Kick off 2017 with 16 EVO Courses for FREE!

“A man can do no more than he can.”

I totally disagree with this proverb. If I do not have something, it is me who truly feels how much I need it. I do not talk about feelings only, but knowledge and skills as well. As a teacher, I am not always good at teaching all areas of English language. When I recognize my disability or lack, I work hard to improve that and prove to myself that I can do it.


Kick off 2015 with 13 EVO Courses for FREE! you thought of updating your expertise and knowledge as an EFL or ESL teacher to start your new year 2015 differently? Are you looking for FREE opportunities to develop yourself professionally? Do you like to meet some new colleagues with different perspectives for teaching? Do you need some new web tools to spice up your classrooms and increase motivation to learn among your students?

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18 EVO Professional Development Sessions to Start 2014

EVO 2104

Retrieved Jan. 2, 2014

This is my fourth Electronic Village Online (EVO) session that I participate in. As an EFL teacher, I always search for such opportunities for professional development. It doesn’t only help me to know more recent trends in teaching English and update my expertise, but it also connects me to a lot of educators and teachers from all the corners of the globe. In this crazy digital age, the emphasis is shifted from “how” and “what” to learn towards the question of “where to learn.” “Where” is the buzz word of the 21st century. In other words, “the pipe is more important than the content within the pipe” (Siemens, 2004). This means that the network itself is the basis and core of the learning processes. Once learners connect to a network, they share and find new information, change what they think according to what they learned, and then connect to the network again to share their insights and experiences. In this way, learning is a knowledge creation process rather than just knowledge consumption (Kop and Hill, 2008).

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Different but not Less

Retrieved Feb. 10, 2013 from here

Task 3 in the Neuroscience in Education session caught all my attention this week (4th). This is the first time to hear about Temple Grandin. Googling this name, I found her an autistic scientist, professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University, designer of livestock handling facilities, consultant to the livestock industry on animal behavior, inventor of the “squeeze machine,” a system which tightly hugs people to relieve stress, bestselling author, speaker and more. Although she is an autistic person, she found her way to excel and innovate using her gifts and special visual thinking skills. The questions that come to my mind while reading about her are “Who is behind her success? Who pushed her to do all these things? What kind of motivation she has; inner or something comes from outside?”

Many things have become clear after watching the video segment above.Thanks so much to the Neuroscience team for selecting these scenes and adding the subtitles.These touching scenes encouraged me to search for the whole movie to find out the whole story of this great woman.If you are interested, please click here to download it. 

Here is what I have found:
Role of the Parents:
Temple’s mother refused to believe that her girl wouldn’t speak. She ignored doctors’ recommendations to have her institutionalized as a response to her delayed development. She did her best to teach her. And above all, she managed to instil in her girl that she was different but not less. Temple’s mother played a very important role in her entire life. She kept pushing her all the time to make use of her different way of thinking. Just imagine for a moment the situation if this mother gave up and sent her baby to an institution
Role of the Teachers:
We are not just teachers. We have to play all the roles to find out our students’ abilities and gifts. The science teacher (Dr. Carlock) who encouraged Temple to go a head is a great model to follow. He looked at his student from the bright side. He tried to find her strength and reinforced it by providing her challenges that can match her visual thinking. He also guided and taught her how to decide, to choose, to open new doors and to build self-confidence in herself. This teacher successfully managed to reach this student.  
Role of the Self:The role of parents and teachers is of paramount importance for every student. However, unless a student is intrinsically motivated, he/she can’t succeed. It is the inner power of Temple that made her a great success. She wanted to prove her excellence and creativity not by words but through deeds. She even created her own ways to adapt with the new people she meets or situations she faces.The “squeeze machine” is an example to relieve her stress. Her inner voice is another great tool she used to encourage herself to achieve more and new goals. I think that she succeeded to know herself well.

To sum up, 

Retrieved Feb. 10, 2013 from here

Every student is unique. They can be creative in a number of ways. Being a handicap in some areas doesn’t mean that they have nothing at all. As teachers, it is our job to help parents find their children’s special gifts and make use of them. I know that it is so difficult to do this job in a class of 60 students. However, technology now provides a lot of tools that help us to analyze students and their capabilities easily. Creating a Facebook group or an Edmodo class that allows students to talk to their teachers can be a starting point for discovering what they have. Spending some time with students and listening to them will make it easy to know how their brains work and how they think. It is not a practical way to ask teachers to find a special approach for each student in the class. I just want teachers to teach their students to be more strategic, to find their own way to store and process information, to create products using tools that match their way of thinking and so forth. In short, teachers open the door, but students must enter by themselves” as the proverb says.

More about Temple Grandin:

  1. Dr. Temple Grandin – Bio – A Growing Culture  
  2. Temple Grandin: Biography
  3. Temple Grandin Quotes – BrainyQuote

Anita’s Story and Memory

The third week of Neuroscience in Education session was about attention and memory. We first watched two interesting videos showing how our attention works when we expose to many stimuli at the same time. 

Part 1
Part 2
You can feel the limitation of attention in your everyday life situations. Sometimes, you can’t hear somebody talking to you or can’t see something that is in front of you. This is simply because you direct your attention to just one piece or slice of something. According to Zull (2002: 75), “different sensory signals physically compete for attention in the brain, and those that are the strongest win out. As teachers, we face such physical battle. A lot of things may happen in the class and students can be easily distracted unless you have an ability to make them more engaged and involved into your activities. Here are some of my strategies that help me a lot to make my students more focused and attentive:
    1. Time Restriction: I always provide my students with time-restricted activities. The more the time is limited, the more the students’ attention increases trying to accomplish them quickly.
    2. Varying Speech Tone and Intonation: Talking with the same intonation or tone will lead to boredom and then students will look around to find something else that may catch their attention. My voice plays a very great role in my classes.One of its effective uses is to attract the attention of those students whose eyes and minds are not in the class. 
    3. Multi-Tasking: Among the rules we set at the beginning of the semester is to be multi-taskers. I ask them to do 2 or 3 things at the same time. Maybe you disagree with me in this point. However, I tried it and worked well with my high school students. For example, in the listening lesson, I first ask them to listen to the text, find some new words and then tell me the whole idea. When teaching novels, I ask them to read a paragraph or two, find difficult words, make questions and ready to read and translate. If you enter my class, you will find them like bees. 
    4. Gamifying the lessons: Gamification doesn’t mean playing games. It is applying some features of games to the learning and teaching settings, e.g., points, hall of fame, progress bar, happy and sad faces, badges, most active group or member … etc. These features add some sort of competition in the lesson. All students work hard to be the best.  
    5. Linking the lessons to Students’ Lives: I always encourage students to give me examples from their everyday lives. When students find a connection between what they learn and what they face in their everyday lives, they get involved and become more intrinsically motivated. 
    6. Using all Students’ Senses: My students are always busy listening to my instructions, taking notes, looking at the board when drawing some diagrams to clarify my speech, following my gestures and body language … etc. Using more than one sense will capture students’ attention and encourage them to be more attentive.
    7. To know more strategies, please watch the video below:

The second topic of this week was about memory. In psychology, memory is a process by which information is encoded, stored, and retrieved. Encoding allows information that is from the outside world to reach our senses in the forms of chemical and physical stimuli. In this first stage we must change the information so that we may put the memory into the encoding process. Storage is the second memory stage or process. This entails that we maintain information over periods of time. Finally the third process is the retrieval of information that we have stored. We must locate it and return it to our consciousness (See more here).  The possible problem that can arise in this area is the failure to recall some information when needed. Going back to Zull’s book to see some solutions to this problem, I found Zull tell another story about his student “Anita.” Please, take a couple of minutes reading this story to be ready for the discussion below.

In my EFL classes, I have a lot of Anitas. They just remember information for testing. They memorize every bit of word I say to be ready for what comes in the exam. Those students memorize in order to learn, not to learn so they can remember as Zull (2002) pointed out. Really, this is not the problem of students. It‘s the way of teaching that teachers follow. They don’t provide students with opportunities to build their knowledge by themselves. They keep talking and talking all the time pouring all the information they know in their poor students’ minds. Creating an environment where students can discuss, think critically and creatively will help them to be more flexible and try to understand what they learn. Once they find a value for what they do, they will store it in the long-term memory and recall it easily.This process is not an easy job. It needs more training and teaching. What students expect from teachers is not just new information, but also new strategies that help them learn better and remember for a long time. 
To enhance students‘ memory capacity, Darek Prochaska provides us with some strategies in his video below. Among them are repetition, relating information already students understand, avoiding distractions, and exercising. For me, I ask students to take notes, use colors, create concepts maps, find pros and cons, and many more thing according to the topic being discussed. In this age of information explosion, students don’t need to memorize, they need to be be more strategic
To find more strategies to enhance students’ memory, please check the following websites:
  1. Strategies to improve memory and retention, e.g., writing down, singing, linking, grouping, categorizing, using colors … etc.
  2. Strategies to enhance memory based on brain research, e.g., cues or signals, use of contrast, creating emotion, establishing purpose for learning, and organizing for learning.
  3. Brain-friendly teaching: Strategies to improve memory, e.g., storytelling, humor, games … etc.
I still feel excited to know more about our brains and how they work. I enjoyed a lot learning about neuroscience research and results through the past 3 weeks. I’m expecting more brain-based activities and some practical procedures in the coming 2 weeks.

Do you have Tonys in your Classes?

I started week 2 of the Neuroscience EVO 2013 session by watching the video of Tony. First, I would like to thank Mary Hillis for her narration to the story and Cleide Frazão for drawing these amazing images. This story is taken from a book by James E. Zull titled “The Art of Changing the Brain“. Let’s watch this video or read the excerpt below and then discuss what is behind Tony’s problem.

To go in depth, I chose to explore more about Emotion and Learning to explain why Tony behaves in this way. Fortunately, I found a free copy of Zull’s book online. I liked his personal and exemplified style of writing. By the end of chapter 4, Zull discussed all about Tony’s problem. He talked about the role of amygdala (To know more about this part of our brain, please read this article) and how Tony regained his brain balance.

This analysis seems convincing to me because this session helps me to know more about how our students’ brains work. However, imagine that other teachers have Tony in their classrooms. Do they interpret this situation the same way? I think that not all the teachers know about Neuroscience field, but at least they have some experiences with such situations. They can feel there is a struggle through the body language of Tony as Zull described “Every part of his body said, “I don’t care!”. I admit that each semester I meet some of students like Tony. Their facial expressions and postures say that we don’t care about the English course. I don’t know what is going on in their brains and I don’t even spend more time struggling with them. All what I do is asking them to talk about their past experiences with the English subject and writing about their expectations with me. It is the story of Tony from his own point of view as Patricia said in her comment. Trying to know students’ goals solves part of the problem and reading their responses helps me a lot to identify their motivation to learn. This information about my students is the first step towards finding a suitable solution. 

The second step is to motivate students and get them involved in my classes. How can I do that? You know there are TWO types of motivation; intrinsic and extrinsic. According to many researchers, intrinsic motivation helps students to learn better. I agree but this doesn’t work with my EFL students. They learn the English language just for testing. In my classes, I start with the extrinsic motivation, e.g., giving them extra points, praise, gifts … etc. I also try to involve some of the Gamification features. For example, I ask students to work in groups to solve a problem and at the end of the lesson, I announce the best group, solution or the most active members. I can also draw some smiley faces that indicate whether their answers are correct or not. I exhibit all these resources of extrinsic motivation on the whiteboard so all students have instant feedback and rewards to their behaviors. At the same time, I provide students with a  safe environment where they can make mistakes and correct themselves. Step by step, students will become a little bit intrinsically motivated and form other goals like “I want to be like a native speaker”, “I like to watch American films without looking at the subtitles”, “I want to speak English to express my ideas fluently” instead of “I want to learn English to get high marks”. This means that we can use extrinsic motivation as a starting point. Zull  (2002: 54) finds these extrinsic rewards so valuable because “they can get a learner started on something and can also sustain a learner at times of pressure and difficulty.” I just start from what students expect to see from me to what I expect to see from them at the end. 

This is what I can do if I have some Tonys in my classes. What about you? What can you do to involve them?

Resources Used:

  1. The Art of Changing the Brain by James E. Zull (2002).
  2. Where is Amygdala?

Neuromyths … True/False

Retrieved on Jan 20, 2013 from here
Educational neuroscience (also called Mind Brain and Education; MBE) is an emerging scientific field that brings together researchers in cognitive neurosciencedevelopmental cognitive neuroscienceeducational psychologyeducational technologyeducation theory and other related disciplines to explore the interactions between biological processes and education. A major goal of educational neuroscience is to bridge the gap between the two fields through a direct dialogue between researchers and educators, avoiding the “middlemen of the brain-based learning industry”. These middlemen have a vested commercial interest in the selling of “neuromyths” and their supposed remedies (See more here). 

In the first week of Neuroscience in Education EVO 2013 session, I was surprised by the number of neuromyths that we consider facts. What shocked me was that some of these neuromyths were taught to us as facts. Suddenly, all we know has become just a myth. Maybe they are myths according to the scientific researches conducted by some neuroscientists in some areas of the globe. However, there are a lot of things go on in our classrooms and those researchers don’t know anything about them. What they think of as myths, we try them in some situations and contexts and find them of a great importance. This is the inner voice of me as a teacher. Most of us don’t accept things easily. It takes a lot of time to change views and attitudes. As a researcher, this is a young field that needs more research. We have to deeply think about these new facts and try to correct our misconceptions instead of sticking to old practices. 

A list of brain facts was provided to us to decide if they are correct or incorrect. It was a trap, I guess, because they are all neuromyths that most of teachers believe in as it was shown in one of the researches conducted by Dekker et al. (2012).

Reading these statements, you will find most of them are definitely neuromyths and your mind may not accept them at all. However, the statement that is related to the learning styles attracts my attention. Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style (e.g., auditory, visual, kinesthetic). I always hear this statement from my professors and read it in articles and researches. Why is it considered a myth? First, I rejected the whole idea and even sent a very angry contribution to our wiki as a response to my readings. My voice as a researcher appeared once again and encouraged me to read the research by Dekker et al. (2012) more deeply. I noticed that there are two statements addressed the learning styles; one of them is incorrect and the other is correct (See below):
  • Individuals learn better when they receive information in their preferred learning style (e.g., auditory, visual, kinesthetic). Incorrect
  • Individual learners show preferences for the mode in which they receive information (e.g., visual, auditory, kinesthetic). Correct
The first statement means that learners have their own learning styles (e.g., auditory, visual, kinesthetic) and we as teachers have to find suitable ways to address these styles. Information should be provided to those who are visual through the use of visuals and through audio tools to those who are auditory and so forth. This is what we do believe in and try to vary our teaching styles to match these learning styles. 

The second statement means, as I understood, learners can receive information by any way; visual, auditory or  kinesthetic. There are no preferred learning styles in learners’ brains. Learners’ preference to one way and not to another is an outside process. Once information enters their brains, it passes through several processes to reach the stage of learning.

This was not the end of the story. Reading the Brain Basics summary, and watching the video of how neurons work in the human brain (See below), I recognized how complex our brain is and how amazing those neurons are when working together providing a great example of cooperation and collaboration to the humanity. A lot of things I discovered about my brain and the processes that happen when receiving and processing the information entered. If we make a connection between those facts and our practices in classrooms, we can create an optimal learning environment and atmosphere where students can learn better. 

Let’ share some examples:

  • The communication between neurons is strengthened or weakened by an individualʼs activities, such as stress … etc. This is very apparent when I ask students to do an exercise and they feel stressed or nervous. They feel stuck and can’t complete it successfully. I think that the more students feel secure or the clearer the aim of the exercise is, the better they learn because their neurons will find it easy to communicate and talk to each other.
  • Continuously challenging the brain with physical and mental activity helps maintain its structure and function. I do practice this suggestion all the time with my students without recognizing it as a brain principle. I notice that students keep interacting, discussing and producing new ideas. The more they use their brain, the more they grow mentally. This means that we have to use it otherwise we can lose it.
  • Watching the video above, I found that knowing how our brain works can inspire theorists to create theories that are based on the structure and function of this human brain. The Connectivism Theory that is developed by Siemens and Downes carries a kind of similarity. Connectedness and networking are two features that can help billions of neurons work together harmoniously.
I feel that I’m a little bit confused reading all these new things. I spent a lot of time and efforts to say and apply things that are merely myths. I think that it is time to read more to correct these false views according to a scientific base.

Resources Used:
  1. Connectivism
  2. Educational neuroscience
  3. Neuromyths in education- Prevalence and predictors of misconceptions
  4. Test Your Brain Knowledge