Here in Victoria, BC – we are well into the fourth week of the “new normal.” How are you doing? As for us, we have been ensconced in our “lock-down,” busy planning and preparing a new way to present our dynamic TESOL methodology program in a virtual classroom setting with live instruction. April 20th will see the exciting debut of our virtual TESOL course on this new platform. We have a full class and we can’t wait to begin.
Wikipedia defines Perpetual Motion as, “the motion of bodies that continues forever.” Despite years of effort, no one has invented a perpetual motion machine because, “it should theoretically work indefinitely without an energy source which is impossible, as it would violate the first or second law of thermodynamics.” Still, when we consider our wonderous brain, we cannot help but see evidence of Perpetual Motion in its design. In fact, while our bodies
need deep sleep and periods of complete non-activity, our brains, even while we sleep, never rest. Medina explains that “the brain is in a constant state of tension between cells and chemicals that try to put you to sleep and cells and chemicals that try to keep you awake.”
Over the decades, much research has gone into analyzing the brain’s activity as it relates to learning. Scientists, after placing electrodes near individual neurons in the brains of rats, have been able to eavesdrop (something like a CIA wiretap) the individual chatter of neurons as the subject was taught new information. For example, a rat was introduced to a new maze which it had to navigate through. Medina relates, “If you listen in while the rat is acquiring new information, like learning to navigate a maze, you soon will detect something extraordinary. A very discrete “maze-specific” pattern of electrical stimulation begins to emerge. Working something like the old Morse code, a series of neurons begin to crackle in a specifically timed sequence during the learning. Afterward, the rat will always fire off that pattern whenever it travels through the maze. It appears to be an electrical representation of the rat’s new maze-navigating thought patterns. When the rat goes to sleep, it begins to replay the maze-pattern sequence. The animal’s brain replays what it learned while it slumbers. Always executing the pattern in a specific stage of sleep, the rat repeats it over and over again—and much faster than during the day. The rate is so furious, the sequence is replayed thousands of times. If someone were to wake up the rat during this stage, called slow-wave sleep, something equally extraordinary is observed. The rat has trouble remembering the maze the next day. Quite literally, the rat seems to be consolidating the day’s learning the night after that learning occurred, and an interruption of that sleep disrupts the learning cycle.”
This reality has profound implications for our efforts to teach or learn a new language. Medina explains that “loss of sleep hurts attention, executive function, working memory, mood, quantitative skills, logical reasoning, and even motor dexterity.” Thus, your student’s sleep patterns have a direct bearing on how fast they learn and how well they retain your teaching.
The 30+ methods we teach in our seminar have proven to accelerate language learning. But, is there a way to further reinforce that learning experience? The answer according to Medina is, “Yes, if you allow them to sleep on it.” Medina relates an experiment where “students were given a series of math problems and prepped with a method to solve them. The students weren’t told there was also an easier, shortcut way to solve the problems, potentially discoverable while doing the exercise. If you let 12 hours pass after the initial training and ask the students to do more problems, about 20 percent will have discovered the shortcut. But, if in that 12 hours you also allow eight or so hours of regular sleep, that figure triples to about 60 percent. No matter how many times the experiment is run, the sleep group consistently outperforms the non-sleep group about 3 to 1.” Indeed, there are mountains of scientific evidence proving that sleep is critical to learning and creativity. Think of the many discoveries and world-renowned accomplishments, from Mendeleyev’s “Periodic Table of Elements” to Paul McCartney’s “Yellow Submarine”, that were conceptualized immediately after waking up from a good sleep. In summary, encourage your students to always get their sleep. Just think of the amazing results you can achieve when you combine well-rested students and the 30 dynamic teaching methods that you learned from the Pure Language Institute!
Technique of the Month – The Army Method
The Army Method improves articulation, pronunciation memory and usage. This method of teaching language correctly emphasizes student-centric responses, particularly when substitutions and improvisations in the dialogue are elicited.
Example: Teacher: There’s a cup on the table … repeat
Students: There’s a cup on the table
Teacher: Spoon Students: There’s a spoon on the table Teacher: Book
Students: There’s a book on the table Teacher: On the chair
Students: There’s a book on the chair
However, what takes The Army Method to the next level in neuro-programming is the constant doses of the learning super-chemical norepinephrine bathing the student’s brain. This naturally occurring chemical is an essential modulator of memory through its ability to regulate synaptic mechanisms. The element of surprise and total non-predictability that you, as a teaching “whirling dervish,” add to the method, boosts the production of norepinephrine. When your students are kept on the edge of their seats by the combination of teacher antics (dancing, spinning) and non-predictable, seemingly random choosing of students to practice what they are learning, positive learning-friendly emotions are fostered. Stimulated emotions lead to their activation of the locus coeruleus, with the subsequent release of norepinephrine in the brain- resulting in the enhancement of memory.
Events, when associated with strong emotion, almost instantly result in long-term memories! For example, what comes instantly to mind when you read the following list of unrelated, seemingly mundane things:
… a motorbike? …moonlight? …walking your bike? … a speeding train? …a Banana?
Did you “see” just a visual image? Or did your mind take you back to a specific memory involving one or more of these things? For me personally, these five unrelated things are intrinsically linked with very vivid experiences in my life. (Don’t worry, I wouldn’t dream of boring you with the details.) The point is, I don’t think of just any motorbike, rather, I quickly recall a specific experience and emotion that I had with a particular motorbike. An event, which I will probably always immediately associate with the word, “motorbike.” Likewise, the spontaneity, positive emotions, and norepinephrine that you, as a teacher strive to evoke while teaching new vocabulary with this method, will help the students maintain optimal brain chemistry for learning.