Note: This post relates to Chapter 8 of The Art of Changing the Brain by James Zull. It was originally posted on Braining-up your English Lessons Posterous blog. Since this service closed in April 2013, I have copied the post here. If you’d like to know more about the one-minute paper and similar activities, please refer to Engaging Ideas: A Professor’s Guide to Integrating Writing, Critical Thinking, and Active Learning in the Classroom by John C. Bean. If you’d like to know more about teaching The Great Gatsby, I highly recommend The Great Gatsby in the Classroom: Searching for the American Dream by David Dowling.
The brain receives input from concrete experiences and enters the body through sense organs (eyes, nose, mouth, ears, skin). The input from these organs goes to different parts of the brain, so for example, input from the ears will go to the auditory cortex or input from the eyes will go to the visual cortex, and input from the skin, muscles, bones, etc. is related to the somatosensory cortex. The brain can detect little bits and see many details, but we can make mistakes because of barriers to paying attention or general misunderstanding. However, if the sensory input is threatening or dangerous, instead of going to the sensory cortex, it will go to the amygdala which will trigger instinct, and although the resulting response is fast, it misses details.
Zull uses the term “sense luscious” to describe experience which involves data from all the senses. He suggests that teachers should make use of concrete learning experiences and active learning methods, such as internships, research projects, collaboration, role playing and other active learning methods. Although Zull focuses on visual input, such as the use of pictures and diagrams to show concepts, he states that all senses--sound, smell, taste, touch, body position, as well as emotion--have a powerful role to play in learning.
I think that many of the activities that teachers set up in the English language classroom involve the pictures, senses, and active learning techniques. As you know, I primarily teach academic writing and literature, so here are a few activities that came to mind when I read this chapter.
Using pictures to show concepts: In a writing class, it might be useful to use images to represent the construction of different sentence types (compound, complex, compound/complex). Also, asking students to take photos or draw pictures to accompany their written work can be effective. When teaching literature, ask students to draw pictures of specific scenes, characters, or settings. At first, students might balk at the task and think it is easy or childish; however, once they realize how closely they have to re-read the text to gather details, most understand the value of this task.
Engaging all the senses: Sometimes when I teach compare/contrast essays, I teach the basics of the essay and then use a candy theme for skill practice. I bring in two different kinds of chocolates, like Snickers and Kit Kats. The students should look at the label design and information, taste/smell the different flavors, think about memories related to the candies, and anything else they can think of. Then, in pairs, students make a chart detailing the similarities and differences they found. Finally, they write a comparison/contrast paragraph.
Research Projects: Students conduct research projects on various topics. This semester, in preparation for reading The Great Gatsby, students conducted a 1920’s research project on topics such as flappers, prohibition, baseball, and jazz music. The did internet research, created documents with written text and pictures, and presented the information to their classmates. I had always thought that this project required students to learn/use a variety of skills, but now I’ve discovered that it is also brain-friendly!
Collaboration: Pair and group work is often used in any English language class. Asking students to make or discuss questions, brainstorm in groups, do peer review, participate in literature circles, perform jigsaw tasks, do think/pair/share, compare work, and so on are all examples of collaboration.
Role Playing: Thinking of The Great Gatsby again, students act out some of the scenes from the book. This requires them to read carefully to understand the situation and the movement of characters; also, students must grasp the voice and personality of each character in order to play the role effectively. I think role play is not only limited to speaking activities, however, Students can write diary entries, letters, and blog entries as if they were characters from a book.
Other active learning methods: I was curious to find out about other active learning methods, so I did a Google search and looked through a few of the top links. I came across something called “Just in Time Teaching.” This is something I’m not really familiar with, but it might be useful, especially for content based courses.
And a suggestion here (#6) is to insert a blank slide into the presentation to catch students off guard. This use of surprise and curiosity was mentioned many times at the Neuroscience in EFL Conference I attended earlier this summer.
The One-Minute Paper: This is something I learned about when I was doing my MA when I took a class on Writing Across the Curriculum. Students write for a short period of time of the topic of the class. Writing is one way that teachers can see a student's thought process. Often, I ask students to spend about 10 minutes writing a reflection about what we did in class that day. This is an open question, so sometimes they summarize the topic, ask questions, reflect on the various opinions from the discussion, and so on.
Do you have any additions or corrections to my summary of Chapter 8? How do you use the senses, images, and other active learning techniques in your classes?