This paper explores several published articles that report on results from research conducted online (Internet) and offline (non-Internet) on Brain Compatible Teaching Principles (Brain Based Leaning) Multiple Intelligence Theory, Block Scheduling in high school students, and the English Language Learner. This paper shows how using all of these principles together can help improve the leaning output of students, especially the English Language learner. Brain Compatible Teaching is intrinsically explored and the relationships between Brain Compatible Teaching and Multiple intelligences are shown. Then the relationship between Block Scheduling and the ELL student is put together. Finally the research linking them all is revealed.
English Language learners or ELL students have more hurdles to jump over than the typical students, just for the simple fact that they are being expected to learn the same new concepts that everyone else is leaning, but in a language that is not their native tongue. This provides a whole different set of issues that teachers must take into account when teaching an ELL student.
Brain compatible teaching principles (Brain Based Learning) are one of the ways that teachers can help ELL students conquer those obstacles. The human brain is subdivided into seven different areas in regards to leaning. These areas are associated with obtaining, processing and storing new information. These areas are the cerebrum, cerebral cortex, frontal lobe/cortex, parietal lobe, occipital lobe, temporal lobe and the limbic system (Jensen, 1998). Evidence has shown that the value of understanding the functionality of the brain leads to a productive leaning environment. The purpose of knowing all of this is to generate an appreciation of the changes that take place during cognitive brain development so that educators may better adapt their methods to fit the needs of students.
For instance, brain based learning tells educators that the brain will reach ninety percent of its adult size by the time the child enters kindergarten. This does not mean the child will be at the cognitive level of an adult; the ninety percent is based on the actual mass of the brain and does not relate to efficiency of function (Carpenter, 1999). Functional efficiency within the brain starts between ages eight to twelve. During this time, synaptic pruning takes place. Synaptic pruning is a process, which eliminates unused synapses, (communication between brain cells) which increases the efficiency of brain function. Essentially, it's like fragmenting your computer, but done naturally in your brain. Synaptic pruning occurs throughout all of the grey matter in the brain especially throughout the cerebral cortex and the prefrontal lobe. This process occurs more rapidly in females and usually ends around age twenty-two, twenty-five for males. The reason it's so important for teachers to know this information is because for most of a student's academic life their brain is literally re-wiring itself (Carpenter, 1999). The brain's sole goal is to acquire new information and knowledge. This is another reason it is so important for educators to have an understanding of the function of the human brain in order to better understand how students behave and therefore use effective strategies, i.e., Brain Compatible Teaching.
Brain compatible teaching is shown to be successful when there is a balance between teacher's instructional strategy and the learner's contribution to the task at hand. The instructor must generate a sense of academic ownership in the students in order for students to be successful. According to Craig, other contributing factors include making the environment a state of relaxed alertness, where there is high challenge and low threat. Make sure the classroom is centered on active processing-displayed through hands on work, multisensory instruction, and continual reorganization of information. And lastly, make sure the atmosphere is conducive to a leaning community motivated and orchestrated immersion-utilizing complex true to life leaning in which emotions are engaged. Perhaps Jensen said it best:
"Educators should not run schools solely on the basis of the biology of the brain. However, to ignore what we do know about the brain would be irresponsibleâ€¦Dismissing it as faddish, premature, or opportunistic is not only short-sighted, but also dangerous to our learners."
A teacher has many roles in the classroom. They must deliver knowledge, give information, analyze information, mediate and give feedback. In addition to all of these jobs, a teacher must have the skills to incorporate strategies that include the leaning styles of all her students. It is generally believed that the most substantial instructional theory supported by brain-based learning is Howard Gardner's theories of multiple intelligences. According to Gardner, the theory of multiple intelligences is based on these ideas: "Each person has a different intellectual composition. All Intelligences are located in different areas of the brain and can either work independently or together. Education can improve by addressing the multiple intelligences of students. All human being possess nine intelligences in varying amounts" (Gardner, 1983).
Multiple intelligences can be used alongside brain based leaning. The benefits of applying the practices of multiple intelligences are that the teacher will spend more time on concepts that are interesting to the students while also exposing students to interests that they might not be aware of. Using multiple intelligences creates an environment of diversity and provides students with many ways of understanding and processing information.
Another obstacle for ELL students in high school is that they are expected to learn new things, in a different language. Brain based learning has been shown to benefit the ELL student in the block-scheduling environment. The typical block schedule has four, eighty-five minute class periods a day and they rotate on an A and B schedule. A day, periods 1,3, 5, 7 and B day is 2, 4, 6, and 8. A massive amount of research has been done to show that student learning and retention can be increased through brain based teaching principles. This can either be a good or bad thing. Students can have longer periods of more effective brain-compatible teaching, or longer periods of less effective brain antagonistic instruction. One of the great things about the block schedule is that if done right, it can make brain compatible teaching principle more easily accomplished. Marilee Sprenger stated that "experience shapes the brain," hands on experience is good for both regular and ELL students." Block scheduling makes it possible for teachers to have more hands on experience in classes. When students are able to see for themselves, such as an experiment in a science class, these experiences, according to Ms. Sprenger actually "shapes the brain."
The block schedule makes it easier for teachers to accomplish more brain-centered activities, which also is beneficial for the ELL learner. An example of this is relevance. Research shows that the brain tends to be more interested in activities where you can show real life relevance or usefulness to the student. When you have longer periods, it is important to introduce new lessons with some sort of demonstration to real life applications. This does a couple of things: the first is showing how the student will be able to use this information in the future, and can stimulate questions in the students mind that they want answered. This term for "reeling" the students in can sometimes be called "Hooking Students."
Hooking students is another brain compatible teaching technique where you generate enough interest to get the students ready to learn. This can be done in a number of ways. David Noyes suggest that students past experiences affect their performance in a classroom setting. He suggests giving background knowledge on a specific topic, which is also of great relevance to the ELL student. You are not always sure of what they know and what they do not know. There are a number of ways that you can "hook" students. Some suggestions according to Ron Fitzgerald are a short video sequence that shows dramatic real life events, skits that demonstrate effective or ineffective behavior, simulations that illustrate the practical power of some process, or any dramatic demonstration that shows that importance of a topic in real life terms.
The block schedule makes it possible to do more than one activity in a class period. Some psychologists suggest that students learn or remember the most from the beginning and end of any specific activity. This is called BEM or Beginning-end-middle principle. They suggest that teachers schedule two or more different learning activates in a longer period to reduce the less effective middle portion of the lesson. If two or more actives are planned students get more of the newness of multiple beginnings and ending, and less of the forgotten middle periods.
In my English classroom, I break up the day into three parts. The first is the DOL or bell ringer section where school business, attendance, and some sort of writing activities are accomplished. Next, we then move to vocabulary, and do some activity or review, and lastly a literary or novel portion of the class. By having lots of beginnings and ends to a class, the students are more likely to retain the information given in class that day. They also know that there is a certain structure to the class and repetition is key to the BEM principle.
Another advantage of the block schedule for the ELL learner is it makes it possible to do "pulsed learning." According to Fitzgerald, "the brain tends to learn most effectively in a pulsed sequence focused activity followed by more diffused or less concentrated activity. " This does not mean that you just cycle through different activities, but more from focused and more relaxed activities, which is the natural pattern for the brain to follow. This would not be possible in a short fifty-minute school period. The block schedule makes teachers able to plan activity where the student is challenged, then relaxes and does a less stressful activity, then goes back to being challenged, and so on. Cooperative teaming is a great activity to do in pulsed leaning, which research has shown is effective in helping ELL students speak more than they would in teacher led discussions.
According to David Noyes, cooperative teaming is a great way to differentiate instruction and help stimulate the intelligences. When students work together in teams, they can learn interpersonal skills and team responsibility, which is useful later on in life. Also many students get more excited when they know they can work together in teams and like the social interaction. This is especially true for the interpersonal intelligence learner. A great resource for planning cooperative activities is the book by James Bellanca, "The Cooperative Think Tank." In this book Bellanca gives teacher suggestions on how to use graphic organizers that encourage teamwork and higher order thinking. Most of the activates in the book would take more than the traditional fifty minute period. Therefore complex brain compatible projects take longer to accomplish and longer time periods such as those on the block schedule, make brain compatible learning more possible. Because ELL students usually do no learn the same way or the same pace as other students do. Shorter teaching periods make it harder to meet the needs of this specialized group of students. Having the longer period of time with students makes teaching and learning with brain compatible teaching possible. Following the initial instruction given to the students, on a block schedule it is then possible to go back and check for competency without giving a grade, and then re-teach in another way depending on the needs of your ELL students. Other students are also a valuable resource. They can assist in re-teaching activities in settings such as cooperative learning.
As mentioned earlier, multiple intelligence and brain based learning work together well, but it is even more important when teaching an ELL student. When a student has difficulty learning or communicating, he or she should be given the opportunity to learn in another way that is easier for them to understand. When a teacher plans to use visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and interpersonal learning options for the students they are more likely to pick up on the concept using the strength of their personal intelligence. This variety would not be possible in the traditional fifty minute leaning environment.
Multiple intelligences, brain compatible teaching, and the block schedule seem to be designed for one another. All of these concepts play a huge roll in making sure that the ELL student succeeds in the classroom environment. A lot of the activities that make learning easier for an ELL student would not be possible without the block schedule. If taught correctly, the block schedule can be a great tool to help in brain compatible teaching. According to Fitzgerald, "brain compatible activates make longer periods a joy and an opportunity rather than a chore and an imposition." All of this research shows that using brain compatible teaching methods that coincide with the multiple intelligences on a block schedule will all help to improve the output from an ELL student.