An access to the learner's brain
There has always been a growing interest in the importance of understanding the
process of learning. Many studies and researches focused on how learners acquire a
second or a foreign language, and what happens in the learner's brain during the process
of learning. New concepts and discoveries in neuroscience have come in the way we
The main purposes of this paper are:
- to call the teacher's attention to what happens in the learner's
brain and how it works.
- to understand how the biological, biochemical and emotional reactions are integrated and bonded together to enhance the brain's capacity to learn.
- To utilize the educational implications in the classroom through providing some "brain-based" guidelines for teachers to apply in their classrooms.
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I'd like to start this paper by asking these two questions :
1-Is the learner's brain a vessel to be filled with data?
2-Is the human brain a living organ which can choose, reject, interact, and process learning?
1-I think there are still some teachers who look at the learner's brain as a vessel. They need to understand that language is not a self-contained system. Language is not taught through repetition, mimicry and memorization. Surely, they don't consider the innovative property of language. Some psycholinguists (Widdowson, H., G.1979/ Krashen, S. 1982) issued empirical viewpoints about the nature of language and the learner's mind, and how it works. They emphasize that we should utilize the innovative property of language as well as the creativity of our brain. The learner's brain is equipped with "an innate ability to learn a language… language is mainlyused to fulfill social purposes" and to get meaning across.
To support this idea, let's see the following dialogue between a child and his mother, extracted from "Brown, Charles, T., transcripts page 69, 1976)
Child: Nobody don't like me.
Mother: No, say " Nobody likes me."
Child: Nobody don't like me.
Eight repetitions follow,
Mother: No, now listen carefully, say "Nobody likes me."
Child: Oh! Nobody don't likes me.
This dialogue shows dramatically how a parent doesn't understand the creative property of her child's brain. The child is struggling to get meaning across, whereas his mother insists on the syntactic form of the language. The child goes on to produce new utterances which he has never heard before.
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To show more support to this view, Krashen, S., 1983 issued three hypotheses based on experiments on students learning a foreign language.
The first hypothesis is the "Monitor". It is the part of the learner's "internal system" which appears to be responsible for conscious linguistic processing. It acts as an editor correcting the errors in the output of the acquired system. This can happen before or after the sentence is spoken or written. So, monitor users need time to communicate with others. Monitor using is only useful in tests.
The second hypothesis is the "Filter". It is also a part of the learner's internal system. It is affected by some factors such as the classroom atmosphere, the learner's aptitude and his emotions. Comfort lowers the affective filter.
The third hypothesis is the "Input". That is the property of the language to be taught.
There is a relationship between the "Input" and the "Filter". This relationship can be positive if the learner's defensive mechanism is low. So, the learner can filter much of the language input, and of course the opposite is true.
These studies led to the application of the communicative approach to language teaching and learning in the Arab World in 1983.
A new trend
In 1995, many researches started working on the process of learning and how the learner's brain works. So,we have witnessed a breakthrough into more advanced findings in the area of teaching and learning.
In his book, Super teaching, Eric Jensen, 1995, states that language is "stored in semantically related network. Learners can recall language input according to the semantic fields in which they are conceptually mapped." When the human brain receives information, it processes and manufactures it in the secondary memory, (in other places, the short –term memory) where it is checked and filtered only if the information satisfies the learner's needs. Then, the input is transferred and settled in the primary memory, ( in
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other places, the long-term memory). The learner can recall it when it is activated in situational or semi-situational discourse.
Eric Jensen continues saying that every learner has a unique brain as he has unique fingerprints. The brain contains meanings, beliefs, models and data. It is naturally developed according to the amount of language exposure and experiences.
To this idea, he states that, "when we are leaning something, we may only be discovering something that has already been genetically built-in……or pre-programmed into our brain".
He recommends that teachers should stimulate the brain with "multi-sensory experiences, emotions, novelty, and challenge." In general, the "brain loves exercise" and this leads to a strong memory. The brain loves fresh water, oxygen, and nutrition. Diamond and Greenough, from Eric Jensen cited that, "all learning involves our body, our emotions, our attitudes and our health…brain-based learning says that we must address these variablesmore comprehensively." Page 22.
Here, teachers should know that we use only less than 20 % of our brain power. It can be activated to reach the top point.
I think I can go beyond the previous idea saying that the critical function of the "brainneurons" can't be accomplished individually. In other words, this critical function of the brain requires "grouping" of several kinds of cells that are involved in the process of learning. When some brain cells are activated or stimulated, internally or externally, they activate other cells in a successive process. It is the pattern of "neural connectivity" of cells. The success of this neural connectivity is closely related to the rate of biochemical, biological, emotional, reactions in the brain, and this , in turn, enables us for good quality learning.
To this, Eric Jensen states that: "The specific combination of nutrients, chemicals, hormones is the primary determiner of the quality of learning." P.12.
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Again, it is the property of the human brain that grows and develops new connections with novelty, interaction, feedback and practice.
Here, we can understand the importance of the brain-storming activity in our classrooms. Eric Jensen states that " the brain is what we have, the mind is what the brain does."
By understanding the brain's natural principles, we, as teachers, will be able to teach to the brain and consider the body-mind relationship in the process of learning.
The basic outline of how we learn might be shown this way: (extracted from Eric Jensen, Super Teaching P. 19)
(beliefs, experience, values, knowledge)
( environment, feelings, people, context, goals, moods)
Input (5 senses)
(visual, auditory, kinesthetic, olfactory or gustatory)
Processing (learning preferences)
(left or right hemisphere, limbic, abstract or concrete)
(to get it, we connect experience and form conclusions AND we detect or create patterns, that gives us a feeling)
Response (7 intelligences)
(verbal-linguistic, spatial, bodily, kinesthetic, musical-rhythmic, intrapersonal, mathematical-logical, interpersonal)
It should be noted that these findings have led to the applications of the "functional-
notional approach and the brain-based learning approach" in many schools all over the
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Brain- Based Guidelines For Teachers
1-Stress and threat impair learning. An intimate atmosphere excites the brain to learn.
2-Our brain is not designed for formal instructions. It is innovative and creative.
3-Learning is best with choices of what to learn and when to learn it. Choices empower the brain to learn more and develop multi-sensory skills.
4-Considering the mind-body relationship. It is all learning.
5-The brain can't stand constant attention. It needs rest. Hormones, diet, emotional, and biochemical reactions continually fluctuate ups and downs. These reactions determine the rate of attention and memory.
6-Learning is best when it is interrupted by breaks of 2-5 minutes. It is a chance for the brain to process and recharge. Then you can energize safely.
I hope this paper will be helpful and useful for developing the teaching and learning processes in the classroom atmosphere.