brain-based approach to teaching
English as a second language
by Tanju Deveci
information about how the brain works is accumulating continuously.
It seems like there is no end to this information, and we
will be having even more information about the way(s) the
brain works as the science of neurology develops. It goes
without saying that learning is dependent on the way our brain
works. Therefore, we, as teachers, need to adapt our teaching
techniques according to the brain research.
one of the most important findings of the brain research is
that the brain is much more malleable than previously thought.
The specialized functions of specific regions of the brain
are not fixed at birth but are shaped by experience and learning
(Genesee, 2000). Here, the word 'experience' is the key word,
and when we consider that learning and teaching provides individuals
with new experiences, the role of learning experience aided
by teaching and teachers seems clearer. That is to say that
teaching and teachers can actually make a difference in brain
experience should be purposeful and meaningful if we want
the brain to change in a desirable fashion. The importance
of meaningful learning appears to be crucial in Caine and
Caine's (1994) twelve principles of learning as well. They
assert that the search for meaning is innate. We cannot stop
this search, but channel or focus it. The human brain survives
by searching for meaning, and responds to meaningless and
meaningful information and situations differently. Therefore,
if we want our learners to use and develop their brains we
need to teach for meaningfulness. Before going any further,
I believe that it is essential to mention Caine and Caine's
all twelve principles, which, I feel, contribute to the search
for meaning in one way or another:
-The Brain Is a Parallel Processor: The human brain is always
doing many things at one time. Therefore, teaching must be
based on theories and methodologies that guide the teacher
to make orchestration possible. Teachers need a frame of reference
that enables them to select from the vast repertoire of methods
and approaches that are available.
- Learning Engages The Entire Physiology: The brain is a physiological
organ functioning according to physiological rules. Stress
and threat affect the brain differently from peace, challenge,
boredom and happiness. Everything that affects our physiological
functioning affects our capacity to learn. Stress management,
nutrition, exercise, and relaxation, as well as other facets
of health management, must be fully incorporated into the
- The Search For Meaning Is Inborn: The human brain tries
to make sense of our everyday experiences. This is in its
nature, and we cannot stop it at all. Therefore, in our classes
we need to exicite our learners, and arouse their curiosity.
Our learners need to discover information themselves. In this
way, they will be challenged.
- The Search For Meaning Occurs Through Patterning: Patterning
refers to the meaningful organization and categorization of
information. The brain is designed to perceive and generate
patterns. "Meaningless" patterns are isolated pieces
of information. Learners are patterning, or perceiving and
creating meanings all the time. We can influence the direction.The
information should be organized in a way that allows brains
to extract patterns.
- Emotions Are Critical To Patterning: What we learn is influenced
and organized by emotions. Emotions are crucial to memory
because they facilitate the storage and recall of information.
The emotional climate in the school and classroom must be
monitored on a consistent basis. The environment needs to
be supportive and marked by mutual respect.
- The Brain Processes Parts And Wholes Simultaneously: There
are significant differences between left and right hemispheres
of the brain. However, the two hemispheres are interactive.
- Learning Involves Both Focused Attention And Peripheral
Perception: The brain absorbs information of which it is directly
aware and to which it is paying attention. This means that
the brain responds to the entire sensory context in which
teaching or communication occurs.
- Learning Always Involves Conscious And Unconscious Processes:
Students need to review how and why they learned. This will
let them take charge of their own learning and they will develop
- We Have At Least Two Different Types Of Memory: A Spatial
Memory System And A Set Of Systems For Rote Learning: We have
a natural, spatial memory system that does not need rehearsal
and allows for instant memory of experiences. However, facts
and skills that are dealt with in isolation are organized
differently by the brain and need more practice and rehearsal.
We, as educators, need to know that teaching devoted to memorization
does not facilitate the transfer of learning and actually
will interfere with the development of understanding.
- We Understand And Remember Best When Facts And Skills Are
Embedded In Natural, Spatial Memory: We learn languages through
multiple interactive experiences involving vocabulary and
grammar. Our language is shaped both by internal processes
and social interactions. Therefore, success in learning a
second language will depend on using all the senses and immersing
the learner in a multitude of complex and interactive experiences.
- Learning Is Enhanced By Challenge And Inhibited By Threat:
The brain downshifts under threat, and it learns optimally
when appropriately challenged.
- Each Brain Is Unique: Systems in every individual brain
is integrated differently, which means that we need to provide
choices to attract individual brains.
pointed earlier, long-lasting language learning can only take
place when the instruction is meaningful for the learners.
Dhority & Jensen (1998) also accept that the brain is
a natural meaning-seeker and meaning maker. New information
entering through the brain stem will pass through the thalamus
to the hippocampus. Here a search is conducted for matching
information. If a connection is made, the information will
go to working memory. However, for the brain to store this
information in the long-term memory, the information needs
to be relevant and meaningful to the learner. Meaningfulness
can be achieved in contextual learning, where natural learning
environment is created.
page 2 of 5
to the articles index