AL has become something of a catch-all phrase these days, synonymous with brain-based or mind-friendly learning. Susan Norman goes beyond the buzz-word to bring you the facts

Originally it was the name coined in the west for a teaching method called ‘Suggestopedia’ by its Bulgarian founder, Georgi Lozanov. Lozanov was (and still is – he’s now living in Vienna) a psychologist whose early work in the 1950s was to do with pain-free medicine. He began to wonder whether learning could be equally free of pain by making that suggestion to the learners, namely that learning is quick and easy and that it is the natural state for the human organism.

Which of course it is. You only have to look at young children to realise that learning is what we were born to do. It’s only when we find ourselves in the unnatural situation of a school, where we’re being asked to learn things which have no immediate relevance to us, that learning becomes something other than natural and easy.

Given that we have to start with schools, though, what can AL offer teachers and learners?

Accelerated Learning can be understood at many different levels. Lozanov’s work was internationally recognized in 1978 and at that time he trained a small number of people in his methods in the US. He was then placed under house arrest in Bulgaria for the next ten years and was not allowed to communicate with the outside world. During this time, his trainees in the US continued to teach and develop what was now being called ‘Accelerated Learning’, each adhering to the basic principles, but with differing practices.

At its most basic level, AL is a series of tips and hints which can liven up lessons and enhance students’ retention of facts. A second level might be that classroom management and the curriculum are designed to be congruent with brain function and learning styles. At a transformative level, teachers know that our ability to teach others depends on how much understanding (of ourselves) we ourselves have attained. There is an emphasis on the personal and professional development of the teacher as well as on the learning and personal development of the students.

So how quick is it?
Lozanov applied his method to language teaching, and when he tested his students’ retention of vocabulary, he discovered that they remembered five to ten times more than they would have remembered after a ‘normal’ lesson.

But AL isn’t just about speed. If this is a totally new approach for your students, you might want to introduce things gradually. Alternatively, if you go for a full-out immersion in a new approach, it can take time – possibly up to a term – for students (and teachers) to understand and adapt, and during that time it can seem as if no-one is learning anything. But once an AL approach is established in a school, learning is significantly quicker, students take responsibility for their own learning, and they remember much more the first time round, so less time needs to be spent teaching everything again when it comes to revision.

Which also raises the question: ‘Doesn’t this approach require much more preparation time?’ Yes, initially… but in the long run, students do a lot more of the work for themselves. The teacher’s role is mainly to provide context, direction, support – and learning formats.

Main components of AL

  • Knowledge about the human brain and learning
  • Understanding how the students’ emotional state affects learning
  • The importance of the learning environment
  • The role of music and the arts
  • Personal motivation
  • Multiple Intelligence theory and learning styles
  • The power of imagination and metaphor
  • Suggestion – to create a positive mental state
  • Team learning and co-operation

How do I start?
Perhaps the most practical approach for school teachers is to look at the ‘Quantum Learning’ model, developed by Bobbi DePorter, who runs ‘SuperCamp’ – fun summer schools in the US. The lesson sequence runs thus (with example activities in italics):

Enrol. Hook the students with an intriguing opening statement and global picture of the lesson. Pique their curiosity. Give them a glimpse of what is to come without revealing too much.

  • Draw a picture on the board – students guess what it represents.
  • Make up an advertising-type slogan about why the lesson’s going to be fun/important/interesting.
  • Ask: ‘If you suddenly found yourself in an isolated area of the Sierra mountains, how would you survive?’

Experience. Give students an experience or activity that demonstrates the lesson. Create a need to know. An experience creates curiosity and emotional engagement. It allows students to tap into prior knowledge and make connections, adding meaning and relevance to the content.

  • Several students act out (under your direction) the way information travels in bits and bytes from one computer to another.
  • All students working in groups put information cards in sequence/date order.
  • Give an overview of the conditions they’ll have to endure in the Sierra mountains and let them work in groups to plan what they might do in response to anticipated challenges.

Label. Give the ‘data’ at the moment of peak interest and discuss its relevance to students’ lives. Explaining the lesson after the experience capitalises on the students’ natural desire to label, sequence and define new learning.

  • Give out a written summary of the information (or direct students to the coursebook) – and ask them to do something, eg identify the one bit of information that you haven’t yet covered, or check their own sequencing of information cards.
  • Read aloud the story of early settlers in the US.

Demonstrate. Provide opportunities for students to translate and apply their new knowledge to other situations. Giving students additional activities demonstrates to them what they know and builds confidence.

  • Students write a section of a computer instruction manual.
  • Teacher reads out a sequence and students spot deliberate errors.
  • In groups, students show still snapshot of settler family members in the middle of a dramatic moment in their lives – others guess who they represent and what’s going on.

Review. Quickly summarise what the lesson has been about. Review strengthens the neural connections, increasing retention.

  • In groups, students make up a jingle to summarise their main learning in the lesson.
  • Students turn to a neighbour and say one thing they learnt or enjoyed.
  • Everyone stands up and shouts out at the same time something they’ve learnt.

Celebrate. Celebrate the students’ success. Celebration brings closure by honouring effort, diligence and success.

Anything from high fives or clapping, to smiles or a quiet word of congratulation from the teacher, or from student to student.

The learning environment

The other most practical aspect to start with is the learning environment, which is of crucial importance in AL approaches.

What message does your teaching room give to learners when they come in? Is it a pleasant, clean, practical and inspiring place to learn? If it falls short in any way(!), what other learning environments can you think of that, in an ideal world, you would use as a model? Given that there are almost certainly constraints on the changes you can make, there are nonetheless things that all of us can do personally to improve the physical environment – and if we get others involved (the head, other teachers, the students – especially the students – and never underestimate the caretaker!) many things become possible.

The mind map might give you some initial thoughts. But as it also shows, the physical environment is more important – and the teacher’s role is crucial, as it is the teacher who sets the tone for all interactions in the classroom.

And if I had only to pick one thing to focus on as a starting point for AL? It would definitely be the relationship between teacher and students. A teacher who is approachable, who listens, who supports and helps students, who likes and respects students, who talks pleasantly to students – such a teacher is already doing Accelerated Learning. TEX

Bibliography

Colin ROSE Accelerated Learning ISBN 0-905553-12-8Accelerated Learning Systems Ltd

Mark FLETCHER Teaching for Success ISBN 1-898295-62-XBrain-friendly Publications

Paul GINNIS The Teacher’s Toolkit ISBN 1 8 9983676-4Crown House Publishing

Alistair SMITH & Nicola CALL

The ALPS approach – accelerated learning inprimary schools ISBN 1855390566Network Educational Press

Bobbi DePORTER Quantum Learning ISBN 0440504279Piatkus 1992

Susan Norman is Co-director of SEAL (Society forEffective Affective Learning).

This article first appeared in Teaching Expertise magazine, Issue 1 Autumn 2003

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