Braining up Your English Lessons

This page is to house thoughts and insights gathered during the EVO 2013 session, Neuroscience in Education - Braining up Your English Lessons.

 Week One


Interesting comments from participant regarding these myths.  I see that all of us believed at least one of them.

Of course, these are very broad statements, and taken at face value are very black and white.  For example, the myth that "individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style" was highly criticized in the comments section.  Many teachers have been struggling with this in their classrooms, trying to satisfy each learner's different learning style.  Personally, I think if we use diverse teaching tools and methods, we will keep our students' interest and involvement, which consequently will lead to better learning as defined by Edgar Dale.

Brain Basics

coming soon......

Week Two

First of all, I tried to complete Task 2, which was watching/listening to basic concepts about the emotional brain, but unfortunately, I found the audio too annoying, so I didn't actually complete the task.

I then moved on to Task 3, which was to select any of the terms in the Wordle and investigate them further.
I started with the Amygdala and went to the Wikipedia definition.  Well, again, far too scientific an explanation for me, so will try to find another site that better suits my learning style....oh, yeah.....learning styles do not enhance learning.  Well, perhaps we're not talking about learning styles here, just content and how it is presented.

ok, success at last...a couple of observations about the amygdala here:

1)  By Maia Szalavitz

So what does the amygdala actually do? “[It's] strongly connected with almost every other structure in brain. In the past, people assumed it was really important for fear. Then they discovered it was actually important for all emotions. And it’s also important for social interaction and face recognition,” Barrett says. “The amygdala’s job in general is to signal to the rest of brain when something that you’re faced with is uncertain. For example, if you don’t know who someone is, and you are trying to identify them, whether it is a friend or a foe, the amygdala is probably playing a role in helping you to perform all of those tasks.”

Read more:

2)  A well-functioning amygdala also appears to help us interpret the emotional state of others through accurately processing the emotions they display through their facial expressions. This conveys an evolutionarily important advantage, because seeing the signs of either collective panic (danger) or group jubilation (opportunity)  in the demeanor of others enables you better to  take action sooner.
You need not personally see the coming tidal wave to realize that you must run to higher ground. Likewise, you can determine if your parent or teacher is happy with you, or angry, before they ever say a word.

The second entry relates to the Task 1 video about Tony.  In this case, his body language is conveying his emotional state and the teacher and other student are using the amygdala to process this information.

Task 4

Yes, absolutely I have had challenging students after being in the classroom for more than 20 years.  Sometimes they are challenging because they don't seem to be able to grasp the concept being taught, sometimes because they want to take control of the classroom, sometimes because they refuse to work with others in pairs or groups, sometimes because they have been taught differently in the past and cannot reconcile with the methods being used in my classroom....the challenges present in a number of ways.  

What I have to recognize is that no matter what I do in the classroom, some things are beyond my control and I won't be able to satisfy each and every student at all times.  What I can do is pay attention to behaviors that may signify learning problems and try to deal with them accordingly.

In my role as Language Assessor, whereby the candidate is required to listen to a recorded message and then respond to questions about that message, I once had a candidate who could not respond to any of the questions related to the recording.  Based on my observations of the candidate, I had surmised that she might be deaf/hard of hearing.  She had already completed the writing, reading and speaking components of the assessment and had done well in those areas.  She made up some excuse about why she couldn't respond no to the recording, refusing to admit to her lack of hearing.  I then had to ask her directly if she was deaf, whereupon she broke into tears.  Because she had come from a country where this disability was dealt with negatively, she had developed methods to hide her deafness and had even graduated from university.

At the institution where I work, we provide access to everyone, regardless of any disability. When I explained this, her tears of frustration/sadness turned into tears of joy.  But, if I hadn't paid attention to the signals that hard of hearing speakers exhibit, this candidate would have failed the assessment and been turned away from her learning objectives.

Week Three - Memory

Repeat to Remember

Most people complain about being bad about remembering names - that is usually because they don't make a conscious effort to do so.  Repetition is one way to retain information in short term memory.

Whenever I meet a new class (every 3 months) the first thing we do is learn each others' names.  I feel this is important to establish immediate connections between classmates and instructor.

How do we do this?  We stand in a circle and I usually begin.  I say my name, where I'm from and how long I've lived in my city.  The person beside me then introduces me to the class (name only) and then gives the same information about his/herself.  Student #3 then reintroduces me, student #2 and his/herself.  This goes on until all students have taken their turn.  There is usually a groan after #2 when the last numbers realize what they are going to have to remember.

However, it works well.  To reinforce, everyone sits down and I do a random check.  I'll point to a student and have the others to say his/her name.

The next day, as a student enters the classroom, I have those that are already there greet the newcomer by name - further reinforcement and practice of the 'use it or lose it' theory.  The students continue this process throughout the term.

I find that when students know each others' names, a sense of community immediately forms.

Week Four

Here's a link to my  Mural-ly

Week Four continued

My son had behavioural/learning difficulties when he was in elementary and high school.  In fact, he failed English 9 three times!  He never did finish high school through the conventional way (by going).

However, he was a prolific writer outside of school - his room was always full of paper strewed all over the place,  full of his musings.  He loved to write lyrics and create music.  Here is a glogster I made from two of his creations - the music and the poem.  Both demonstrate that he was not a failure, just wired differently so that his brain did not function well in the conventional classroom.

Great Video


  1. Recently I have been having several conversations with teachers about how our lessons need to have a rich variety of activities and interactions. Personally, I struggle to include art and music, because I do not consider myself a very "arty" person. But this has been a great reminder that, as a teacher, I need to figure out a way to give my students the chance to learn in the best way for them.

    1. I like that you emphasize CONSCIOUS EFFORT. I feel that we have to teach students how to focus and make an effort - i.e., be responsible for their learning.

  2. You are so right that a sense of community enhances learning.

  3. I agree on the "sense of community" concept! Nice blog!

  4. Your son's example is an excellent example of what we discussed in week 4 about brains being wired differently.

  5. Your glogster is short and to the point. We don't have to go far to realize the diversity of brains around us. I really like the quality of your son's brain.