Maryann Christesen

MARYANN CHRISTESEN

MaryAnn Christesen, that’s M as in Mary, a, r, y, capital A, n, n. My last name is Christesen, c, h, r, I, s, t, I, s, o, n. And my affiliation is University of Utah Linguistics department.

I think in the early days of teaching, oh let me start over again, um Howard Gardener’s uh theory of multiple intelligence has personally had a big impact on me as a professional. I think in the early days of teaching I thought um of language teaching in a much more singular sense. That my job as a la, as a teacher was to teach language. And discovering Gardener’s theory of multiple intelligence which includes 8 intelligence’s um that are as diverse as language to bodily kinestetics I see my role as helping students not only acquire the language but also helping them develop their intellegences as individuals as humans. I think that the theory of multiple intelligence’s is very helpful for a teacher in terms of having a good taxonomy to work with that will guide you in your lesson planning and thinking if indeed you would like to offer more diverse kinds of activities in the classroom. So that’s one way, it provides a very useful taxonomy for teachers and that certainly influenced me in the classroom and gave me you know some guidelines for developing my lesson plans. The more time I have spent in the classroom with learners from diverse backgrounds who um in particular I think um students who are who come from um minority language um populations here in the United States um I I see that it is also very important to think of the theory in terms of helping those individuals understand the value themselves because I think self-esteem is so important in the process of language learning. And indeed when we’re learning another language um our self-esteem is at risk. I mean no one feels very intelligent or bright you know because they are all learning so many new things all at once and it always feel so overwhelming. So when students can rely on some intelligence’s that they have ah strongly developed, and when they learn language through those, it’s very helpful. For example with a young person who has a strong musical intelligence, and has a gift for music, then using that intelligence as a way to get them into the language is very helpful using songs, and rhythm and beat, and so forth in the language classroom. But the same could be true for someone with a strong bodily kinesthetic intelligence or a visual spatial intelligence. So again I think that addressing diversity issues is a very important concept that I have taken into the classroom and that I see other teachers apply.

A lesson plan for um multiple intelligence’s might look a bit different from the traditional way in which we approach lesson planning but again that depends on how a teacher organizes and structures a lesson plan. If a teacher does the traditional 6 step approach which would begin with a warm up and introduction, presentation, practice, you know and application and ah evaluation and application um then we think of just language in each of those areas. But when we’re doing a multiple intelligence framework for lesson planning what we often do is think about the different intelligence’s that we want to bring into a lesson plan and decide how many of those intelligence’s we want to cover in a lesson plan. And then we work those into the performance objectives and what the student will be able to do at the end of the lesson plan and that will often include uh the different intelligence’s, the objectives will. Now if a teacher has a content based language class and they do the traditional into through and beyond then I would say the teacher needs to step back and do the same thing. To think about what intelligence’s I want to focus on and how will I do that within this particular lesson. And then where do they fit? Do they fit with the into part of the lesson, the through part of the lesson or the beyond part of the lesson?

When a teacher thinks about developing more than just a class, but actually how to um organize a curriculum, or how to work together with other teachers, then there are curricular issues with respect to multiple intelligence’s. And again that depends how the curriculum is put together. But let’s say for example that it is content based curriculum and it goes across um the different disciplines that uh um for example one has to address if one is an elementary school teacher. The other would be the science, the social study teacher, and the language arts and so forth. Um you sort of do a curriculum in terms of the matrix format so as you organizing it, down one side you might have all of the intelligence’s and then across the top you would have all of the different areas like the language arts, and social studies, and reading, and the sciences. And then you would look at each square as they come together and you would decide how to represent that intelligence in each of those spaces or in each of those blocks. And it is alittle more complex um but I think if teachers begin by looking at what they are already doing and how the curriculum looks and then they think about the kinds of activities they are doing now and what intelligence’s they’re actually developing, that’s a good start. I always tell teachers, begin with an audit of what you’re already doing. And understand how the theory impacts you already and maybe in an unconscious way, but make it conscious. And then you can see where you want to change. If your curriculum has no music in it then you might want to think, well we can’t do music because the budget is to small, but how can we develop student’s musical intelligence lets say in the language arts? Or how can we do it in the social studies. And I think teachers are the most creative people in the world so I always feel that once they have the taxonomy and once they have the problems identified that they can use their creativity to determine how to apply that in a in a curricular sense.

I think that the first time teachers hear about the multiple intelligence’s they always confuse it a little bit for a minute with multiple modalities or learning styles and certainly the perceptual learning styles or the modalities are the most common learning styles for the teachers. But I think it’s very important to step back for a just a minute and understand that those learning styles that learning styles and multiple intelligence’s are indeed a bit different in terms of their theory. If you look at multiple intelligence’s that would be something that would be innate for everyone or in other words Gardener’s theory says that all individuals have all 8 intelligence’s and yes they are manifest in different ways and yes they work together in different ways to manifest themselves but in essences everyone is a naturalist, everyone has the bodily kinesthetic, and the inter interpersonal and so forth, all 8 of them. Now if you wanted to develop your intelligence, say your musical intelligence, as I did some years ago, what I would then think about would be the modality with which I wanted to acquire that intelligence. So let’s say that I am very visual. Probably I would want some visual way to develop that intelligence. So for example if I played the flute, or if I played the piano, and I read music, one logical way would be to seek out some music that was already written down and use my visual preference for learning as a way to develop my intelligence. So a learning style or a multiple modality is one’s preferred way of acquiring information and a multiple intelligence that would be that something that is innate for everyone.

As language teachers, historically we have had a behaviorist view in a way of of the mind um sort of like Chonsky’s view of the mind as a little black box and we we see what goes in and then we have to observe what goes out the other end. And we just hypothesize about what goes on actually inside the human brain. And for years the only thing that we knew about he brain was from autopsy studies. But it technology has changed that. And now we’re able to learn more about the real biology of a living human brain and how that functions. So as we gain more and more information I think it becomes the goal of the teacher to create a brain compatible classroom to have learning result um in ways that are compatible to how the brain actually functions biologically. What we know um about the human brain changes um daily and what I think when we look at brain research what we really want to do is not just look at one study um that reports some interesting feature, but we want to look at studies over a long period of time and we want to analyze and synthesize a variety of studies so that the principles that we apply as educators are really based in in the neuroscience literature and not just in one one study. I have 10 principles that I have tried to derive from a broad base of of ah research of neuroscience and written these out so that they are thought of in terms of how they apply to the classroom. It’s important that teachers make connections for their students because the brain is meaning driven. And we try to create meaning from the different pieces from the puzzle that we have and if we only have just a few of the pieces that doesn’t stop the brain from trying to to make meaning but what happens is very much like if you’re hoping to learn to play tennis but you have no instructor and so you just go out and just practice and practice but you could be learning something very much the wrong way and then when you finally get and instructor and you go back and you change that it’s much more difficult. So I think as language teachers we want to set our students up for a different experience. We want to try to anticipate when they need the different pieces of the puzzle, we don’t want to overwhelm them but we want to give them enough information so they can create meaning that makes sense in terms of the language and the reality in which they are studying and working.

One very important principle that I would like language teachers to know about is the principle called down shifting. And this is something that has been in the literature, the lay literature a lot um after Daniel Golman’s book “Emotional Intelligence”. Everyone was learning about the amigdela and how they sort of were able to hijack your brain. But let’s just go back for a minute and and talk about that very briefly. I am sure that if I asked the question to any teacher um who has studied any language or who has studied any subject that is unfamiliar if you have every felt afraid or very worried in the classroom that the teacher was going to call on you and you wouldn’t be able to do it um the answer would probably be yes for most of us. Um what happens in those situations ah when you feel threatened is the brain down shifts. During normal day to day life when you are feeling good and you’re interacting with people in sort of an open way most of the blood goes to the neocortical area. And so your blood is getting lots of glucose and lots of oxygen. What happens when you feel threatened or you get upset or you get angry is that the blood downshifts to the limbic area of the brain into into particular areas of the brain known as the amigdela and there are 2 of them and they can basically hijack the brain. The blood flow is diverted to the omigdala, and when that happens you’re not getting enough blood flow to the areas of your brain where you can think and problem solve and make a decision. And so that’s the feeling that our students have in the classroom when they feel threatened. They can’t think and they can’t work as well as if they’re relaxed and they’re in an environment they feel is supportive. So that particular principle I think is is essential for any teacher, but inparticular for language teachers, and inparticular for teachers who work with minority language children in our public schools because they feel so ah much stress even in the best situations they feel stress so it’s very important that we keep that I think we call it in our profession, that affective filter low and we keep downshifting at a minimum.

A second language learner’s experience in the classroom is very different than say a majority language monolingual speaker in the classroom. In particular if the minority language student is in the minority in the classroom and also in with native speakers of English or the target language in this case, there are 3 ways that I see that that students experience is very different. First of all is a social aspect. The student or the minority language student, the second language student worries very much about being accepted into the culture of the school and into the culture of the classroom. And being accepted with um the majority language speakers. There is a lot of social pressure. And students, when they don’t interact, I mean they can’t use the language so they can’t interact socially, feel very separated from the group. So that is one thing that is difficult. Another thing that could be very different for a minority language student is the traditional way of teaching. Especially if a child comes into our school system after having some schooling in another environment where that situation is very different. Let’s say for example we come from um right now I think a a a tradition that tries to keep learners very active in the classroom that has them experimenting with such things as cooperative learning and that learning style and multiple intelligence’s, let’s say for example that a minority language student comes into the classroom after having a very traditional background where it’s very teacher controlled, you’re always sitting in in straight rows, when the teacher calls on you you stand up to answer, there’s very little interaction with your peers, that feels safe to you. And so when you come into a classroom and the instruction is so different, it’s unfamiliar instruction, then that becomes threatening as well even though nobody means to threaten you and very few people might be aware that you come from that background and you might not be able to address that so the traditional view of the teacher in the classroom is another another issue I think. A third issue is um that our identity as individuals is very much wrapped up with our families and our cultural background and our home language. And we come to the classroom believing that that will be valued in some way. That the models that we have set up as our parents who um we value will be valued by the the the group in which we are working. But in fact it turns out that not everyone knows about your culture or your background and that nothing happens in your classroom often to value that. So those are three areas that I see, at least three areas that make the classroom very different for a second language learner and a minority language student.

Traditionally in our profession there has been sort of a gap between theory and research and practicing teaches. My goal as a teacher educator has been to try and close that gap. And the reason I want to talk alittle about the reason why I think that is so important how I go about that. I begin by helping teachers understand that there are different ways to approach theory for example we can start with research in our own classes and from that research we can develop a theory. Or we could start with theory and then from that develop some research. And I think that the two are defiantly married. And that it’s very difficult to separate um theory and research if you’re a thoughtful and reflective practitioner. Research and theory should inform our teaching and our teaching should inform our research and theory. So I want to see, I want teachers to see how important that circular relationship is. And then of course once you see that relationship you begin to see the classroom as a laboratory in a way, to help inform your teaching. So then I want to encourage teachers to be continually be doing research in our own in their own classrooms. And that particular brand of research I think is becoming very popular is called action research and of course the purpose of that research is so that we can take action in our classrooms and that’s indeed ah extremely important.

So once so action research becomes a a a tool to help ah teachers not only make important changes in the classroom but then to begin to see research as a way to inform what they might, the decisions that they might make in their classroom. So once teachers see that circular issue, the next step for me is to start looking at some of the the theories, the second language acquisition theories that have been proposed. For example, one very um popular theory among teachers and and a good one start with I think is ah Crashion’s um monitor, model hypothesis. But I don’t usually stop there because I don’t want teachers to see theory as just right or wrong. I want teachers to see the whole picture so that then they can choose different pieces so we look at the acculturation model for example Sheman’s acculturation model, the nativization model, we look at ah reading theory, we look at a a broad range of theory and then we come back and we say now you understand this theory now, what does that mean for you as a classroom teacher? What does that mean for you in terms of your lesson planning? If you’re assignment were to for example take Crashion’s monitor, model, hypothesis and develop lesson plans or a curriculum around that what would that mean for you personally? And that again is an important step because it personalizes theory. And I hope in the long run that teachers are actually more open to theory and to see its relevance in the classroom once they have the circular connection and once they see the personalization of theory to their own classrooms.

I’d like to talk about what I’d like mainstream teachers to think about in terms of the the children that they have in their their classes by telling you a little story about something that happened to me when I was I was younger. I was very judgmental of a friend that I had at one point and I remember my my mother saying um to not to judge her until I had walked in her footsteps, until I knew exactly what she was experiencing. Um she had broken up with a a boyfriend and she was behaving in ways that I thought were were very inappropriate and I was disgusted with her in a way for being stronger. Some day some, but she had lost something in her life and sometime later I had a very similar experience and I remembered her words, I remembered now that I was in that same experience and I felt just as devastated and just as unhappy and just as upset. Now, we don’t all have these, I’m not talking about this same thing in our classroom, but I am talking about the feelings that we have and how important it is to empathize and sympathize with others. I think if we, as language teachers um could I mean most of us have all had that experience, but people outside of language, I mean teachers outside of language, mainstream teachers, may not have had that experience. And I think that if you (cough) Mainstream teachers may not have had the experience of being a second language learner or a foreign language learner in an environment where everything seems strange and unfamiliar. So it’s easy to, I think, in a way be more critical than one needs to be. But if we could all have that experience of being lost in a place that we didn’t speak the language and where we had no literacy skills and where we really relied on individuals to help us get through we would all have an easier time with a second language learners that we have in our classroom. My very wish for mainstream teachers is that they could have enough patience and enough patience over time to step back enough from the situation to really look at what that child is going through. And really see that child as if that child were your own. What would it be like if that were my son and we were living in a strange country and a strange culture? What would it be like if that were really my daughter or my grandchild or my niece or my nephew or some child that you know well. It it helps us develop a whole new perspective on that child’s situation. Caring for these kids is so important and I think we can’t educate unless we care.