This page has been prepared as a follow-up to the professional development workshop about Brain-Based-Teaching, held by Dr Robert Greenleaf on 20 November 2006. It contains statements made by Dr Greenleaf (or taken from the workshop booklet), together with corresponding extracts from pages in the Teachers section of this ESL website. Putting into practice some of the advice from these two sources, which show a strong overlap, would certainly enhance the learning potential of the ESL students in your classes. [Go to Dr Greenleaf's website.]
"The cognitive learning system can be overrun by the stress response system."
"No meaning, no memory. Period."
"Working together in small groups can integrate the 5 natural learning systems."
"The reflective learning system weighs past, present and future projections."
"It is important to start with what is going on in the barn. / Students need a context for the building of meaning."
Allow 3-5 seconds of uninterrupted silence after a prompt to allow students to consider/recall responses."
"The learning potential can be up to 50% higher if connected with visual input."
"Word acquisition is critical to comprehension."
At the foot of the page are references to some of the sources of the information in Dr. Greenleaf's workshop booklet and presentation.
The following extract gives examples of some of the causes
of stress for ESL students, and what teachers can do to alleviate it.
Some ESL students at FIS suffer from physical, emotional or behavioural complaints that are caused by culture shock. The shock can be caused by difficulties in adjusting to Germany and German culture. It is more likely however to be the result of trying to cope with the demands of a very different school system from the one they have left behind. The effects of culture shock - or to be more precise, school shock - are described in some detail in my article to parents elsewhere on this site. My intention here is to make mainstream teachers aware of some of the teaching practices at FIS that may be unfamiliar and stressful to ESL students. Of course it is not suggested that colleagues change their teaching philosophy to avoid all possibility of discomfiting ESL students. But an awareness of the points below will often be sufficient to prevent teachers drawing the wrong conclusions about the behaviour and attitude of the ESL students in their classes. It can help to alleviate stress if ESL students feel that the teacher is knowledgeable about and sympathetic to their difficulties. Teachers can also help adjustment to the new culture by reinforcing the student's pride in his own culture. [More on this]
Possible sources of school shock
- Students may be used to acquiring a large number of facts by rote; and unused to discovery learning, analysis or critical thinking as practised at FIS.
- Students may feel threatened by the amount of participation expected of them in class, preferring to remain silent for fear of “showing off” or losing face by giving the wrong answer. They may also perceive a wrong answer as causing the teacher to lose face and feel for the same reason uncomfortable with the idea of asking questions or for help.
- Students may not wish to share opinions or beliefs, regarding them as private.
- Students may be embarrassed if praised in front of others.
- Students may be unused to mixed classes or being taught by teachers of the opposite sex.
- Students may find it difficult to come to terms with the open and friendly relations between teachers and students. They may be uncomfortable with the amount of noise in the classroom.
- Students may be uncomfortable with some expectations regarding teacher-student behaviour (e.g. looking the teacher in the eye when being spoken to)
- Some students are from a very competitive educational system. They may be unused to working co-operatively with other students.
- Students may believe that having fun in the classroom is incompatible with learning.
- Students may feel uncomfortable at being involved in deciding on learning goals and how they are to be assessed, considering it to be the teacher’s job.
Of course not all ESL students come from education systems that follow the practices implied above, and most of those who do will not experience more than a temporary discomfort at the differences in our school. What is common to all ESL students, however, and what is probably the main cause of school shock, is the huge mental effort required to work for more than 8 hours a day learning new content in a foreign language. For this reason it is clear that students will benefit directly from any efforts by teachers to make the classroom language and homework tasks as comprehensible as possible. Ways to do this are described in the following articles:
The following extract explores the problems for ESL
students if their cultures and background knowledge are ignored in school.
On a more general level, it is useful if the culture and history of the student can be incorporated into lessons. [More] It is important that students feel teachers respect their cultures as much as the dominant cultures of the school. (The ESL department has a very useful set of materials of the different countries of the world, called Culturegrams. There is also another set in the school library.)
Cummins (1996) has an excellent explanation of the importance of integrating ESL students' cultures and background experiences into your lessons, thereby validating their personalities and identities:
.. when students' language, culture and experience are ignored or excluded in classroom interactions, students are immediately starting from a disadvantage. Everything they have learned about life and the world up to this point is dismissed as irrelevant to school learning; there are few points of connection to curriculum materials or instruction and so the students are expected to learn in an experiential vacuum. Students' silence and non-participation under these conditions have frequently been interpreted as lack of academic ability or effort, and teachers' interactions with students have reflected a pattern of low expectations which have become self-fulfilling.
Cummins J (1996) Negotiating Identities: Education for Empowerment in a Diverse Society Ontario CA California Association for Bilingual Education
Two simple examples of including the non-native speaker's culture and previous educational experience:
- In the mainstream English class where Romeo and Juliet is being studied, the teacher could ask students if there are similarly celebrated stories of thwarted love in the literatures of their cultures.
- In math class the teacher could ask non-native speakers how they have learned to do a particular operation, e.g. the division of one fraction by another.
The following extract explores the special benefits for ESL
students of working in cooperative groups.
An excellent way of integrating ESL students into your class is via cooperative activities. Researchers have found that language learning takes place most effectively when learners are engaged in interesting tasks that allow plenty of meaningful interaction with sympathetic native speakers. However, it is not enough to just put the ESL student with 2 or 3 others and hope for the best. If this happens, there is a danger that the ESL student will take on a peripheral role - or have it forced on her. Therefore, it is most beneficial if the group activity is so structured that the outcome is dependent on the contributions of ALL the group members.
As an example, consider the topic of pollution. First each member of each group chooses or is allocated a sub-topic. Those having the same sub-topic, say river pollution, meet together to discuss and research that sub-topic. The students then return to their original groups where they report on what they learned in the sub-topic groups. Group members then discuss how to include this information in their final report or presentation.
Using this method, the contribution of each group member is critical to the final outcome. To provide extra support to ESL students, you could arrange it so that they are given an easier sub-topic or task, or that the sub-topic group they go to contains a same nationality peer.
In summary, it can be said that pair or group work is important for ESL students because it gives them the chance to express their ideas and opinions or ask questions (of the teacher or other group members) on a smaller stage than in front of the whole class. It also gives the teacher a much better chance to offer individual and unobtrusive help.
[There is more information on cooperative grouping in: Second Language Students in Mainstream Classrooms, Sears, C. (1998) Multilingual Matters. I have a copy of this book in my room if you would like to borrow it.]
The following extract is a presentation slide from the ESL
training workshop for mainstream teachers. It lists reviewing/previewing at the
start and end of the lesson as one of the most important ways to help ESL
students in the classroom.
Classroom practices conducive to ESL student learning
- have predictable routines (e.g. review / preview of lesson content)
- allow wait time
- disallow shouting out of answers
- repeat or rephrase student questions and answers
- write answers / homework on the board
- have key words on the board at the start of the lesson
- allow sufficient time to copy from board
- include opportunities for one-on-one with ESL students
- provide model answers
- explicitly teach the organization of the text book
- provide step-by-step checklists or time lines for longer term projects
- fill the classroom with posters and key word lists
- be available after lessons to help ESL students
- convey to ESL students that their presence in the class is valued
- assign ESL students a buddy - a patient and sympathetic peer
- do not allow other students to show impatience with or make fun of ESL students
- convey positive but realistic expectations
The following extract is a presentation slide from the ESL
training workshop for mainstream teachers. It deals specifically with what
teachers can do to help students understand difficult texts. The advice about
activating existing knowledge is crucial; it is repeated in many other workshop
presentation slides and throughout the pages of advice and information for
What can teachers do to help ESL students understand what they read?
- State reading purpose
- Activate background knowledge
- Encourage own-language reading/discussion
- Preteach key vocabulary
- Outline textbook organization
- Emphasize the importance of presentational features
- Encourage students to get help
- Teach subject-specific genres
- Raise awareness of internet pitfalls
- Get ESL advice and support
- Practice reading strategies
This following extract is from a page of advice to teachers
on how to help ESL students understand what they hear in the mainstream
Helping ESL students understand what you say
7. Increasing wait time will give students a chance to process what they have heard and formulate answers in their mind. It is particularly helpful to repeat or rephrase questions that are in complex syntax or require more than simple answers. If you invariably expect 2 students in the class to answer such questions before you give feedback, this will add to the amount of time available for the ESL student to formulate a response, even if that response is a mental one that he or she does not yet feel confident to express aloud.
There are many pages on the ESL website where it is
stressed how important visual input is in aiding ESL student comprehension of
written and spoken language. The following extract is a presentation slide from
the ESL workshop which provides a model of assessing task difficulty.
Cognitively demanding, context-reduced tasks, which will be most difficult for
ESL students, can be made more accessible through the use of visual material
such as pictures, video, graphic organizers.
Source: http://esl.fis.edu/teachers/fis/workshop/w3_4-8.htm (Open this webpage for full functionality.)
Most difficult for ESL students will be tasks that are both
decontextualized and cognitively demanding. (Quadrant D)
Teachers of beginning ESL students should aim to increase the contextual help without reducing the cognitive quality of a task.
More on Cummins' model and its implications for teachers.
This extract is from a page giving information about
English vocabulary and how teachers can assist ESL students learn it.
What can mainstream teachers do to help ESL students learn essential vocabulary?
- In general, it is very helpful if mainstream teachers also consider themselves to be language teachers and, on occasion, devote a little more attention to key words than just offering a definition. For example, instead of simply explaining that photosynthesis is the conversion of carbon dioxide into carbohydrates under the influence of sunlight, the teacher could ask if anyone knows the meaning of the prefix photo, or if anyone can suggest other words beginning with the prefix. The word exhale could start a similar brief discussion.
- As well as focussing on the key words, it is necessary to be aware of the importance of the non-subject specific academic vocabulary that the student needs to know - words like duration, sequence, reduction etc. [Read more about this.]
- It is good, occasionally, to ask non-native speakers what a word is in their own language. This conveys to them that their languages are important. It also enables the teacher to check whether the student has understood.
- Another possibility is to provide a definition and see if an ESL student can supply the correct word. Students whose own language shares similar roots with English will often come up with a word almost identical to the English one. For example, in math or science the students could be asked to think of the word in their language for the increase in speed of an object (acceleration). French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese native speakers will supply the words accélération, accelerazione, aceleración, or aceleração. Showing an interest in their native language is a simple way to raise their self-esteem and it demonstrates effectively how the mother tongue can be very helpful in learning English.
The first link below is to Dr. Greenleaf's own web page containing much of
the information from the
workshop booklet prepared for the FIS presentation. Dr. Greenleaf's page
contains, inter alia, references
to research into wait time, question techniques, learner generated questions.
Workshop summary page
The following links are to information on ASCD publications referred to in Dr. Greenleaf's booklet.
This final link is to a source of information on long-term memory and recall:
Learning, Teaching and the Brain. Schenck, J. KNOWA, 2003.