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«Section 6: Mindful Learning Table of Contents 4 Overview 5 Mindful vs. mindless learning What is mindful learning? Suggestions for the classroom 10 ...»

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Mindful Learning



ATESL Adult ESL Curriculum Framework

ATESL Adult ESL Curriculum Framework | Mindful Learning S6–2


ATESL Adult ESL Curriculum Framework | Mindful Learning S6–3


Section 6: Mindful Learning

Table of Contents

4 Overview

5 Mindful vs. mindless learning

What is mindful learning?

Suggestions for the classroom

10 Active learning

What is active learning?

Suggestions for the classroom 12 Second language learner strategies What are second language learner strategies?

Suggestions for the classroom 17 Learning styles and intelligences What are learning styles?

What are multiple intelligences?

Suggestions for the classroom 23 Conclusion 24 References ATESL Adult ESL Curriculum Framework | Mindful Learning S6–4  Overview This section of the ATESL Curriculum Framework is concerned with various ways in which learners can enhance their own learning process, and by implication, ways in which curriculum developers and instructors can guide learners in this process. In this section, we highlight the importance of mindful learning, offer examples of teaching strategies to support its development, and provide some food for thought.

By adopting the term mindful, the intention is to build on Ellen Langer’s (1989, 1997, 2000) work in mindful vs.

mindless learning, and then integrate research in the areas of active learning, learner strategies, and learning styles and intelligences, all within the context of adult second language education. The eight aspects of mindful learning identified and discussed in this section are represented in Figure 1. As you read this section in light of second language and adult learning research,1 you will recognize familiar concepts and practices, addressed from a “mindful” perspective.

Open to new things Flexible Aware of multiple perspectives Mindful Strategic

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Mindful vs. mindless learning What is mindful learning?

Mindfulness may be understood as a keen awareness, or a “flexible state of mind in which we are actively engaged in the present, noticing new things and sensitive to context.”2 The following table sets out the five essential attributes of mindfulness3 and their implications for mindful ESL learning (see Table 1).

———————–––––––— Table 1. Characteristics and applications of mindful learning ————–———––––––—

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For samples of tasks that build intercultural communicative competence and thereby foster an awareness

of multiple perspectives, an alertness to distinction, and a sensitivity to different contexts, see Section 7:

Intercultural Communicative Competence.

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In contrast, mindlessness may be understood as the lack of these characteristics, in other words, as habitual, automatic thought and behaviour. People act mindlessly when they rely on distinctions made in the past, rather than the present. At the extreme end of mindless on the mindful-mindless continuum, they see things from a single perspective, become rigid and certain, and fail to consider context.

There are two main ways in which mindlessness comes about: single exposure and repetition.5 Single exposure means initially processing information without questioning other ways of understanding it. Within the context of adult ESL learning, this might mean learning words and expressions in one single context or from one single perspective.

Repetition means doing things the same way all the time and is closely related to single exposure. This might mean always following a P/P/P (presentation-practice-production) lesson format or always answering lower-order questions6 to check reading comprehension. Repetition results in a lack of freshness and curiosity.

It is important to clarify that repetitive language learning tasks do not have to be mindless. For example, using a Jazz Chant7 to work on sentence stress or a TPR8 routine to practice the present progressive are repetition-based strategies, but if they are two of several different ways of approaching a language learning outcome, then the learning should be more mindful than mindless. Raising learner awareness of the purpose of the task (e.g., focusing on linking or rhythm when practising a Jazz Chant) can also keep a repetitive task from being mindless. Further, recycling, a repetitionbased teaching and learning strategy, is mindful when a particular skill or concept is not simply repeated, but revisited from a variety of different perspectives.

For more about recycling, see Section 3: Sequencing Tasks.

Langer (1997) identifies several common myths about learning that help clarify the distinction between mindful and mindless learning. For example, one widespread myth in education is that “the basics need to be learned so well that they become second nature.”9 With this assumption, instructors may offer repetitive exercises that require learners to perform a task the same way regardless of the context or learners. Also, they may present the task as if it can be performed only one way. Langer argues, however, that when individuals are told there is only one right way to engage with material or perform a task, it limits their ability to take ownership of the material and use the information in creative, flexible ways. As Houston and Turner (2007) point out, “In reality, no individual performs a task the same way.”10 Curriculum and instruction need to help learners make their own decisions so that content becomes meaningful and learners can use it according to their various abilities and contexts.


5 Langer, 2000, p. 220.

6 Describing, listing, matching, explaining, and paraphrasing, for example, indicate lower-order thinking skills, compared with applying, analyzing, evaluating, and synthesizing. See the discussion of Bloom’s Taxonomy in Section 2: Setting and Assessing Outcomes.

7 Jazz Chants, a technique developed by Carolyn Graham, are rhythmic language exercises that present learners with aspects of English (e.g., vocabulary, a function, a

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Suggestions for the classroom Following are a number of suggestions for integrating mindful teaching and learning into curriculum and teaching practice.

Present learning materials and tasks in a more conditional formatand less as a series of absolute truths. 11 Think about how often many of us (including learners) talk about things as absolute truths and consider the language used to convey this absoluteness and certainty (e.g., is, are, can only be, never, forever, “Canadians are so patient,” “She always does it that way”). Presenting content, including language, as a series of absolute truths can shut down creative and critical thinking. The pressure to “cover” everything in the lesson and curriculum plans before the end of the class or the course can push instructors to provide facts and answers, instead of asking questions and encouraging discovery. The former takes relatively little time, but leaves little for the learners to uncover for themselves. Presenting content in a more conditional format encourages a more curious, present, and alert perspective in learners; in other words, it encourages more mindful learning. However, conditional language (e.g., might, can be, many, some, usually, sometimes, may on occasion) can convey uncertainty and not-knowing, qualities that may be perceived negatively in some situations, including business, legal, engineering, and education contexts where the teacher is viewed as “allknowing.” The fixed nature of “rules”12 can also make it challenging to find a balance between approaching things as absolutes and leaving room for possibility and the sense of conditional. The presentation of content can be made

more conditional rather than absolute by selecting or developing materials that:

• Introduce new items (information, ideas, objects, aspects of language) in a conditional, inquiring way. Tasks can encourage learners to guess, predict, improvise, and try. Grammar “rules” can be presented conditionally using words such as generally, usually, and often. Comprehension and discussion questions can make use of language such as could be, from the perspective of, might be, and perhaps (e.g., “What could this be?”, “What might it be for?” or “Whose perspective(s) does this article express?”). If this language is too challenging for lower level learners, simpler structures can be used (e.g, “What is this?”, “What is it for?”). Learners can be asked to brainstorm three possible answers, rather than just one “right” answer.

• Present different points of view.

• Encourage learners to explore different contexts in which new language and information may (or may not) be appropriate and useful (e.g., workplace/non-workplace; friends/acquaintances/strangers).

• Encourage learners to guess, predict, and question. For instance, an incomplete story outline or diagram can be given to learners prior to a reading or listening task. In pairs they can predict answers. After reading/ listening, learners can work together in pairs to fill in the missing information. They can form questions requesting information they are still missing, and then perhaps interview other pairs of learners or the instructor.13 • Encourage learners to express themselves in a conditional way. For example, tasks might require learners to predict using modals of possibility (e.g., might, may, and could), or to write about an unexpected result, a contrast, or an opposition, using logical connectors such as however, despite, even though, whereas, and still.

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• Include referential as well as display questions.14 Display questions are used to check if learners know the answer, or if they can manipulate language. In both cases, the “right” answer is already known (e.g., “What is the past simple form of leave?”). In contrast, referential questions ask for information that is unknown or uncertain (e.g., “What time did you leave work yesterday?”), and encourage meaningful, real-world dialogue.

For more discussion on encouraging different points of view, see Section 7: Intercultural Communicative Competence. For more discussion on selecting materials, see Section 4: Selecting Methods and Materials.

Present learning materials and tasks in context.

For some, paying attention means focusing closely and not being distracted from the object of focus.15 However, Langer (1997) suggests that this is another common myth about learning that can prevent learners from noticing different aspects of the topic (i.e., the context). Novelty sustains interest. This does not mean that learners do not need to pay attention or focus closely, but instead, that a “hyper” vigilance should be complemented with a “soft” vigilance.16 This more diffuse quality of attention encourages learners to explore context around the language and concept(s) in focus, making connections with background knowledge and developing different perspectives. Attention is centred,

but not static, in the following types of activities:

• Themes and cases are two good ways of building context. For example, an ELT program for health care specialists might structure itself around a case per week.17 Learners might engage in cooperative reading jigsaws, use information-gap tasks to build vocabulary, script dialogues, and role-play patient interviews. The intent is to approach the target language learning outcomes in different ways, both directly and indirectly.

LINC programs work with broad topics – such as family relationships, education, and Canada – that also offer opportunities to explore concepts from a number of different perspectives.

• Inquiry-based projects built around a question or problem, for example, encourage openness to new items (information, ideas, language) and can help build critical thinking and problem-solving skills.

• Debriefing discussions at the end of a task, lesson, and/or unit are helpful for reinforcing the importance of context. They provide a chance to make the various connections explicit and encourage multiple perspectives.

For more about themes and projects, see Section 3: Sequencing Tasks.

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Begin with meaning.

Meaningful information is remembered more easily. Memorization is sometimes the first technique that learners use to help them remember information; however, in Langer’s (1997) words, “memorization is a strategy for taking in material that has no personal meaning.” 18 The following are strategies for making information meaningful so that it is

more easily remembered:

• Spiralling, scaffolding, and recycling (for reinforcement) are strategies that build on learners’ prior knowledge and understanding (i.e., they begin with meaning). They can be helpful for consistently expanding the learners’ repertoire of skills.

For more about scaffolding, spiralling, and recycling tasks, see Section 3: Sequencing Tasks.

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