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The Brain: Learning and application

On 8 and 9 April 2010 a conference was held at FIS entitled The Brain: Learning and Application. None of the conference sessions dealt explicitly with the specific needs of ESL students. However, there was a considerable overlap in a.) the advice that conference delegates were given about how to promote understanding and long-term memory, and b.) the advice given to mainstream teachers at the FIS ESL workshops on how to optimize the academic progress of the ESL students in their classes. This overlap is summarized very briefly below.

  1. Activation of existing knowledge and understanding is crucial in the acquisition of new knowledge and understanding. For ESL students the activation of prior knowledge or the acquisition of essential background information before the start of a new topic can be via the mother tongue. The assessment of prior knowledge (also known as formative assessment) can provide the teacher with useful information on which to base pedagogical decisions. [More]

  2. For new content to enter long-term memory, that content must have meaning to the student. For example, it must be interesting, personally relevant or important to the student. For ESL students content cannot be meaningful unless it is (made) comprehensible. [More]

  3. Content becomes meaningful and comprehensible when it is taught in more than one mode. Visual input is a vital complement to aural input. [This was named Dual-Coding in the brain conference sessions. In ESL we refer to the same methodology as Visual Scaffolding.] Dual–coding involves, inter alia, the use of images and graphic organizers such as mind maps or KWL charts.
    Text on workshop slide: "When both verbal and visual elements are explicitly and simultaneously represented and actively processed, the formation of memory is more powerful and sustained." [More]

  4. Emotion plays a large role in learning. For example, negative emotion, such as stress or anxiety, impedes learning. [This insight corresponds to Krashen’s affective filter blocking language acquisition.] [More]

Note: Rhiannon's co-organizer and conference presenter was Dr. Greenleaf. His four sessions this time covered much of the same ground that he presented to FIS faculty in the 2008 professional development days (entitled Brain-Based Learning). Here is a summary of the information and advice we received then, as it pertained to ESL students.

Frankfurt International School: Art and artists. (Click to see at full size.)