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A Message to Teachers from Me with Asperger’s By: Jun Kuwabara Share on facebook Share on twitter Share on linkedin (2021 Editor’s note: After graduation, we kept in touch with
My interest in Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) started with two books I read last year which had a big impact on me. They made me start questioning some of the ideas I’d gained during my teacher training. Both books were about how students learn in the classroom, one by Chall (2000) and the other by Hattie and Yates (2013). Both attested to benefits of explicit teacher-led instruction over inquiry-based or student-led learning. Hattie and Yates’ book also includes chapters on CLT and on the acquisition of expertise. All three areas were clearly closely linked and together challenged two underlying principles behind a lot of my lesson planning: maximise student talk-time, minimise teacher talk-time, and encourage students to be creative in making real meanings rather than practicing discrete aspects of language. Given the shock these two books gave to my system, I clearly had to learn more about these ideas. So, I started reading journal papers about CLT and the strengths of explicit instruction over inquiry-based learning, all the time trying to keep in mind how they might relate to foreign language learning.
Being a Canadian English language educator in a university in Japan, I sometimes ask my students what they think about learning a second language and, in particular, when they think language learning should begin. Over the years, these young adults (most of whom are 18-20 year old Japanese university students learning English as a foreign language (EFL) have told me several reasons for and against learning a second or additional language and, if they were in favor, the age at which they believed learning should begin. As one might expect, these sentiments often reflected learners’ anticipation of their own final grade in their EFL class. If they anticipated high scores, their ideas generally supported developing bilingualism and, often, starting early; while, if they worried that their EFL class scores might negatively impact their overall grade average, they preferred a late start. Indeed, some were skeptical about the need to study a foreign language at all. Out of curiosity, I asked them why they felt as they did.
What does neuroscience add to our understanding of culture and cross-cultural encounters? I was thinking about this as I listened to Sheena Iyengar’s vignette in the lead-in video illustrating an East-West cultural difference: A Western restaurant customer in Japan (Iyengar herself) wants her green tea served with sugar. The staff does not want to serve green tea adulterated with sugar; it isn’t done. A classic culture clash.
“You can listen to the dead with your eyes because you can read what they wrote two thousand years ago” (Dehaene, “How the Brain Learns to Read,” our DEEP lead-in video).
How can we listen with our eyes? Why do we often hear letters and words in our head when we see them on a page? And why is learning to read more difficult for the hard of hearing (Booth, 2019)? In his talk in our DEEP lead-in video, Dehaene explains that sound perception is a crucial factor in constructing the meaning of written languages. He uses scanned images of the brain to show how spoken and written language are closely connected because the same areas of the brain are used for processing both. But what is the underlying system within the brain that controls these processes, and how does this enable us to learn to read?
Here’s a scene from a classroom. It’s a language class where the students are learning to communicate in English. The teacher explains to the students their next task—to interview a classmate and then make a presentation introducing their partner. First, though, they must create their interview questions. The teacher instructs the students to write at least five questions and emphasizes that they should practice the grammar points from the unit. As the students work individually on writing their questions, the teacher walks around the room and monitors their progress. The teacher notices that one student, let’s call her Amy, hasn’t written any questions; instead, Amy is chatting in her native language with her neighbor (who has written a couple of questions down) about the concert she saw over the weekend. The teacher comes up to Amy and asks “Amy, where are your questions?” To which Amy replies “What questions?”