Category Archives: COURSEWORK

Cognitive Science and Teaching ESL

Cognitive Connections

Cognitive Science and Teaching ESL

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Cognitive science is the interdisciplinary study of mind and intelligence, embracing philosophy, psychology, artificial intelligence, neuroscience, linguistics, and anthropology”.  That doesn’t narrow it down much.  I have a background in psychology and this class seems to build on prior learning and research.  The reality is we are learning about how we learn. 

Computers have been compared to human brains.  Computers can process millions of bits of information very quickly and perform tasks or answer questions.  Computers can even converse!  However, at this time, they are not able to feel emotion.  We’ve discovered emotion, or feelings, are necessary for true thinking.  “Feelings can be seen as responses to facts and sensations that exist beyond the tight horizon of awareness. They can also be thought of as messages from the unconscious, as conclusions it has reached after considering a wide range of information — they are the necessary foundation of thought”. (Lehrer, 2007).  Emotion is part of the human essence.  Some may call it the soul.

We’ve discussed Artificial Intelligence (AI) and I would argue feeling or experiencing emotion is not yet possible for AI.  Of course, Hollywood movies often have unlikely heroes with Artificial Intelligence and emotion.  Some examples are WALL-E, Johnny 5 (Short Circuit), C3PO (Star Wars), and Rosie the Maid (The Jetsons).  Even Data from Star Trek was able to implant an ‘emotion’ chip so he could have feelings too.

Johnny Five

William Rapaport (1996) asked if computers, while executing algorithms, are “simulating mental states … or exhibiting them.  Do such computers think”?  I have wondered if AI has a super-fast, condensed way of learning.  Deb Roy (2011) recorded his child learning to talk and points out that much of the learning is based on social interaction.

So the question is, how does this relate to teaching ESL to adults?  We need building blocks to help those students learn.  Those include logic, rules, and concepts.  Do they come in any particular order?

I lean more toward thinking the rules/logic/concepts is almost cyclical in nature.  But, I still think the rules are the beginnings with early learning.  Parents, and other caregivers, teach infants and children basic life lessons such as what constitutes acceptable behavior.  Young children’s concepts of life are so limited because they just don’t have experience yet.  It’s a different situation with adults who begin problem-solving with a concept and then choose, or adapt, rules and logic.  But, they had to have the rules there in the first place.

Rules are the guidelines for behavior.  They are learned and keep life from deteriorating into chaos.  Teaching ESL will include grammar rules such as “i before e, except after c” and “who/whom”.  Another example is when to use “bring or take”.  Many languages, other than English, do not differentiate between the two.  Dave’s ESL Café has some wonderful grammar lessons available at no cost. 

Logic is a name for the general family of formal proof systems with inference rules.  It’s reasonable and based on connections between facts and observations.  Going forward into a teaching position, logic should be helpful in getting students to make the connections between ideas and experiences in order to develop their language skills.  We want them to be able to use both inductive and deductive reasoning to develop concepts.

Concepts are the big picture ideas and are the representations of our mental images wherein groups of similar features are grouped together.  I have to reference New World Encyclopedia (2008) which defines it as “concepts are the categorization of objects, events, or people that share common properties. By using concepts, we are able to organize complex notions into simpler and therefore more easily usable forms”.  Teaching concepts to ESL learners may be more difficult than the rules and logic but may also be the basis for learning the rules and logic.

We know children and adults learn differently.  Therefore, it is logical that children and adults would solve problems in different ways.  Children have not yet developed critical thinking skills which are helpful in problem-solving.  They are, however, very creative and may think of solutions that would not occur to adults with their already established rules.  Jean Piaget (1952) believed children learn best through doing and actively exploring.  This may help them solve simple problems but not more complex issues.  Adult ESL learners have been compared to young learners who are just developing the schemata needed to assimilate and accommodate learning.  (McLeod, 2009).  An example of this is learning about food and having a restaurant experience.  This was part of my lesson plan in a previous blog post.

Next, we need to look at how adults learn.  Carl Rogers (1961) believed adult learners need their learning to be practical and applicable to their lives. Each adult brings individual experience to their learning and each learner may be in a different stage of life.  There are many psychological tests available to help us identify our individual preferences for how we learn.  I plan to teach ESL to adults.  Literature tells us most adults are visual learners.  However, there are different learning styles and educators must recognize this and be able to teach to all. 
Hey Teacher

McGinty says “Applying conceptual understanding from one setting to the next requires students to utilize the brain’s capacity to build new neural networks”. 


The different learning styles represent how we get information to the brain so it can process and we can learn.  An active learner will touch.  A visual learner will see.  A verbal learner will hear. “The brain has neurons organized by synaptic connections…” which form into patterns.  The sensory input patterns will translate to concepts, images, and analogies (Stanford, 2010).  “The human brain is an active processor of information.  Brain-based instruction recognizes the fact that learning develops with the increase of neural networks and creates experiences where students can make connections between new and prior learning” (McGinty, et al, 2013).

In conclusion, the cognitive science of learning and teaching is still in its early stages.  Research continues to find the best methods.  It is expected Artificial Intelligence will play a stronger role.  But, most importantly, we must continue to learn and grow our brains.



Dave’s ESL Café (n.d.) Grammar lesson plans. Retrieved from

Lehrer, J. (2007, April 29).  Hearts and minds.  Boston Globe.  Retrieved from

McGinty, J., Radin, J., & Kaminski, K. (2013). Brain-Friendly teaching supports learning transfer. New Directions For Adult & Continuing Education, (137), 49-59. doi:10.1002/ace.20044  

McLeod, S. A. (2009). Jean Piaget. Retrieved from

Rapaport, W.J. (2006, October 29). Cognitive science. Retrieved from

Rogers, C.R. (1961). On becoming a person. Boston: Houghton Mifflin

Roy, D. (2011, March). The birth of a word . Retrieved from

Jozwiak, T. (2009, June 3) . Johnny Five is Alive Retrieved from

Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. (2010). Cognitive Science. Retrieved from



CLASSROOM TYPES – What’s New? Where Are We Going?

Classroom Types

Crawford, et al (2008) said “There are three primary formats which can be used to design, develop and implement learning environments”:

     • Traditional: Face-to-Face Learning Environments

     • Web-Enhanced: Hybrid Learning Environments

     • Web-Based: Distance or Online Learning Environments

A first look at face-to-face (F2F) learning shows it being the traditional type of teaching/learning where participants are in the same place at the same time.  Instruction may be based on textbooks, lectures, tests, and assignments.  Students are generally listening to lectures.  The curriculum is set ahead of time and may not change from year to year. 

Teaching techniques which work best for the traditional environment include “Discussion Strategies, Humor in the Classroom, and Lecture Strategies” (Merlot, 1997 – 2014).  Each of these is useful for engaging students in face-to-face learning.  In my current position, the trainer relies heavily on all three.  She is dynamic and uses humor in her lectures to help with what might be an otherwise dull subject.   She also has textbooks, tests, and learning assignments. 

A second look indicates a metamorphosis to other types of learning, especially utilizing technology.  Hybrid Learning Environments are described as the “best of both worlds” (Crawford, et al).  This model brings technology into the classroom with online interactive activities.  Doering and Veletsianos (2008) gave a great example of this – Adventure Learning using Go North! “The AL approach to design, development, and ultimately learning is based upon the understanding that experience rather than osmosis guides meaningful learning experiences”. This series of online programs uses both experiential learning and inquiry-based learning.  Students and teachers alike were enthusiastic about the program. 

Teaching strategies from Merlot are “Active Learning, Games/Experiments/Simulations, Inquiry-Guided Learning, Learning Communities, and Online/Hybrid Courses”.  With Active Learning, the students are involved in the process and developing their problem solving and critical thinking skills.  A game like this might be used for teaching language to higher-level learners. While successful with younger students, Active Learning would also be effective for adults.  An example of this is the restaurant or museum visit for English Language Learners discussed in earlier units. 

The third learning environment mentioned by Crawford, is Distance/Online Learning.  With this format, there is no formal classroom and everything is done online.  

Bates and Watson (2008) discuss the importance of course design to create an effective learning experience.  Atkinson & Tomsen (2009) share their experiences with Second Life, a virtual learning game which has learners completely immersed in a realistic environment with the ability to change and control outcomes. 

Teaching strategies that are applicable to Distance/Online Learning include Experiential Learning, Games/Experiments/Simulations, and Learner-Centered Teaching.    With Learner-Centered Teaching, the instructor becomes the facilitator and students are responsible for learning.  Students are encouraged to research topics and share their learning.  Communication is very important. This is exactly what we are doing with this class at Post. 

Online learning wasn’t my first thought for teaching ESL, but there has been documented success with audio/video recordings. Further research is needed to see if this is an option, but I believe Hybrid Learning will be best for adult ELL’s. 


What an interesting lesson!  I am remembering the lessons from my undergraduate classes which discussed different learning styles.

According to the Memletics Learning Styles Questionnaire (2003 –2007), there are seven distinct learning styles:           

1)    Visual (spatial).You prefer using pictures, images, and spatial understanding.

2)    Aural (auditory-musical). You prefer using sound and music.

3)    Verbal (linguistic). You prefer using words, both in speech and writing.

4)    Physical (kinesthetic). You prefer using your body, hands and sense of touch.

5)    Logical (mathematical). You prefer using logic, reasoning and systems.

6)    Social (interpersonal). You prefer to learn in groups or with other people.

7)    Solitary (intrapersonal). You prefer to work alone and use self-study.

 It makes sense that different classroom settings would be more effective for different learners. The tools I predict having the greatest impact are the SMARTBoard and Computer Assisted Language Learning (CALL).  


Do you think online will eventually, and completely, replace traditional classrooms?

Check It Out!

SMART Board – 


The Flipped Classroom Model (J. Gerstein)



References: (2003 – 2007) Learning styles inventory.  Retrieved from

Bates, C., & Watson, M. (2008). Re-learning teaching techniques to be effective in hybrid and online courses.  Journal of American Academy of Business, Cambridge, 13(1), 38-44.

Crawford, C. M., Smith, R. A., & Smith, M. S. (2008). Course student satisfaction results: Differentiation between face-to-face, hybrid, and online learning environments. [Article]. CEDER Yearbook, 135-149.

Doering, A., & Veletsianos, G. (2008). Hybrid online education: Identifying integration models using adventure learning. [Article]. Journal of Research on Technology in Education, 41(1), 23-41.

Gerstein, J. (n.d.) The flipped classroom model. [Web log post] Retrieved from

GoNorth! Adventure Learning Series.  LT Learning Lab. University of Minnesota.  Retrieved from

Merlot Pedagogy. (1997-2014). Teaching strategies. Retrieved from


What’s the difference between CoP and PLC?

Community of Practice (CoP) is defined by Etienne Wenger (n.d.) “are groups of people who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly”.   They share a craft or profession and there will usually be experts .   This is particularly relevant in the workplace as co-workers teach and learn from each other.  In trades, apprenticeships are the CoP.  The members of a Community of Practice share experience and best practices with each other. 

In education, there are three dimensions mentioned:

  1. Internal:  Finding ways to “organize educational experiences that ground school learning in practice through participation in communities around subject matters”.
  2. External:  Finding the connections of student experiences to practice and life outside school
  3. Lifetime learning:  Organized CoP’s which focus on topics of continuing interest.

The Community of Practice may also share informal learning such as happens in my workplace daily.

For example, while reviewing photographs of a damaged property, it was unclear as to what may have caused the damage.  There was an impromptu gathering at the one desk while we discussed the loss.  Because we were not able to come to consensus, we began looking at ways to find the answer.  One person suggested going online to search news articles.  Another suggested calling the demolition company to find out what their assignment was.  This was a situation involving basic technology, but has the potential to use more advanced technology. 

Another example is the electric lineman apprenticeship program.  My daughter began as a meter reader but wanted to become a lineman.  She took formal classes and was accepted into the apprenticeship program.  This was a very limited Community of Practice with peer-to-peer learning and.  As the students became more proficient, they also became the teachers.   


Professional Learning Communities (PLC’s) seem to primarily refer to “a shared vision or running a school in which everyone can make a contribution, and staff are encouraged to collectively undertake activities and reflection in order to constantly improve their students’ performance”  (Cranston, 2011). 

Administrators, teachers, and staff all work together, with the students’ best interests in mind by “researching best practices and pursuing data to bolster decision making Cranston (2011)

The six attributes of PLC according to Eaker, DuFour and DuFour (2002):

  1. Shared mission, vision, values
  2. Collaborative teams
  3. Collective inquiry
  4. Action orientation and experimentation
  5. Continuous improvement
  6. Results orientation

These are especially important in business. 

Bill Hall, in a recent blog, gave the example of slogans that work because they epitomize the PLC of the organization.  Apple’s “Think Different” was an early slogan which “underscores the importance of breaking with tradition…” (2014). Apple continues to use and develop technology by allowing its employees to put the attributes to work.

 Both involve community and wanting the best for the members.  What if we could broaden the scope of PRACTICE and PROFESSIONAL LEARNING to involve neighborhoods, towns, states, and countries?  

Working together …Image



Adams, C. (2009). The power of collaboration. Instructor, 119(1), 28-31.

Eaker, R., DuFour, R.,  & DuFour, R. (2002). Getting started:  Reculturing schools to become professional learning communities.  Bloominton, IN: National Educational Service

Cranston, J. (2011). Relational trust: The glue that binds a professional learning community  . [Article]. Alberta Journal of Educational Research, 57(1), 59-72. Retrieved from

Hall, B. (2014, March 18). PLC Lessons learned from the corporate world.  Retrieved from

Wenger, E. (n.d.).  Communities of practice: A brief introduction.  [Website].  Retrieved from