Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Surprises and Stories

Recently I was a co-moderator of the EVO session, Neuroscience in Education: Braining up your English Lessons Some people asked me how I became interested in this topic and one of the reasons was attending First Annual Brain Days: Connecting Neuroscience with ELT Conference. This event was held in 2011 (Osaka) and 2012 (Kitakyushu), and when I attended TESOL 2012 in Philadelphia, I discovered that Carla had also developed an interest in the brain. We discussed the possibility of developing an EVO session on neuroscience with Denise as content expert. In this post, I’ll briefly describe last year's Neuroscience and ELT conference and make some connections to our EVO session.

At the 2012 Neuroscience and ELT conference, there were many presentations, and here is a sampling of the presentations I attended:
R. Murphy: Neuromyth-busters, Brain Anatomy for TEFL, Memory & Learning
C. Oana: Why is music helpful in teaching English: Some cognitive neuroscience evidences
C. Kelly: The neuroscience of lesson design
D. Paul: Personal Construct psychology and it’s implications in the classroom
M. Broide & I. Shiloh: Harnessing the narrative brain: An account of a learning experiment

I found Kelly’s presentation on the Neuroscience of Lesson Design to be interesting and practical. He discussed factors of learning. Students need to have physiological and psychological needs met, such as getting enough sleep and not having too much stress. Also, the lesson should be meaningful and relevant to the students and should include some emotion and challenge. For deep-processing, repetition, engagement, problem solving, and multi-sensory input can be taken advantage of. Finally, he highlighted that for brain compatibility, the lesson could include elements such as surprise and stories or songs. Audience members were encouraged to think about how to get dopamine into the class!

For me, the most interesting points from this session were surprise and stories. Since hearing Kelly’s presentation last summer, I’ve become more aware of the element of surprise in the classroom. For example, last semester, I was able to observe one of my colleagues teaching a humanities class. When I looked at the class handout, I noticed that it included some numbers and names, but there were no explanations and this was surprising! The teacher asked the students to speculate about what these meant within the context of the short story and the themes that they were studying. This led students to be curious and to engage with the material. Also, I noticed that when I’m teaching my humanities class, students are interested in novels, stories, and films when they’re surprised by the plot or characters. As previously mentioned, including a blank slide in a presentation is another way to surprise the audience. Just doing a little something different is enough to catch everyone's attention.

In addition to surprise, stories are also brain compatible. In his presentation, Kelly delivered some information in lecture style and then in story form. He asked the audience questions about the content, and everyone remembered the details of the story more readily. I think that not only telling stories, but also reading or writing stories can engage learners and their emotions. During our EVO session, Carla brought up the topic of attention hooks and stated that she often uses stories to illustrate grammar points, even keeping the same characters throughout the semester. These strategies also allow space for creativity in the classroom.

Finally, check out this information on DIY Neuro-ELT from M. Helgesen. If you remember, I blogged about his ELT and Happiness site at the end of 2007.

Karen, a participant in the EVO session, wrote an excellent post on attention hooks.

I hope to be able to attend another conference on neuroscience to continue learning and sharing with others!

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