Sunday, February 17, 2013


Week 5

Task 3

a. Choose one of the case studies below. Think about how the knowledge you have acquired so far about the brain and learning could help the teacher deal with the situation described in the case study you have chosen. Add your personal views to your portfolio.

Pedro has attended EFL classes since he was a kid. His native language is Portuguese. Pedro is a demonstrably clever thirteen-year-old boy who has the ability to use English fluently. However, in his EFL classes he misbehaves, disturbs his companions, insists on responding to his teacher in Portuguese, and is perpetually distracted and restless. His teacher calls his attention every single class with no effective result. Pedro almost never does homework, fails marginally at the end of the semester, is benefited by the bonus class opportunity, and ends up passing with a low final average. Pedro is infamous among the group of teachers in the institution.

Victoria has learning difficulties and copes with the problems connected to her parents, who are in the process of a tempestuous divorce. Her major difficulty lies in keeping a focus on the subject, but she really wants to learn. Her teacher sends her regularly to emergency help classes and she attends hopefully, but the results are less than their mutual desire. The teacher also contacts Victoria’s parents at predictable intervals, asking for their input and encouragement with regard to homework and study for tests. Victoria is afraid of her parents’ reaction to her low grades. She’s also afraid of being in the spotlight, so it’s hard to get her to participate in class.

My choice is the second case. Victoria's case really reminds me on a student we have in our school. She has the same problems in family, as well as in school. Her teachers have difficulties to deal with her behavior and her school inactivity. She comes to school less and less. Her main teacher tries to remedy the situation by contacting her parents. Mother doesn't care very much, she already has "a new life" and father does care, but has really low power control over her. Teacher has a lot of patience in work with her and gives her many extra lessons. Together they do it somehow, but not very successfully. The girl is very skilful and clever, but the problems come from her family, which teachers can hardly repair.

Suggestions from the article  Janet Zadina: A Teacher Goes Back to School are that we should adapt to that situation, request and expect less from that student, praise her more, have more understanding and compassion toward her situation.

Additional solution would be to activate classmates and develop their understanding of her situation and motivate them to help her in integrating her in school society by improving and intensifying their mutual relationship. 
Teachers may give her a chance to help others who have problems in the subjects which she excels in. Then she would feel that helping others has positive effect on herself as well.

She should be more school oriented - because there her peers could help her, and because in school surroundings she for sure has the power to influence and create her own success, than to unhappy family, where she doesn't have many means to change the situation and hence fail in everything.

She should somehow learn to attract attention on herself by doing something good for herself (and others!), not by escaping her own life, her peers, school, obligations, and by creating problems on each and every level. If she achieves this goal, she will soon be very mature person, capable of coping with real-life challenges.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Solutions for challenging classroom situations

Week 5

Task: 2 - Speculating

a. From a brain-functioning perspective, speculate what could be wrong in the situations below. What other strategies could be more effective?

1) A group of students seem not to understand the target content of the unit. The teacher has been very patient and willing to help the students. The teacher has repeated the explanation several times, but they still don't understand. Both the teacher and the students feel frustrated.

2) A teacher spends several hours preparing a beautiful lesson. In class, students have fun and do the activity in 5 minutes. Later, while correcting the students' tests, the teacher is disappointed at the student's poor retention of that specific content. 

3) Students did poorly on a vocabulary exercise in the test. The teacher doesn't understand it because they seemed to have understood the vocabulary in the class when the teacher taught that content.

 My thoughts

  1) First of all, It's not mentioned if the teacher said what the point of the given lesson was, but in any case, he should do it at the beginning of the class. This would help students to activate schemata by experiencing the process themselves.
In the case when students didn't understand the target content of the unit, the teacher shouldn't just repeat his explanation. He should try to explain the content connecting it with students' prior knowledge, relating it to the previous lessons, saying the same thing on a different way, trying explaining from different perspectives - primarily from students' perspective and prior experience, but also try other approaches, give more real-life examples, anyway something that students already know and understand. He should talk to students, ask them for a feedback, not just to talk. If he just repeats it the same way - that certainly makes students distressed. They feel that they are not capable to understand the content and think more about themselves than about lesson. So, each repetition may only make the thing even worse and worse. Students worry more and can understand less. They begin to feel bad and that only creates more barriers for learning and understanding. Also, I believe that in a class full of students, there might be at least one student who understood what teacher was talking about. The teacher should ask that student to help and give explanations to others, on his own way and that would be the bridge that connects the new with the old knowledge, also connects students to teacher.
 2) Doing something for 5 minutes will not make lasting effect. Teacher should induce students to:
- repeat what they've learnt in timed interval, - create something upon that new knowledge, - make some associations between new and old materials they adopted, - act and do something together, (learning by doing) - share experiences between each other.
That way students would certainly retain the vocabulary much longer.

 3) I guess that they really understood the vocabulary. However, understanding is not sufficient. If students understand something, it does not guarantee that they will be able to practically use it, especially not in a test situation - which is really an artificial situation. It seems that in real-life situations, we are likely to find our way much easier and faster, because we usually have many other things to rely on.
The class time should be used to activate that passive knowledge by actively practicing the usage of vocabulary in various contexts, by simulating different situations, very close to students' real life, so that they can incorporate it easily. 

Recommended readings

Challenge Based Learning - A Classroom Guide
Dealing With Difficult Classroom Situations
Real Teachers Real Challenges Real Solutions 25 Ways to Handle the Challenges of the Classroom Effectively

Friday, February 8, 2013

We Are All Wired Differently

Week 4

Task: 5
Make a video, write a poem, create an info-graphic tell a story that expresses what you've learned about the importance of knowing that all brains are wired differently. Add your creation to your portfolio.

This week's activities

  • learn that all brains are wired differently and explore the implications of this concept to learning
  • watch and discuss about a movie segment that exemplifies the concept that brains are wired differently
  • experience themselves how schemas can shape how we learn
  • learn about the importance of triggering existing neuronal networks in the EFL classroom
  • share their findings with their peers

Monday, January 28, 2013

Thinking About Attention

Week 3

Task 2: Thinking about Attention

b. Think about your experience as a teacher and add your thoughts

  1. How important is attention to the learning process?
  2. How hard is it to keep students' attention engaged in what is happening in the classroom?
  3. What can we do to help our students pay attention?
  4. What effective strategies do you use with your groups to help the students to pay attention?   

  1. Attention is what makes the difference in learning.
  2. In my case, I have only one student in the class during the lesson (I teach piano) so, it's usually not so hard to keep his / her attention. It's hard before and during the public playing (concerts), because they tend to feel frightened and nervous. 
  3. We talk a lot during the lessons as well as before the actual public appearance. I tend to direct their thoughts to music they are to play. My students always have sheet music with themselves, so that they have some material to keep their mind busy. Also, I showed to them some breathing and meditation techniques to focus and calm their mind. The main suggestion is not to be surrounded by others, so not to receive nervousness from others and make their own peace.
  4. Special technique for releasing the stage fright is to put them on the place of the audience. When they worry about playing, I suggest them to imagine that they are very benevolent listeners, who really will not criticize if players don't do their best. They should feel what feel their parents and friends while listening to them. In most cases, it's their audience - their parents, their friends. They love them and love to see them, to watch them, to listen to them. They are always graceful and often feel very sad when see them frightened. I instruct my students to give music full of love to their audience. Concentrating to music, instead of to themselves and their feeling helps them a lot. I also ask them to imagine what would be the extreme consequence if they play very badly. Usual conclusion is that the worst thing is to feel bad. Nothing else on the world would change. :)

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Dopamine & Music

Week 2

Task 3
Expanding Learning

Task: Check this word cloud with concepts, words, expressions related to the emotional brain.
Choose the ones you'd like to explore more in depth and go on a Web search to expand your knowledge about it.

See what's going on in participants' discussion here.

I chose Dopamine from the word cloud. Since I teach piano playing, here is what I've found about 

Very interesting! Watch these two short video clips and I'm sure you will be amazed! :)

Body shapes mind as well

Week 2

Topics during this week

  • understand how the emotional brain can trigger or hinder learning
  • come up with activities that promote the effective use of emotion to enhance learning
  • explore if different types of reward (intrinsic X extrinsic) can trigger motivation equally
  • share their findings and ideas with the group
  • continue digitally curating brain-related resources
  • share ideas on how educators can enhance learning taking into account what they've learned about the emotional brain & motivation

Task 4

Portfolio Entry
Food for Thought:
Have you had challenging students?
After learning about the emotional brain, the fight/flight/freeze concept, and how the amygdala works, how would you change your teaching? How would you change the way you relate to your students? 
What in your class would you keep the same as you've realized you've been dealing appropriately with students' emotional brain?

Dealing with the challenging students

Preparatory power posing as a simple performance-boosting tool with the potential to benefit almost anyone

Body language
Body shapes mind as well

While reading very interesting participants' discussion, I stumbled upon TED Talk by Harvard Psychologist Amy Cuddy: Your body language shapes who you are - recommended by my fellow course participant Flávia Uhlmann. Just got the idea how to deal with my difficult students. I have a few of them, fortunately, but they tend to drain my energy from time to time, since I don't feel I can positively influence them at all. So, I decided to make them help themselves. I want to give them some extra confidence. From the above mentioned TED video I learned that power can come from a body posture.

Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” -- standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident -- can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.Amy Cuddy’s research on body language reveals that we can change other people’s perceptions — and even our own body chemistry — simply by changing body positions. 

"Don't fake it till you make it. 
Fake it till you become it."
(Amy Cuddy) 

I am willing to give it a try. Next time, at the beginning of the lesson, I will ask my students to take one of recommended high-power body postures for two minutes. I will ask them to find one they like the most. If we find them to be effective, we will practice them before all public concerts and exams.
It should become their second nature.

 Here's how the authors sum up their results:

"This experiment demonstrates that preparatory power posing affects individuals‘ presence during a job interview, which in turn influences judges‘ evaluations and hiring decisions. Compared to low-power posers, high-power posers appeared to better maintain their composure, to project more confidence, and to present more captivating and enthusiastic speeches, which led to higher overall performance evaluations." 
Read more here.

Another very interesting note, written by my fellow participant Marineide Rodrigues Colson made me think! I teach piano at music school. Teachers usually give students suggestion to dress up nicely. Till now I wasn't aware of the influence that this "external" image certainly has on kids (and others as well). Here is a part of Marineide's note:

By doing that, the kids would naturally behave better. So, if you are dressed up you will behave accordingly. On the contrary, if you are dressed down, you will feel "too" comfortable and will be "too" relaxed for that occasion. You know what I mean? so, the outward behavior (or body language) will influence the learning. Very interesting stuff!