Teachers face many challenges in the instructional setting. Today, professional practices lend themselves to learners who differ in many ways. Research based studies demonstrate that successful teachers who teach to diverse populations of students, identify learner characteristics and use differentiated strategies. These teachers also use other theories and research based practices to help students achieve learning targets. Student traits identified by criteria that fall in a number of categories to include culturally and linguistically assist teachers in defining instructional approaches that are most effective. Data based on student behavioral characteristics, also reflect diversities in student populations can be identified in cognitive abilities, life experiences, and learning modalities. Students cannot modify themselves to meet the standards of individual teachers. Research indicates that positive results in mixed ability classrooms come from a broad range of differentiation linked to well-defined standards. Students engaged in positive, purposeful, flexible learning environments learn more and are active participants in the learning process.
The body of knowledge that is accessible to educators is significant because of the tremendous advancements made in field of technology. Not only have data gathering processes improved, but some areas of research have expanded exponentially because of these advancements. Educators now have access to genuine, authentic data based on valid research to improve practices that directly affect student achievement. Because of this research, the old chapter assignments, class discussions, and paper pencil tests continually prove ineffective in achieving positive student outcomes and raising student achievement levels. This study will address instruction provided to English Language Learner students from four related disciplines in the body of educational research:
This study in no way represents an exhaustive body of work regarding student achievement. Research involving student academic growth is ongoing, immense and most likely immeasurable in totality. However, this study will attempt to draw correlations between the four fields of study to bring to a conclusion that all students from very broad and diverse population will experience growth and achievement when certain conditions exist in the instructional process. Brain-based research as it relates to differentiating instruction, cooperative learning, and multiple intelligences, provide practical methods of teaching that addresses the many needs of a diverse population of students. In regards to instruction of ELL students, teachers who adopt brain-friendly instructional strategies, approach teaching second language learners with non-traditional practices. Portions of the brain, which might have typically remained untapped, become activated with the use of structures.
Contributions and Implications of Brain Research for ELL Instruction
Developing an understanding of the brain and how it can function on many levels, increases possibilities for teachers to utilize instructional approaches that engage the brain. Brain research makes it possible for the classroom teacher to provide the kind of stimuli that activates the complex system illustrated in the networks of the human brain. Jensen created the following guiding principles to develop instructional approaches using brain-based learning:
To increase memory functions increase frequency, intensity and the opportunity to practice.
Adaptation of the content may be required to motivate and hold the attention of the learner.
To learn content, the learner must find meaning within the context of the concept.
The brain utilizes prior knowledge to organize and find use for new information.
The brain uses signaling processes that influence one's physical and emotional state. Signals influence both memory and learning.
Planning and developing effective lessons and activities must show preference for challenging the brain and not numbing it. Non-participation is an example of such a strong signal that requires immediate attention. Each brain functions differently. Brain compatible instruction stimulates thought processes and activates brain functions in all learners. Using brain-based learning principles eliminate random acts as a means to achieve student growth. These principles shift the instructional focus from moving students through a set of activities to a design focused on individual student outcomes. The goal then becomes student engagement with collectible data generated by the experience to examine. Data collection may be used by the teacher and students as feedback to further the teaching-learning experience and meeting instructional goals.
The social implications of brain- based learning underscore the social aspects and benefits to learners as they access prior knowledge, build background and manipulate new knowledge. Brain friendly learning provides opportunities for students to collaborate and share information between peers. Students are encouraged to give feedback and participate in oral activities such as think-alouds to explore and share their own personal thoughts and ideas. Socially, students in this richly engaging environment are empowered by their participation in these interactive learning events. As students socially engage, learning becomes a motivator. While the ELL student positively engages in productive, meaningful, learning activities, learning of new concepts, transfer of prior knowledge and acquisition of new language develops from this non-traditional setting.
The Impact of Differentiating in ELL Instruction
A growing body of research reveals that there is a higher success rate for students in mixed ability classrooms where the use differentiation as an approach maximizes student growth and achievement. According to the Tomlinson (1999) research, teachers who develop classroom practices around these guiding principles create a teaching model of a classroom that fosters and nurtures student learning. Tomlinson's (1999) research proposes that:
The instructional focus on content is essential.
Learning styles, student engagement, and prior knowledge reflect teacher response to student needs.
Appropriate grouping of students provides a thriving social environment for learning.
Formative assessment, reflection, content adjustment, process and summative assessment play a significant role in the inner processes of the learning environment
Tomlinson's (1999) work advocates that high quality curriculum contribute to coherent instruction. Linking quality curriculum and quality instruction developed with differentiation indicate that learning opportunities provide maximum returns for all students. The English Language Learner has greater potential in individualized learning experiences designed around cognitive oriented approaches.
When teachers incorporate differentiated instructional practices, multiple learning pathways facilitate the acquisition of new knowledge and new experiences. Students of varying abilities, skills, and talents become the central subject matter when planning, designing, and organizing instruction. Differentiation provides opportunities to share, discuss, and collaborate within a lesson. These methods provide a dimension for the English Language Learner to acquire language well beyond what would have been achieved through sit and get, skill and drill activities.
Brain Based Research that Supports Cooperative Learning in ELL Instruction
Cooperative Learning provides a substantial mechanism that provides opportunities for reading, writing, listening and speaking. The Cooperative Learning environment is an opportunity to create a brain-stimulating classroom by using various types of stimuli. Examples of these activities would incorporate:
Hands on projects
Cooperative learning is a teaching arrangement that engages learners in heterogeneous groups to work together on common learning targets. Kagan offers these basic tenets of operation:
Students are held accountable for their work and mastery of skills and concepts.
Members of the learning groups share responsibilities as well as input.
Interaction occurs that lead to high levels of communication and vocabulary building.
Kagan's work reflects 61 out of 67 studies reported significantly greater levels of achievement using cooperative learning groups than those using traditional teaching methods. These subjects were reflected in a variety of grade levels of varied socio-economic backgrounds and a variety of geographical locations. Cooperative learning structures provide a rich meaningful learning environment for the second language learner. Simultaneously, ELL students may acquire new skills and concepts while finding the repetition, redundancy and practice needed to acquire new language in this highly social atmosphere.
Developing Cognitive Processes for ELL Instruction Using Multiple Intelligences
Multiple Intelligences is a powerful network of research making a significant contribution for developing cognitive processes. Research reveals that teachers who design procedures and processes utilizing the multiple intelligences optimize learning for the students. With appropriate design, teachers can transform a visual task into a verbal task, or transform a kinesthetic task to a visual task. The purpose of this process ensures that student preferences are used to engage student in positive learning activities. Affective filters generate the negative impact on student behavior that may cause a student to mentally abstain from participation. Lombardi views key elements in the development of cognitive processes using the multiple intelligences with these basic thoughts:
Learning is developmental
How information is organized and stored is greatly dependent upon how information gets organized and stored
Developing activities by organizing them into meaningful parts allows students to put their thoughts and ideas into context
The search for meaning appears in patterns, parts and wholes, using both conscious and unconscious processes. Understanding each brain is unique makes it imperative to know every student is learning preference. Teachers who are willing to assess students to reveal individual student learning style is typically engaging students in a wide variety of instructional processes. The benefit is to the English Language Learner student while learning concepts and engaging in stages of language transfer. In general, incorporating the multiple intelligences doe not take away from content. Harnessing and applying multiple intelligences in classroom instruction plays an integral role when developing strategies and incorporating them into instructional practices.
When students learn something new, the brain builds neuro-pathways. Brain-based research supports the teacher practitioner in understanding the relevance of creating classrooms that accommodate teaching as a practice geared to teach different kinds of brains at every grade level in every school. As levels of diversity increase and vary across disciplines and grade levels, schools are faced with issues that are impossible to address using the same traditional approaches that have been used since the beginning of public education, as we know it today. With the help of research that articulates to educators more about how students learn, teaching as a practice takes on new meaning and purpose. For the second language student, research based instructional methods means growth and learning with level appropriateness and language acquisition.
Nunley's (2003) research contributes several key points in the consideration of language acquisition for ELL students:
Neuro- pathways reside in the brain.
Each individual is born with between 100 to 200 billion neurons.
Scientists are still debating on whether or not neurons continue to grow as we age.
Dendrites are branches that grow from the neurons for the span of our lifetime.
Dendrites are a physical response to new learning where new pathways are established.
Students who are highly motivated and excited in the learning environment grow 30,000 dendrites per second.
Students who are highly excited by learning grow new dendrites each time they learn something new or have a new experience.
Nunley's (2003) research has far-reaching effects for the mainstream classroom. This data indicates positive effects not only for the ELL student, but also for students in their primary language. The message is a resounding, recurring theme. Knowing how the brain works will significantly affect decision making while facilitating learning that affects a diverse population of student learners.
Research indicates there is much to gain to improve teaching and learning utilizing applications from brain-based learning. What we learn from brain-based research can influence student growth and achievement for English Language Learners, well beyond what we have already seen in classrooms. Further studies will give us greater insight regarding how students learn and the effects of best practices in the classroom for all learners. Research based instructional strategies will provide substantial opportunities to bring instructional practices into the 21st century and allow scientific approaches to play a significant role in how we teach the English Language Learner. Research indicates these highly effective basic practices:
Feedback from a highly socialized setting of peers is better than from the authority figure.
Real life situations are best for authentic learning.
Classrooms should be highly customized environments.
Teachers must immerse students in a complex interactive setting.
Teachers must seek to provide students with a language rich environment and take advantage of the brain's ability to process in direct ways.
Challenges for students must be meaningful and with purpose.
Intensive analysis by students is important for learning to take place.