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Brain Plasticity The human brain is amazing. With the right kinds of experiences and sustained engagement we can learn to do wonderful things. Other kinds.

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Presentation on theme: "Brain Plasticity The human brain is amazing. With the right kinds of experiences and sustained engagement we can learn to do wonderful things. Other kinds."— Presentation transcript:

1 Brain Plasticity The human brain is amazing. With the right kinds of experiences and sustained engagement we can learn to do wonderful things. Other kinds of experiences—like those that lead us to feel afraid of looking stupid in front of our peers—can result in our brain actually shutting down its best learning centers. What is one of your greatest learning experiences? What factors contributed to your success?

2 As teachers, we want to help each student make the most of their brain. Doing so will require each of us to learn a lot more than we presently know and continue to do so throughout the course of our lives. Every day neuroscientists, teachers, and others are discovering new ways to facilitate learning. It’s an exciting time to be alive and involved in helping learners to succeed. We welcome you to this adventure and hope to learn a great deal from you as we become a community of learners seeking to become more effective designers of learning experiences!

3 Case Study: Tim Doner Tim Doner had the opportunity to study French from the third grade on and began Latin in the seventh grade. But he was not particularly good at language learning. It was like any other school subject. He just did his homework. Neither of his parents were bilingual and he wasn’t exposed to other significant bilingual role models. Language learning didn’t excite him. At age twelve Tim had some experiences outside of school that resulted in his beginning to experience language learning in new ways. At fourteen he enrolled in BYU’s 2010 Arabic STARTALK camp. He was not a particularly outstanding language learner, except in one thing: He enjoyed performing for his fellow students. Here is a routine he practiced and practiced and recorded toward the end of the camp:

4 Case Study: Tim Doner During the camp Tim was particularly impressed by two people: an Arab T.A. who spoke English very well and one of his teachers (a native speaker of English). Both tutor and teacher spoke three languages well. These camp experiences were the catalyst that launched Tim on a passionate language- learning journey. In spite of a demanding academic-year schedule, over the last three years he has made significant progress in learning 20+ languages, some of them quite well, as you can see here: Note: Tim has worked mostly with tutors and on his own in pushing on with Arabic. He’s never been to the Middle East. What lessons can you learn from Tim about fully engaging and acquiring significant ability in Arabic?

5 DNA or a Learned Skill? Many teachers and students fail to see important lessons we can learn from Tim, because they dismiss him as an exception. They are convinced that he was born with a rare gift for learning languages after puberty. Our experience with Tim and a recent interview we did with him suggest that his success is actually the result of: 1) intense focus; 2) lots of hard work acquiring basics and practicing tasks relevant to his interests; 3) finding joy in the journey. As a result of these factors, Tim has become a very talented language learner. Over the years we have witnessed how some learners—even one who seemed to have almost no natural talent for language learning, who was one of the worst in his classes in the beginning—turned into some of the best learners we know. Now please read at least the first half of this article on mindset: potential/ What implications do you see from highly successful learners like Tim for helping other learners succeed in learning Arabic?

6 Implications of Brain Plasticity for Learners and Teachers of Arabic Our understanding of how the brain works has changed a great deal in the last two decades. New tools now allow us to look much more closely at what is going on in the brain. These insights are making it possible to help people in ways we never imagined, including some who have experienced massive strokes. We now know that our brains are able to change, to adapt, to learn new skills to a far greater degree than we previously believed possible. Watch this brief video summarizing research on brain plasticity and note the far-reaching implications for language learning (don’t get bogged down in the physiology, just look for useful insights to help you better understand how to help your students): From what you’ve learned about mindset and brain plasticity so far, what are some specific things you feel that you could do as a teacher of Arabic to help your students make more of their brain power?

7 The better we are at designing a learning experience that captures students’ attention and motivates them to practice a lot the more likely it is that significant learning will be the result. Consider the following example and as you do please note in particular how the teacher has constructed the experience to get and keep students' attention and keep them practicing: CCBFFAC1 What have you learned? How will you use this in the future? High quality language programs provide learning experiences that light a fire in students and show them how to effectively and efficiently move forward in their quest for acquiring skill in using Arabic. As we have seen, students can also do this for themselves. Think about examples of programs you have seen provide this type of significant learning experience (Arabic, French, Math, Economics…)?

8 Case Study: Belal Joundeya On March 8 Belal Joundeya, one of our former teacher trainees who now teaches in BYU STARTALK camps, presented at NECTFL to a standing-room-only crowd ( He and his students are a stunning success story. He showed video of classroom activities he does with children K-8. This is one teacher who has taken his training to heart and is excelling at creating student-centered learning experiences.

9 Case Study: Belal Joundeya When asked what influences were most important in his transformation as a teacher he named two: 1) our webinar held on June 22nd, 2011: “Student Anxiety and Motivation during Intensive Language Study Abroad,” led by clinical psychologist and author Dr. Madeline Ehrman who recently retired after 35 years at the Foreign Service Institute’s School of Language Studies where she was Director of Research Evaluation & Development. The webinar focuses on sources and symptoms of student anxiety during study abroad and tools for program directors, teachers and mentors to assist them in becoming effective self-regulating learners. 2) Kirk Belnap discussing the following quote and its implications with STARTALK teacher trainees: “We won’t meet the needs for more and better higher education until professors become designers of learning experiences and not [just] teachers.” (Spence, 2001, quoted in Fink, 2003).

10 The idea of designing significant learning experiences that help students to fully engage, to pay rapt attention has transformed Belal’s practice. Recently he called us to excitedly report on his students' STAMP test scores. They went from Novice Mid to Intermediate Mid during the 2012/13 academic year. He said it was a result of his giving them “can do” statements, regularly reviewing progress with them, and seeing them catch fire and really push themselves. Watch this conversation he led recently with these high school students who have studied Arabic for four, five and six years (most of their progress has come in the last year as they’ve caught the vision of short- term goal setting):“can do” statements Case Study: Belal Joundeya Reflecting on these results, what do you feel you could do to help your students more rigorously and more effectively pursue acquiring real proficiency in using Arabic?

11 Case Study: Ryan Gregg

12 When we interviewed Ryan in Jerusalem in 2011 he was a volunteer at Shevet Achim, an NGO that brings in children with congenital heart defects from around the Middle East in order to receive life-saving medical treatment otherwise unavailable to them. Ryan’s responsibilities at that time included giving tours of the historic building in Hebrew Shevet Achim (Ryan giving tour in English).Ryan giving tour in English

13 Case Study: Ryan Gregg He is now an accomplished language learner, but this is a recent development. He found little success or interest in studying Spanish in high school, but a trip to Israel when he was 18 aroused his curiosity and learning Hebrew eventually became a passion. The path to proficiency in Hebrew, however, was anything but smooth. At first he was doubtful of his ability to learn even the alphabet, but he found joy in the journey, pushed through some hard times, learned how to learn a language, and went on to become one of Hebrew University’s star students.

14 Case Study: Ryan Gregg Ryan’s drive to learn Hebrew has resulted in him developing strategies at various stages that have helped him learn the language both in connection with organized classes and on his own. He always carries a notebook with him and records new words that he later studies. Recognizing that he was too dependent on seeing Hebrew written, he has worked to strengthen his ability to understand and make connections through listening to Hebrew both in the news and conversations, as well as in poetry readings. He has learned to embrace that fact that he will occasionally make embarrassing mistakes and use such experiences as a tool for pushing forward in acquiring fluency in Hebrew. Listen to him speak for himself: You’ll find more at:

15 To understand better why these students may have made more progress than is typical for students at this stage of study, read Kirk Belnap’s “Towards Deep Learning,” the final article in the February 2011 AATA newsletter.February 2011 AATA newsletter What brain plasticity insights help to explain the greater progress students make in content courses?

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