Sunday, January 27, 2013

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?
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