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Chapter One – Theoretical Overview

Connections

Accelerated Learning grew out of a conglomeration of scientific research into different fields. These included neurological and psychological discoveries about how the brain works. This information was picked up on by a variety of individuals involved in teaching and learning with the realisation that they could be utilised to vastly improve the whole process.

From studies in neurology we have learnt that the number of human brain cells (known as neurons) is set from birth. They do not increase. Nor do they regenerate. (Rose, 1985). This may initially lead one to the pessimistic view that therefore intelligence cannot increase. Fortunately this is far too simplistic an equation. First of all proper nutrition and the avoidance during pregnancy of smoking and alcohol will ensure the growth of higher numbers of neurons than would otherwise be the case. (Ibid.)  

Even more significantly though is the fact that from prior to birth each neuron “...starts to send out fibres to make actual and potential connections with other neurons.” (Ibid.). Essentially it is the “...receptive branches of the nerve cells, called dendrites...” (Diamond, 1997) that are growing. They are able to “...receive... input from other nerve cells.” (Ibid.).  This ability to increase the connections means that given the right environment a human brain with less neurons than one would hope for and/or having undergone any cell degeneration can compensate itself for this lack. In fact, the brain expands through use, and indeed is the only organ to do so (Rose, 1985). However, the opposite is also true. In an environment lacking in stimuli new connections will not form and those already in existence will degenerate. As Diamond (1997) states, 

“It is just as important to stress the fact that decreased stimulation will diminish a nerve cell’s dendrites as it is to stress that increased stimulation will enlarge the dendrite tree.” 

“The power of the brain,” then, “is largely a function of the number of neurons and the richness of their connections.” (Rose, 1985). While one cannot increase the number of neurons after birth, one can most certainly increase the richness of connections. As Rose (1985) says,  

“The more your brain is stimulated, the richer the connections and the higher your practical mental ability”.  

Left Brain/Right Brain

Key to understanding just how important this whole concept of enrichment is to learning (and one should realise now just what a misnomer the term Accelerated Learning is – as Mckergow, 1998, was quick to point out this is simply how we learn full stop) is our knowledge of the division of the brain.    

Figure 1 (Rose, 1995).

Figure 1 above shows how brain activity is thought to be divided between left and right. While this model is not absolute it nonetheless has important implications for education. Recalling that increased dendrite growth – “the richness of connections” is dependant on stimulation it is easy to see how education that only emphasises left brain functions by the heavy emphasis (sole in many cases) on words is doing the individual a great disservice. (Rose, 1985). Quite simply, “...the better connected the two halves of the brain, the greater the potential of the brain for learning and creativity.” (Ibid. 15). 

Clearly then, if we want to improve our learning, our memory and our understanding, we need to assimilate material in a way that involves both halves of the brain. 

The Triune Brain 

Figure 2 (Rose, 1995) 

Figure 2 shows how the brain is divided vertically. The term Triune Brain was coined to “...emphasise the three divisions...” (Rose, 1985) of the whole (three-in-one). As Rose (1985), explains:

1)       The Reptilian brain is responsible for “very basic instinctive responses” (ibid.)

2)       The Limbic system, (including the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland) is responsible for “...emotions, sexuality and the pleasure centres.” (Ibid.)

3)       The Neo-Cortex is responsible for “...intellectual processes...” (ibid.) 

Again this is essential information for anyone wishing to improve the learning process. This is because it is believed that “most learning...involves an interaction between...old and new brains via the limbic system.” (Ibid. 19). Indeed Rappaport (1971), has “concluded that emotion...is...the basis on which memory is organised.” Machado (1984), has “...claimed that if new material was presented in such a way as to produce emotional arousal, i.e. involve the limbic system, it would activate mental powers not normally used.” (Cited in Rose, 1985: 19). 

So the generation of positive emotions in the classroom will be a powerful aid to learning. 

These ideas have long been known by advertisers. As Rose (1985), says, 

“We remember things easily that have powerful associations for us – which is why T. V. advertisers use strong visual images, use music and rhythm, and attempt to involve our emotions.” 

The aim then is to create “powerful associations” and positive emotional impact in all aspects of learning. 

Sensory Information

These “powerful associations” - the strong encoding of information - can be achieved by accessing and utilising what Turco (1997), calls ”...the fundamental of all brain fundamentals...Sensory information.” This is by no means a new idea. Diamond (1997) cites Halleck (1901) in paraphrase as stating that “...the best education we can provide the...nervous system is one of stimulating all the five known senses.” 

This is exactly what we are setting out to achieve with the use of Multi-Sensory Imaging. This is defined by Johnson (1995: 17) as, “...the ability to create mental ‘images’, using sight, sound, or other senses alone or in combination.” ‘Images’ here then fits Turco’s (1997) use of the word to “...mean not only pictures, but all sensory information including sounds, feelings, textures, smells, etc.” It is also in line with Stevick’s (1986) definition where “...the term refers to the totality of reactions that one has to a given word or experience.” 

Turco (1998) refers to sensory images as “...the fundamental language of the brain” and says that, 

“Everything that you know is represented metaphorically by your unconscious. Every phrase and every word has absolutely no meaning of its own. It only has the meaning that you attach to it. And on a deeper level, that means that everything you know is somehow represented in images, sounds, and feelings...” 

The importance of accessing and utilising Multi-Sensory Imaging (and encoding) is further backed up by studies into sensory modality. Much of the work done in this area has been carried out within the field of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP). As Rose (1985) explains, its basic tenet is: 

“...that each person has a dominant sensory system. Thus you may prefer to communicate or learn in either:

A Visual Way – (you are orientated to visualise)

An Auditory Way – (you normally like to hear presentations or talk out problems)

A Kinaesthetic Way – (kinaesthetic means, ‘to do with movement, active, action orientated’)”.

Because each person has a preferred style if that style is not accommodated in the learning environment then that person will be disadvantaged. However it is important to realise the distinction between ‘preferred’ and ‘only’. Going back to our earlier point about the “richness of connections” it should be clear that the maximal response will be achieved if we utilise ALL sensory modalities.  

Multi-Sensory Imaging can also play a vital part in the notion that learning is greatly assisted by active involvement. While it’s easy to think of this as referring simply to physical movement in the classroom (which is itself an extremely useful tool) it goes further and deeper than this. As we noted earlier, sensory imaging is a subconscious activity that goes on whether we’re aware of it or not. As Turco (1997) states, “...our unconscious minds are millions of times faster than our conscious minds and can store nearly an infinite amount of information...Accessing that ability is what Accelerated Learning is all about”. Bearing in mind then that when we are working with Multi-Sensory Imaging we are working with our subconscious the following becomes vital: 

“The subconscious mind cannot differentiate between what is real and what it believes to be real.” (Rose, 1985). 

In other words, Multi-Sensory Imaging is active involvement!  

Alpha

Utilisation of the subconscious mind then, is essential to efficient learning. The measuring of brain waves has enabled us to recognise identifiable patterns of conscious and subconscious activity. Beta waves correlate to conscious activity – “...you are wide awake and alert” (Ibid: 23). Alpha waves “...characterise relaxation and meditation. The state of mind during which you daydream, let your imagination run. It is a state of relaxed alertness...” (Ibid.).  

These brain waves (along with Theta and Delta waves) are always present to some extent. What we are concerned with is which one is dominant. Conventional education seeks to maintain Beta dominance. Over the years, for instance, I well remember various exhortations to “pay attention” - a state that was deemed to correlate with sitting perfectly still with eyes fixated on either teacher or blackboard. Accelerated Learning on the other hand seeks to attain Alpha dominance – to transcend the limited functioning of the conscious mind. 

Because the attainment of Alpha is seen as such a prerequisite for effective learning to take place various techniques are used to achieve the desired state. Exponents of Suggestopedia rely almost exclusively on the “...suggestive interaction between teacher and student...” (Schiffler, 1992) and the use of music. This will be explained in the following section entitled ‘Suggestopedia’. Others incorporate music, breathing, relaxation and guided imagery exercises.

Relaxation

The simplest and most effective way to achieve relaxation is with a “Zen Breathing” (Schuster and Gritton, 1986) exercise. All this entails is watching your breathing for a minimum of 7 in/out cycles. Breathing through the nose and being conscious of only your own in/out breathing cycle, a person cannot help but become calmer and more relaxed. This is universally applicable. It has been known for centuries by Indian Yogis and as such is part of Yogi Breathing (Yesudian and Haich, 1976). This exercise can be continued for a few minutes or kept to the minimum cycle – Schuster and Gritton recommend counting 10 cycles.  

Relaxation exercises include the kind of muscular stretching one would use in the gym prior to a more strenuous work out, and more gentle routines designed to gradually relax the entire body. These would be followed by or incorporate breathing exercises. 

The guided imagery exercises are basically examples of Multi-Sensory Imaging scripts designed to be read by the teacher, frequently in rhythmic sequence with accompanying music.

For more information and examples the interested reader is directed to Schuster and Gritton (1986). 

All the above are intended to create the state of “relaxed alertness” associated with Alpha and assisted by the stimulation of the “right brain”. Music can also be used throughout the lesson (Rose, 1985, suggests that “relaxing” music should be playing when the students enter the classroom as this “...immediately creates a positive and happy atmosphere.”) to help generate the right mood. This will be discussed further in the following section entitled Suggestopedia

Besides relaxation at the outset of the lesson there should also be a warming up period. In a society obsessed with the Cartesian notion of mind/body dualism we tend to forget that the brain is a bodily organ. In fact one cannot separate mind-body. There is only one physical entity. Any gym instructor will tell you that if you go into the gym and start lifting weights without doing your warm up exercises then the chances are you’re going to do yourself an injury. At the very least you’ll be in a lot of pain the next day. (And I speak from experience here!). Nor do we see athletes going onto the track or the field and starting to compete in whatever the event without first warming up. For anyone who still doubts the importance of warming up I suggest they try starting a car in 5th gear and see what happens. 

Furthermore, going back to our weight lifting analogy, one does not simply lift and lift, one works in “sets”. A set consists of a certain number of repetitions of the particular exercise. A set is followed by resting for a minute, and is then repeated. The program will consist of something like 3-4 sets of 10-15 reps per exercise. The important thing for our analogy is that the rest period is an absolute necessity. It prevents strain and injury.  By the same token rest periods are a vital aspect of the total learning environment. For one the brain needs time to assimilate new material.  Also it needs to relax in preparation for the next period of exertion.  

Of course various dissenting voices have raised objections to some, if not all, of the above points. Certainly it is fair to say that conventional education has long since recognised the need for warm up procedures and for breaks. The difference is the emphasis on achieving the Alpha state and hence the exercises designed to generate it and the recognition that, depending on the time scale, breaks may be needed within a given lesson. Rose (1985) for instance, recommends a break every 30 minutes. Personally I prefer every 45 minutes. 

Others make the reasonable point that, particularly on courses of short duration, (as is frequently the case in EFL), time spent on relaxation exercises means less time on learning the subject. Well, firstly, from my reading of the literature there can be no doubt that every exponent of Accelerated Learning that I have come across puts the utmost value on achieving the state of “relaxed alertness” that we have been discussing. Achieving this state in conjunction with the other aspects of Accelerated Learning will maximise learning potential and more than compensate for the time spent on the exercises.  

However, we are, after all, looking at ways in which we can incorporate these principles into a more conventional framework. As such it doesn’t do well to antagonise. Herein lies the great beauty of the Zen Breathing exercise described above. It’s simple, effective and potentially of extremely short duration. Furthermore, in lessons which include Multi-Sensory Imaging as part of their content the same state of relaxation will occur as it would during a guided imagery exercise.  

There are those who have also raised the objection that the whole concept of relaxation is entirely subjective. I.e. what is relaxing for one person may not be relaxing for another. This is said to be particularly applicable to the use of music in the classroom. While this is certainly a valid comment it does, to my mind, seem to go against what we have learnt about the functioning of the human brain. (And particularly doesn’t seem to apply to the Zen Breathing exercise which carries the claim of being universally applicable). However, it is, presumably, also why exponents of suggestopedia (see below) rely more on suggestion and the creation of the right atmosphere than on any specific exercises.  

Suggestopedia

Suggestopedia was a revolutionary teaching methodology created by the Bulgarian psychiatrist, Dr. Georgi Lozanov, in 1956, at the University of Sophia. That it has had a huge influence on Accelerated Learning is absolutely without question (the two are often now seen as synonymous, although this is not the case). As such an overview of the method is a necessary requirement for the comprehension of our subject. 

Schiffler (1992) states that three principles were identified by Lozanov: 

"1. Joy through psychologically relaxed attentiveness and the absence of states of tension such as fear, stress, exhaustion, boredom or irritation. 

2. Unity of the conscious and unconscious in the form of verbal and non-verbal communication, of cortical and subcortical processes, of physiological and psychological reactions, and of rationality and emotions. 

3. Suggestive interaction between teacher and student through the desuggestion of learning barriers and the suggestion of learning potential."  

These form the basis of Schiffler's (1992) own comprehensive definition: 

"Suggestopedia is a method, according to which the teacher (= suggestogogue), through the elimination and avoidance of all factors (= antisuggestive) that might inhibit learning (= desuggestion) and the incorporation of all factors which promote learning (= suggestive) in the interactive teaching and learning environment on the conscious and, even more importantly, unconscious levels of communication (= suggestion), enables the student to attain higher levels of learning than if the identified factors were not taken into account at all, or at least very little, i.e., when the unconscious level of communication is not used to the same extent as is the conscious level." 

(“Factors” that “inhibit learning” are such things as the belief that one doesn’t have the right ‘aptitude’; the belief that learning is difficult and something that requires stress and strain and hard work; the belief that there are limitations – the number of words that can be learnt in a day for instance - on what can be achieved.) 

Immediately then, we can see how ahead of its time and innovative was Lozanov’s model of learning, incorporating as it does the utilisation of the subconscious and activities including dance and drama (and indeed the environment) designed to stimulate both right and left brains and achieve “whole brain learning” (Rose, 1985). 

Unfortunately, Lozanov’s initial experiments don't match required academic and empirical standards and are thoroughly deserving of the criticisms levelled at them. Furthermore, his concern seems to primarily revolve around vocabulary learning involving translations into the MT of the students. Aside from the fact that, as we all know, there is a lot more to learning a foreign language than learning vocab this simply wouldn't be possible with a multi-lingual class nor in a situation where the teacher didn't speak the MT.  

The objection has also been raised  that the method makes an assumption of “objectivity” and universality. Personally I don’t see this in my reading of the literature. Lozanov, and many of those who have followed in his footsteps (even Schiffler, 1992, who heavily critiques Lozanov) made attempts to prove the objectivity of their experiments and the reader is directed to the works cited section to determine eir view on the validity of any of these claims.  

What is considered to be universal is the power of the subconscious and the large role it plays in every aspect of our lives and the recognition that we can harness this power to assist learners to learn. Again I feel that this is far from assumed but whether one can say it’s been proved is open to an eternity of discussion. Suffice to say that I believe it, hence this project and indeed my entire belief system and approach to learning, studying and indeed many other aspects of life (once you get into this you can find that it permeates everything you do!) 

As we have seen then, it is the psychological aspects of Suggestopedia that have been taken up with such a vengeance by the exponents of both it and its modern developments encompassed under the heading of Accelerated Learning. Firstly, the importance of desuggestion, and suggestion cannot be overemphasised. In a description of experimental suggestopedic classes Schiffler (1992) states that "It is...likely that the decisive factor was the total suggestopedic attitude of the teacher...” Secondly, it is vital to note that "Suggestopedia builds upon the constant change between an emotionally exciting and active mood of learning and a relaxed and attentive state."

Suggestopedia is in itself a teaching methodology. Therefore to claim to be teaching a lesson using Suggestopedia one would have to adhere to a fairly specific format. However, it is possible and in my opinion preferable, to take on board the aspects of it that seem most appropriate and most applicable to the more conventional framework.  

Go to Why We Use Relaxation and Drawing Techniques in The FL Classroom for a lesson on introducing the Ss to the reasoning behind what we are doing and the efficacy of this approach.

Go to The Beach Lesson for the lesson itself.

Chapter Two

   

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