The Plastic Brain: How Emotion, Simulation and Neural Teamwork Shape Learning

We learn because the brain is plastic. It is not hard-wired nor are processing areas fixed, as was long believed Of special interest to us is how the reward system of the brain affects plasticity and learning, including the super-learning we call addiction.  While we still do not have a complete view on the influence of dopamine, the fact that the reward system connects the cognitive, emotional, memory, and movement parts of our brains give us clues as to what might or might not work in the language learning.

Our understanding of the brain is moving forward in leaps and bounds.  The more we learn about plasticity, the more we encounter bits of information that are like fingers pointing towards the yet undiscovered secrets of teaching English.  Relationships, communicative interaction, feeling good, and learning from real people might be far more important than we have ever imagined, even though these factors are only on the periphery of language learning theory.  The ideal classroom of the future might be just the kind our students have always been asking for.

The presenter will discuss the conflict between neuroscience and the dominant theories of language acquisition, the fascinating story about how three neuroscientists changed our thinking, and how recent findings might change the future of language teaching.

Neuroscience of Materials Writing

Knowing how the brain works is the first step towards becoming a better teacher, but it requires the second step as well: knowing how to apply this knowledge to designing lessons. Let’s look at some critical factors of learning and discuss how to weave them into your lessons, whether that means modifying textbook activities, or writing your own.  The key factors include attention, deep processing, spaced repetition, brain compatibility, the human factor, and most important, meaningfulness.  Using these allows you to stimulate the reticular activation system and cause the release of learning-related neurotransmitters.

How Preschool (& Exec Function) Can Save the World

Two major studies found that under-privileged children put in preschools made immediate gains in numerous proficiencies, and surprisingly, kept them into adulthood. They were also likely to have better incomes, fewer teen pregnancies, and fewer problems with drugs or crime.  But why?  Neuroscience is finding the answer.  Preschool is the time that critical executive functions in the pre-frontal cortex are developed, including: inhibitory control, working memory, and cognitive flexibility; the basis of intelligence and character.



The Alienated Learner and Embodied Cognitive Resistance

Learners who struggle with a foreign language often suffer from feelings of alienation and failure. Such students may be seen as lazy or unmotivated. This presentation will examine learner alienation in terms of embodied cognitive resistance. It will argue that unconscious resistance is a natural response to the neurocognitive demands of language and culture learning. We will review research showing how deep-rooted language and cultural patterns are in our cognitive systems, and how resistant they can be towards change. The presentation will argue for a need to destigmatize resistance to language learning. It will suggest ways in which research into motivation and SLA can take advantage of findings in this area. Implications for classroom practice will be touched upon.

The Linguaculture Classroom

Add an intercultural learning dimension to your classroom. This presentation introduces the linguaculture classroom approach (LCA), a pedagogical model focused on language learning as a form of cultural exploration and personal growth. Informed by dynamic skill theory, LCA helps learners develop four levels of linguaculture awareness: 1) encountering, 2) experimenting, 3) integrating, and 4) bridging. LCA helps teachers see the challenges of language learning in a new light.



NeuroELT pedagogy –it is a reality!

What does the brain have to do with learning? Everything! Yet, oddly, most education schools–even at the graduate school level–have yet to embrace neuroscience. This presentation will challenge participants to think deeply and work out new ways to solve problems relevant to their own classroom pedagogy, while learning about how the brain learns languages best. Cutting-edge neuroELT pedagogy will be explored.

 Plug & Play Neuroscientific Maxims for your Classroom!

In this dynamic and interactive session, Robert will discuss six of most practical maxims from his new chapter in Language Teaching Insights from Other Fields (TESOL Publications, 2014). Be prepared to do pair work and actively participate in this dynamic and highly informative session, exploring how research in cognitive development can be practically applied to your classrooms for fantastic results. Via the six chosen neuroELT maxim discussions, Robert will discuss the importance of (1) student captivation via personalization of content – even at the neuronal level, (2) the underrated and misunderstood role of emotion in pedagogy [the limbic system], (3) how context significantly affects cognition, (4) the amazing power of choice, (5) the overwhelming effects of prediction within the brain, and (6) the practicality and the awesome effects of graphic organizers in ELT via the neuroscience lens.



Eat Healthy, Be Smart!- Food Education in EFL Classrooms

Choosing the wrong foods can make us bad learners and bad teachers! English language education should be both practical and useful–so knowing what’s good and bad for our bodies is just as important as knowing how to teach grammar points. Though we may love foods that are deep fried and sweet, recent studies teach us of the terrible effects of trans-fats and artificial sweeteners – they produce faulty neurons. How can we get our students to eat more healthfully? In this session, learn how to turn some of your English lessons into fun and interactive Food Education sessions using basic food words, colors, and creativity!

 Neuroscience-based Teaching – It’s for Real!

In this session focusing on the young learner classroom, we will discuss real world applications of neuro-research, and some highly positive results that have been achieved by simply tweaking normal classroom lessons, based on real-world neuroELT research. This session will have three parts: (1) The research. Not only will we focus on what has been found to work well in young learner classrooms, but we will also take time to discuss what has been found to be detrimental–in short, what common teaching practices we should stop doing!  (2) The application. After discussing these issues, we will break into smaller groups, based on our own teaching contexts. Then in these teams, we will collaborate and apply the day’s learning by co-creating new activity designs based on neuroELT findings. (3) The assessment. In the final part, we will present our teams’ achievements to each other, and help each other further these ideas. Be prepared to join in, inspire each other, and take home a notebook full of new ideas.



Four Social Neuroscience On-Going Requisites for Effective Collaborative Learning and the Altruistic Turn

Understandings from the field of social neuroscience can help educators cultivate collaborative students who get excited about learning from one another. To facilitate a collaborative atmosphere, educators first need to be able to show concern for their students beyond the subject matter. They also can help students understand how being social works in their favor and teach students skills that they can immediately use to have more effective collaborations. At the same time, for efficient second language acquisition, teachers need to provide students with multiple extended discourse opportunities (MEDOs), or lengthy conversational opportunities. By helping peers and others in their social networks, students actually help themselves.

Enhancing the Plasticity of Students’ Zones of Proximal Adjustment (ZPA) for Better Socio-Cognitive Interaction and Learning

This presentation suggests three beneficial shifts in student cognition concerning change and adaptation in the classroom. The first is to shift thinking from stagnant entity categories (often derived from test scores) to continual incremental adapting processes (fixed vs incremental, Dweck, 2000) of social cognition. Second, while observing ourselves and others interacting helps us to adapt, our techniques and strategies of observation and interaction can be improved. Third, while developing levels of comfort in homogeneous groups are important, developing abilities to engage and negotiate with diversity are eventually more crucial for stimulating innovation and well-adjusted adaptation for an enriched human experience. Finally, I conclude that socio cognitive harmonizing, i.e. being in rapport with others and enjoying a learning flow, is not a thing but an activity which demands continual adjusting to the various changes inside and between participants in a complex world.



A students’ DIY guide to brain-friendly classes

Many teachers at this conference are thinking about “brain-friendly teaching.” But many other teachers aren’t.  The field is new and many teachers don’t know about it.  What can students do in “brain-unfriendly classes?”  This session offers nine ways learners “reframe” the input in lecture classes and for studying in general. The session is aimed at student interns, but teachers are welcome. Materials (PowerPoint/handouts) will be available so you can do something similar with your students. (:60)  Note: This session is best when students (for example, students interns at the conference) can attend. 

Let’s get physical – The brain/body connection in the EFL classroom

When we sit for 20 minutes, blood flows downward to the feet and legs.  Standing and moving for just one minute causes a 15% increase of blood (and therefore oxygen) to the brain.  That’s just one reason to get students up and out of their seats regularly. There are many more. This session will look at reasons and ways to have students moving their bodies, while moving their English abilities up at the same time.  In addition to major physical activities, we’ll consider short “5-minute energy breaks.”(:45 – :60)



The Neuroscience of Music: Is There More to Music than Meets the Ear? (60 mins.)

Why is music so exciting and so moving? Why should we pay attention to using music more creatively in class, not simply focusing on the lyrics or accompanying video of a song? This talk draws on findings in neuroscience to explain how listening to music activates not just the auditory cortices of the brain, but the visual and motor cortices, as well. In other words, we ‘hear’ and recall music not only with our ears, but also with our eyes and bodies. In this way, music engages multiple areas of the brain, from the oldest to the newest, and affects our emotions through triggering the release of dopamine. After explaining and demonstrating these phenomena, I will introduce some classroom activities that use instrumental music and songs in a variety of ways to inspire students to let their imaginations roam freely, to create and recall stories, and to feel energized or relaxed.

Flipping points: Mental switching from L2 to L1 (30 mins.)

Malcolm Gladwell famously describes Tipping Points: critical moments when ideas or trends cross a threshold and bring about change or enlightenment. This talk explains Flipping Points: critical moments when learners reading in the L2 make a mental switch into the L1. The presenter will show how this is both natural and necessary, and why this is a phenomenon that teachers and learners need to be more aware of and that they can exploit effectively.



Improving Cognitive Function- Findings from Intermittent Movement, Fitness and Exercise Research

Lifestyle choices have a crucial bearing on overall health. Increasingly sedentary lifestyle habits are resulting in declining physical health and cognition, which impact people’s workplaces, homes and schools. The human body is designed for movement, yet all day, students are expected to passively sit through many classes, which is not conducive to learning. As a general rule, what’s good for the body is good for the brain, which includes nutrition, sleep, exercise and optimal hydration. Extensive research claims that fitter bodies equate to better brains (Ratey, 2008) especially in relation to the crucial factors of learning- attention and memory. Exercise also releases neurochemicals in the brain, which improves mood, motivation, alertness and concentration. Furthermore, intermittent movement increases blood flow, which provides the body with greater transport of nutrients, and the brain with necessary fuel in the form of oxygen. Attendees should gain a better understanding of the underlying importance of being more physically active and how this can support the cognitive function of their students and themselves, ultimately leading to improved teaching and learning outcomes.

Attention and Memory- Cognitive Processes Involved in Transfer and Retrieval

The essence of learning is based on the connected factors of attention and memory. For various reasons, we often encounter difficulties maintaining student’s attention and recognize the fluctuations in the student’s recall of classroom content soon after teaching. If a student asked us, “What is the most effective and efficient way for me to study and remember”, how would we respond? Deeper understanding of cognitive processes and more effective teaching approaches should be an aim towards better facilitating memory storage and retrieval, in our students. One of the most prevalent university teaching methods is the convenient and passive “lecture style” approach, yet this is the least effective for memory retention. Conversely, facilitating student peer-teaching opportunities is highly effective due to the complex cognitive processing required. Attention relates to three main systems; orienting, alerting and executive-function (Posner, 2007). Different types of memory circuits include; short, working, long, semantic, declarative and emotional (Tokuhama-Espinosa, 2011). In addition, sleep nutrition and movement also have a significant bearing on our student’s learning success. Participants will have the opportunity to engage with this content and reflect on their teaching practices.



Connecting the Synapses: From Brain Studies to Acquiring Language

MBE (Mind, Brain, and Education) is a new field that brings Psychology, Education, and Neuroscience together. It intersects directly with language teachers, in how to present things most effectively in the language classroom, knowing what we know from the respective fields. This presentation will involve sharing many of the more relevant and interesting studies. This will include studies on Theory of Mind, Native Language Magnet Theory, Kuhl’s R’s and L’s studies, Kim’s studies on bilinguals, brains scans on taxi drivers, Ojemann and Brain Mapping, Melodic Intonation Therapy, Broca’s Aphasia, Wernicke’s Aphasia, Stickgold’s Tetris experiments, studies on sleep and memory, Krashen’s Affective Filter and the Brain’s RAS area,Wilder Pennfield’s Montreal Therapy, and so much more. The goal of this presentation is that attendees will be exposed to the greater world of Education Neuroscience or MBE, and have a better sense of where these three worlds meet, and what language teachers can take from this, to implement into their own teaching.

Sleep and Dreams and the Effects on Memory and Skill Acquisition

This shorter session extrapolates the books of “The Mind at Night: The New Science of How and Why We Dream” by Andrea Rock; as well as “Dreamworld” by Johnathan Leonard. There are certain studies that I will focus on, particularly the Red Goggles Experiments of noted dream investigator Howard Roffwarg, and the Tetris Experiments by Robert Stickgold. The major theme is to showcase research on the effects of sleep and dreams on our memory and skill acquisition. Applicably, armed with this information, how we as teachers can best help students acquire language skills. Additionally, to arm attendees with studies to show how it is much more beneficial, in the long-term and short-term, for students to prepare for presentations and tests for days in advance, as opposed to all-night cram sessions.