Mindsets Again

Mindsets Again

By: Think Tank Team

Editor’s note: In November, the Mind, Brain, and Education Forum at the JALT 2023 conference featured five short presentations on Mindsets, in collaboration with our issue on the same topic. They have generously offered us their abstracts and PowerPoint PDFs.

Learner Mindsets & Mental Reframing

Jason Gold

PowerPoint here

This year’s JALT Conference theme was regarding learner mindsets, and many presentations discussed the benefits of having a growth mindset as well as teaching it to our students. However, a common question asked is how to do this? How can we help shift students’ fixed mindsets to be more growth-oriented? This short presentation sought to share one potential method to do this: utilizing the power of mental reframes. Drawing from research into learner mindsets as well as strategies from Stoicism and several other sources, the presenter shared several simple yet powerful mental reframes to help both teachers and their students reduce the negativity bias in their lives which feeds a fixed mindset, and instead learn to rewire their thinking and habits in a more positive way.

Growth Mindset

Marc Helgesen

PowerPoint here

The first part of this PowerPoint is a short (7-minute) video called: Growth Mindset: Don’t Tell Kids they’re Smart by Nick Standlea of “Test Prep Gurus.” This is a brief introduction to Carol Dweck’s Mindset research. In short, it says we should praise students for effort, not achievement. “Mindset” was the theme of JALT 2023. The other four slides are memes, warning of problems with a “False Growth Mindset.” The first says, “Don’t just praise effort. Link effort and achievement.” This makes an important point about encouraging a Growth Mindset in learners. The next slide says, “Don’t just say, ‘Keep trying.’ Teach Strategies.” This makes the point that, as teachers, we need to be active participants in the Growth Mindset teaching process. Real progress requires feedback. That’s the key to the next slide which urges us to give feedback and make opportunities rather than just parroting slogans. Finally, there is a slide reminding us that the teen-age brain is not fully developed. It suggests ways to discuss difficulty and the struggle to make progress.

Beliefs Make a Difference

Harumi Kimura

PowerPoint here

Reading this title, you may wonder: How do you define beliefs? What difference does it make? Here, I define beliefs as what we think something to be true and I argue that they make a difference in how we work on what we are trying to achieve. As an anxiety researcher, I investigated L2 pronunciation anxiety to explore the sources of anxiety, both long-term and immediate. Like L2 motivation, anxiety is dynamic. Learner characteristics and situational conditions both influence fluctuating anxiety levels. However, I also found, by accident, that distorted beliefs, which are engrained into learners’ minds, contributes to higher levels of anxiety. What beliefs? First, learners tend to think that accent reduction is the key to achieving comprehensible speech, when in fact appropriate sentence structure and word choice also contribute to it. Accented speech can be fully comprehensible. Second, learners put too much focus on accurate pronunciation of segmentals, when actually prosody also affects comprehensibility of speech. Learners need to work on both individual sounds and the rhythm of the language.

Along with these specific beliefs, learners also need to believe that they can improve their pronunciation, with practice and with appropriate strategy use. If they wrongly believe that once they have been speaking an L2 for some time, it’s too late to change their pronunciation, how can they continue working on it? Negative beliefs tend to hold learners back. Instead, they should nurture a growth mindset and believe that they can improve. Here comes the power of metacognition. Metacognition is the ability to think about our own thinking. A growth mindset is a choice to make. Once they have made this choice, they will perform better and do so with greater resilience; thus, they will make a difference in what they do and how they do it.

Minding your Language: What Does our Use of Expletives Reveal?

Amanda Gillis-Furutaka

PowerPoint here

I am not usually foul-mouthed but the f… word pops out of my mouth when something goes wrong. And my bilingual sons use very colourful English language in the heat of the moment when playing games online. I used to feel ashamed of myself and responsible for my sons’ use of profanity … but no longer! I have changed my way of thinking about expletives after reading Benjamin Bergen’s book What the F***: What Swearing reveals About Our Language, Our Brains, and Ourselves (2016 book version, 2018 Kindle version).

I found the answers to three burning questions in the book. First, why does the f-word burst from my mouth when I am feeling stressed or in pain? When we curse out of the blue, we produce language that is stored and processed in a different part of our brain from language we produce intentionally. While Wernicke’s area and Broca’s area are involved in the processing and production of intentional speech, automatic speech, which includes counting and reciting as well as cursing, is stored and generated in the basal ganglia. The basal ganglia are interconnected with the brain structures that process emotions and are responsible for regulating and suppressing emotional states. We share this system with other mammals, and it serves an important evolutionary function by allowing us to transmit our internal emotional state quickly and efficiently to others of our species.

My next question was can and should I try to suppress my swearing aloud? Experiments using the Stroop effect have shown that we can and do monitor our language to avoid saying something embarrassing in a social situation. However, research has also shown that cursing can alleviate anger and have a cathartic effect (p. 224) and it helps us to tolerate pain (pp. 223 – 224). So, in certain circumstances, it may be better to relax my control and allow myself to signal to others that I am in a heightened emotional state. But how about in the classroom? What would be the reaction of students if I were to utter profanities? It turns out that, in the US, students find this less shocking than a teacher eating while teaching. But we are in Japan, where people don’t curse, and so I advise caution, especially as there seems to be no research on the intersection of gender and profane language use.

And my last question was about my role in my sons’ use of English profanities. It turns out that they probably learned most of this language from their peers online rather than from their primary caretakers. However, I cannot avoid the fact that one of their caretakers was a role model to some extent.

My presentation took a light-hearted approach to this topic. There is one form of profane language that causes hurt and harm – the slurs that are used to shame and denigrate others. But this is a specific use of intentional speech and a topic for another presentation.

Neuroplasticity and Language Learning: From Error to Insight

Jason Walters

PowerPoint here

My contribution to our forum began a year or two ago when I received some especially blunt feedback from an editor on a manuscript in which I had erroneously used the term “neuroplasticity” to describe cognitive flexibility and lateral thinking. This correction prompted me to more deeply explore the reality of neuroplasticity through a series of discussions with members of the Mind, Brain, and Education SIG and through a great deal of interesting reading—during which time neuroplasticity gradually revealed itself as a subject worthy of teachers’ attention.

Neuroplasticity, the brain’s ability to undergo structural and functional changes throughout life, challenges the idea of a fixed and unchanging adult brain. In our forum, I examined some of the more surprising and relevant facts I’ve come across in my reading—the realities of lifelong, experience-driven, and use-dependent plasticity, mechanisms for recovery after injury or for sensory substitution, the brain-body connection, and how cognition and memory are “super-charged” by the synergy between multiple neural networks. Moving beyond theory, I discussed practical applications for language teachers: incorporating activities such as spaced repetition, using a variety of software applications, and delivering impactful, multisensory learning. It is important to understand how the brain’s plasticity can reshape our approach to language learning. It was a pleasure to be able to highlight this fascinating topic’s usefulness to teachers and to emphasize its transformative impact on language learning approaches.

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