Reducing Cognitive Load

Stacy Hagen
By Stacy Hagen

As teachers, we are trained to focus on activities that are communicative and task-based. Grammar practice, particularly at the sentence level, often brings associations of rote drills and repetition. However, Zoltan Dornyei (2009) points out that communicative language teaching is based on learning by doing and does not look at how people actually learn. Some second language researchers have turned to cognitive science to look at what is happening in the adult brain as we learn, and findings related to memory and skill acquisition have important implications for how we practice the skills.

This article discusses the concept of cognitive load.

Our working memory (think of this as our immediate memory) has capacity limits.  Basically, we can’t handle as much information as had previously been believed.  New research on learning tells us that students benefit if we can reduce the cognitive load.

Scientist used to think that 5-7 chunks* of information could be held in our working memory.  But new research tells us that two to four chunks are more realistic.  The implication for teachers is that we need to break our explanations into more manageable chunks for our students. In practical terms, one of the things we can do is to introduce less information at one time.  You’ll see this in the fifth edition of the Azar-Hagen Grammar Series.  Long charts have been broken up into smaller ones.  Here’s an example from the Fundamentals of English Grammar, Fifth Edition:

example of a grammar chart with information in manageable chunks

Previously, this introduction to articles was in a two-page chart.  Now there are two new charts, and we have simplified the explanations.  We also use pictures to illustrate the concept of specific and non-specific. This is more manageable and user-friendly for students.

As you will see in the new editions of the Fundamentals of English Grammar and Understanding and Using English Grammar, the presentation of material in the grammar charts helps reduce the cognitive load. Breaking down explanations and exercises into shorter pieces or sub-tasks helps reduce the working memory load, allowing learners to absorb material better.

*A chunk is a single unit.  Think of a phone number.  There are 10 digits or 10 unrelated numbers.  But we can group phone numbers into 3 chunks to make it easier to remember.

References:

Dornyei, Zoltan. 2009. The Psychology of Second Language Acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Stacy Hagen is a teacher, a teacher trainer, and the co-author of the best-selling Azar-Hagen Grammar Series. The most recent edition of Fundamentals of English Grammar is now available. pearsoneltusa.com/azar

Transform your grammar instruction with the Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod

Pearson and Nearpod

Pearson is excited to announce a new partnership with Nearpod, a student engagement platform built to make teaching with technology easy. Using Nearpod’s student-centric, mobile-friendly platform, we are releasing the first level of Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod, a customizable supplementary grammar course.

The Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod offers high-quality curated grammar content developed by grammar subject matter experts. The structure of the course offers more targeted content that will allow programs to not only create the “playlist” of grammar learning objects that meet their course student learning outcomes but also a course that aims at meeting the personalized needs of students and institutions.

The Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod can be used as a supplement to any grammar, integrated skills or test prep course. The first (intermediate) level has just been released, and more levels are planned for release later this year.

Nearpod’s user-friendly, interactive design enables faculty to connect with learners and deliver highly interactive experiences, improving participation and academic effectiveness. Nearpod allows instructors to reach and engage learners in more compelling ways in any learning environment—in classroom and at home, both synchronously and asynchronously.

The winning features of the Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod

Customized grammar curriculum with compelling content

High-quality curated grammar content created by Pearson grammar subject matter experts is organized into grammar modules that can be easily accessed and combined for a unique curriculum that meets students learning outcomes. Instructors can also easily add their own content with interactive features.

Student engagement like you’ve never seen before

With the Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod, students engage with content, using their own devices in a dynamic and interactive way. Instructors can monitor learning, observe activities, and personalize content based on students’ needs.

The Nearpod platform delivers a rich collaborative experience and content that captures students’ attention, keeping them engaged and focused, and minimizing off-task behavior.

  • Nearpod VR immerses learners into the lesson with virtual field trips and is a perfect tool for presenting grammar in context.
  • Instructors can share content and assessments in real-time. Quizzes, interactive activities, slideshows, and videos allow for highly interactive and engaging practice.
  • Live group discussions and polls allow for collaborative experience, even in remote settings.
  • Formative assessments and instant feedback give students opportunities to demonstrate progress.
  • Detailed post-lesson reports allow for progress tracking and lesson planning.

Reaching every student on his/her learning journey

The flexibility of the Nearpod platform takes a lot of the stress and planning out of individualized and differentiated instruction. The program can be used in a lab, small group or whole instruction, for project-based learning, and more! Plus, it’s easy to duplicate and edit lessons for when instructors need to provide modified versions for some students.

Seamless integration

Learners can access their grammar course on most devices, operating systems, learning management systems, and web browsers. Nearpod easily integrates with Canvas, Blackboard, Google, Schoology, and Office 365.

Perfect tool for distance learning

The Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod supports online teaching and learning, addressing both the issue of student engagement and the need for high quality content that instructs, engages, and informs.

Student-centered learning experience can be delivered in both live lessons and as a self-paced independent work. With the Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod, learning is always collaborative and social, even while remote. Finally, the course can be delivered via many LMSs or with web-based conferencing tools for synchronous instruction. Learn more about the Pearson Modular Grammar Course Powered by Nearpod here.

View the brochure here.

Re-thinking the Purpose of Grammar

Stacy Hagen
By Stacy Hagen

There is still controversy about whether or not to teach grammar, and some teachers are unsure of its purpose.  It’s helpful to look at this quote from Martha Pennington.

Grammar is “nothing more or less than the organizing principles of a linguistic or (broader) communicational system, without which, there is no system.”

Basically, explicit grammar instruction helps students organize the language.  It forms the BASE for the other skills we teach:  reading, writing, speaking, and listening.  It’s simply a base.  It’s not about teaching students terminology for the sake of terminology.  In fact, as a teacher, I try to avoid using terminology as much as possible.  Our students don’t need to be grammarians; that’s our role.

Explicit grammar instruction helps students see patterns.  This is critical because cognitive science tells us that the adult brain is a pattern-seeking organ.  Adult learners are looking for rules.  That’s why grammar charts work!  According to neuroeconomist Arkady Konovalov at the University of Zurich, humans try to detect patterns in their environment all the time because it makes learning easier.

As you know, other, another, and the other can be really confusing for students.  One way to show the pattern is by using circles, as in this new chart from the fifth edition of the Fundamentals of Using English Grammar:

Chart 6-15 from Fundamentals of English Grammar, 5E

While visuals work well, summaries, as in the green words in (c) and (d), are also helpful.  In other words, clear, uncluttered charts help students see patterns. 

We can also show patterns in exercises.  It’s very typical to tell students (via a chart) that the passive is formed with the verb be plus the past participle.  And then we expect students to begin forming passive sentences. But students can really be confused by the various forms of be and whether a verb is a past participle or not.  In the following exercise, students are asked to find the be verb and the “past participle” and then decide if it’s passive or not:

Exercise on the passive voice

In item 1, they will see there is no be verb and no past participle, so it can’t be passive.  But item 2 is passive because both the be verb and the past participle are present.

By going through several items like this, students begins to realize that they need BOTH the be verb and past participle necessary for the passive to be formed.

Seeing patterns makes learning more efficient.  Let’s help our students become aware of them.


References:

Grammar and Communication:  New Directions in Theory and Practice.  Pennington, M.   From:  New Perspectives on Grammar Teaching in Second Language Classrooms, edited by Eli Hinkel, Sandra Fotos, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates 2008.


Stacy Hagen is a teacher, teacher trainer, and co-author of the best-selling Azar-Hagen Grammar Series. The new, fifth edition of the intermediate level, Fundamentals of English Grammar, is available now. www.pearsoneltusa.com/azar.

Remote Learning Strategies with Side by Side eTexts

By Bill Bliss and Steven J. Molinsky

We are inspired by how quickly and creatively English language instructors have implemented remote learning over the past several weeks in response to the challenge of moving their classes online. Many are using the eText versions of Side by Side Plus and Side by Side Extra for this purpose, citing the programmatic and predictable nature of the courses and their “Zoom-friendly” communicative methodology.

To support instructors, we have created a new quick-start guide to Remote Learning Strategies with the Side by Side eText. It offers tips for using the eText along with Zoom and other platforms to create a dynamic and interactive remote learning experience. The guide also explains how teachers can use the eText to create classes, modify course content, communicate with students, and document their program participation and progress.

Side by Side eText

Synchronous, Asynchronous, and Independent Learning

Synchronous instruction is easy, interactive, and fun using a conferencing platform such as Zoom or Google Meet. Instructors can use screensharing to display the lesson page on students’ devices. Breakout rooms enable the highly interactive pair practice that is the hallmark of the Side by Side guided conversation methodology.

Asynchronous learning is an important component of the remote learning experience as students preview on their own activities and content to prepare for a synchronous class, and then do follow-up activities to reinforce and expand upon the online lesson.

Independent learning is promoted through easy-to-access embedded audio, course features such as the Side by Side Gazette, and the unique FunZone digital amusement park that offers informal, self-directed, and flexible learning through motivating instant-feedback activities, games, and videos.

Zooming with the Side by Side eTexts

screensharing

Screensharing allows instructors to display the digital student book page for all students, with instant access to the audio program for each page. The eText’s enlargement tool makes it possible to focus on a particular activity, such as a dialog, illustration, or exercise. This is especially helpful to students who access online sessions on a smartphone or small tablet device.

gallery view

Gallery View builds community in the online classroom as students participate together in listening and speaking practice, present dialogs and role plays, and engage in discussions.

breakout rooms

Breakout Room mode in the Zoom platform is the ideal environment for pair practice that is at the core of the Side by Side guided conversation methodology. The instructor can pre-assign particular students to work together in pairs, or the platform can assign pairs automatically.

The eText can do that? I didn’t know!

Many teachers using the eText are unaware that their Instructor Version enables them to create classes and post assignments and notes to students directly to their students’ eTexts, without the need for an LMS such as Canvas or Blackboard. Onboarding students is an easy registration process at the Pearson English Portal, and creating courses and class rosters happens through the eText platform and a simple email invitation to students to join a class.

The platform’s Notes feature allows students to type and save written work in their eTexts, send it to the instructor as an email or text message, and even save all the coursework as a digital portfolio. (As a low-tech solution, reproducible Remote Learner Participation forms for each unit are also available. Students can indicate the amount of time spent on each unit’s activity, take a photo of the completed form, and send it to the instructor in an email or text message.)

Teaching Strategies

The quick-start guide offers step-by-step suggestions for using each type of Side by Side activity in a blend of remote learning modes of instruction: synchronous, asynchronous, and independent. The guide also provides simple instructions for onboarding students, creating courses, and using the eText platform to document learner participation.

We hope that this resource is helpful as you continue to adapt your instruction to meet your students’ language learning needs at this challenging time.

To download the quick-start guide, click here.

For information about Side by Side Plus and Side by Side Extra, click here.

To download information about career/academic and civics content and CCRS/ELPS standards in Side by Side Plus, click here.

To locate your dedicated Pearson ELT Specialist, click here.

Teaching Remotely with Low-Tech Students

Susan Gaer

By Susan Gaer

COVID-19 has changed the teaching landscape. Suddenly teachers are forced to teach online without much time for preparation and with students who may not be digitally literate. What is a teacher to do?

In this blog post, I will discuss ways of utilizing your textbook effectively to help your students online no matter what their technical capabilities are. We will be focusing on ways to work with students with low or no tech. 

Connecting with students in the low-tech world

Most of the students in today’s world have a smartphone. Whether or not they know how to use it effectively is a different matter, but most of them have a phone. 

 With the lowest tech student, you may have to use text messaging. There are three messaging services that are easy to use. One of them is Remind , which is a closed protocol system.

Remind

With Remind, the teacher gets an account, creates a class, and sends the link to students. Students download the app and sign into the class. The beauty of Remind is that there is no need to give individual students your phone number. Remind creates a phone number for you. However, this will require that your students be able to download the app and create an account. Note: students can use only their text program to connect with you through Remind by using the unique phone number, but the program consistently asks them to download the app.

What’sApp is a program that many students use for texting their families in other countries. WhatApp allows you to set up a group, which your students can join without sharing phone numbers.  For instructions on how to do this, visit the app instructions page.  WhatsApp  allows you to send text, video, and audio messages to your students. The students will need to download the app, but many of them will already have it as it is a global text messaging app. The downside to WhatsApp is that you are posting to a whole group, so make sure your students understand this point.

The third choice is to set up a Facebook group. Facebook groups can be set up as private  to protect students’ privacy. Students do not need to be on your friend list to join your group.  For instructions on how to do this, visit this page. A Facebook group  allows you to post content, handouts, and communication with students. The only caution on using a Facebook group, is that you need to teach students how to post appropriately as the whole class will see the post.

Using the textbook in the low-tech class: beginning level

For students with no access to computers or the internet, you can use text messaging. Grab an image from your textbook. You can either use the eText feature on the Pearson  English Portal or more simply, take a picture of the page from the textbook. For example, from page 28 of Project Success, Intro level, I might text this picture to my students with these questions.

Project Success, Intro, page 28 image
  1. Is the store open from 9:00 a.m. -8:00 p.m. every day?
  2. When is the store closed?
  3. Is the store open at 8:00 a.m.?

Have students text the answers to you.  Make sure the task is simple with only 2-5 questions. 

Besides texting the answers, you can also have students use the audio feature available on the all three chat services to send you a voice message. The final wrap to this exercise would be for the students to take a walk to a store (if possible, of course) and have them take a picture of the store hours and text you the picture.

*Note: some phone services limit the size of a picture to be sent over text to 350 KB. If students are not receiving your images, just check the image size.

Using the textbook in the low-tech class: intermediate level 

Another activity you can do with texting is to text students a reading passage from the text. This reading comes from Project Success, Level 3, page 84. It is perfect for discussion with intermediate students about what is going on in their lives.

Project Success, L3, page 84 image

Send the model in a text message or if the students have the book at home, have them look at the reading. With students who have no access to technology, you can read the model into your text messenger for the students to listen. Ask them to send you 2-5 new words from the text in a message. Use those words in a text message with your students and encourage them to make their own sentences. Finally, ask them to write to you about how they are doing at home.

It may seem impossible, but you can do this for students who have little access to technology. The services all have voice, video, and texting capability. Facebook groups even enable you to have your students comment on each other’s work. Mostly, however, make sure not to overwhelm your students. Give them small chunks of instruction with lots of positive feedback. Your students need you right now. Finding out where they are at and keeping in touch with them is critical.