.

The last point from this section of Willis’ article that caught my attention was the importance of reflecting on experience. In both this EVO session and in my classes, learners write reflections on each topic. Through writing, students can clarify their understanding and draw connections between their experiences.

Throughout all of these activities, peer and teacher feedback also play an important role!

Monday, March 04, 2013

Paying Attention

The topic for week three of our EVO session was attention and memory. 
How important is attention to the learning process?  

Of course attention is an important part of the learning process. Incidentally, last year, I surveyed my students on what they thought the benefits of reading literature were. One student remarked that her ability to concentrate improved. Paying attention to a lecture in class, to the pages of a novel, or the scenes of a movie are all important because these are ways for us to obtain new information.

How hard is it to keep students' attention engaged in what is happening in the classroom?

It can be difficult to keep students’ attention in the class. Even if the teacher does his/her best to keep learners engaged, they may still not pay attention because students have full lives and they can get distracted by personal problems, lack of sleep, or other matters that are outside the realm of the classroom.

What can we do to help our students pay attention?

Although I haven’t tried it extensively, we could encourage students to lead healthy lives (get enough sleep, exercise, manage stress, eat healthful foods, use time management strategies, etc.). As previously mentioned, although we cannot control what happens to students outside the classroom, we could give students some tips to help them. I once listened to a talk by an expert in ESP (English for Specific Purposes) who mentioned that he uses life skills information as content for his grammar lessons. I wrote several sample sentences below that could be included in a lesson about sentence structure and variety.

  • Simple Sentence: Sleep is important.
  • Compound Sentence: Sleep is important, for people who don’t get enough sleep will have difficulty paying attention in class.
  • An adequate amount of sleep is necessary for paying attention and consolidating memories; therefore, sufficient rest aids learning.
  • Complex Sentence: When a students are sleep-deprived, they may become irritable or forgetful.
  • Compound-Complex Sentence: Although getting a good night’s sleep is important, many people do not sleep enough, so they have difficulty paying attention and learning new information.

In this way, while learning about sentence structure and variety, students are also exposed to some information that may help them to become more successful learners. Before writing the above sentences, I read Sleep, Learning, and Memory. Please consult the article for more information.

What effective strategies do you use with your groups to help the students to pay attention?    

I try to choose interesting, engaging, and useful materials and activities for the classroom. Also, I try to vary the types of activities students perform during the class period, for example, silent reading followed by discussion or desk work followed by movement.