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Practice English Speaking&Listening with: Herbert Puchta - Preparing young learners and teenagers for tomorrow's world

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thank you very much Rupert for your kind

words and I would also like to thank you

for the invitation to speak at this

prestigious conference I'm very excited

to be here it's great to see also quite

a few of you who I have actually met in

your own countries and and some of you

at their own institutions or schools

this talk is about developing what's

called executive brain functions in the

LT and I don't know how familiar you are

with the term executive functions well I

can happily confess that when I first

heard about it it was actually only a

year ago at that time I was invited by

Cambridge to go on a tour of talks to in

in Chile and we had agreed on the topics

for my sessions and I was in in the

process of preparing my my talks and

workshops and I had basically finished

preparing for them it was about week I

think before the trip started when

suddenly I got a pretty unexpected email

from the office in Santiago where they

asked me to change one of my talks and

the request was instead of giving a talk

on critical thinking skills in children

and teenagers would I talk about

executive functions and to be honest my

first reaction when I was reading this

was like executive what so I hadn't

actually come across the term executive

functions I've made up for this in the

meantime I've developed a real interest

in in this area not only to find out

more about executive functions but also

I've tried to develop and this is an

ongoing project ideas and activities

that we can use to support children and

adolescents teenagers in the development

of these executive functions that I

believe actually quite a paramount in

helping them to learn and to learn

successfully my motivation to explore

executive functions has also been

inspired by the fact that I've been

teaching a group of primary children a

primary class in Austria my home country

for two years now for very personal

reasons I live in the middle of nowhere

in the austrian countryside in a village

that is not much bigger than 400 people

and my my grandson when he started to

attend the local primary school was in

serious danger of not learning any

English at all basically because there

was a lack of a trained teacher okay so

I got in touch with the relevant people

at the Ministry of Education and I

offered them that I would teach this

class English for free if in exchange I

could do a bit of Applied Research

classroom research with them and that's

what I've been doing that for two years

almost it's been quite a fascinating

experience of course my number one

objective has been to get them to

because this is a completely monolingual

German background classroom to get them

to use English as a real means of

communication as soon as possible to get

them to to take risks and to negotiate

meaning and and take ownership over the

language but I've also noticed over this

period of two years how different the

children have become when you you know

go back when you look at children you

know like 10 years ago children these

days are very very different than one

one of the things I noticed of course

also was the sometimes lack of attention

well you you know all about it

and I've noticed that when you talk to

colleagues who haven't come across

executive functions before when you

mention executive functions they often

associate the term the

give the business meaning and actually

they don't associate it with with

something with an educational term so

that's why I actually prefer using a

term that's been used recently in in

literature and the term is cognitive

control functions because it actually I

think describes a bit better what

executive functions slash control

cognitive control functions are all

about so let's have a look at what I'm

hoping to cover in this session we're

gonna be looking at what executive

functions or cognitive control functions

are all about we'll be looking at the

the role of executive functions or

cognitive control functions in language

learning as I've said both terms refer

to the same higher order cognitive skill

set so I'll be using one or the other

rather than then mentioning both at the

all the time this is a very practical

session so I'm hoping we'll have a bit

of fun and you don't mind that we'll be

using a few very practical some of them

actually very simple activities here

both for for children and also for

teenagers let's have a look at what

these executive brain functions are all

about this is a quotation from the

recently published third edition of a

book called executive skills in children

and adolescents by peg Dawson and

Richard Garre hope you'll mind if I if I

quickly read it out it's actually a bit

of a mouthful but I think it's it's

actually worth quoting human beings have

a built-in capacity to meet challenges

and accomplish goals through the use of

high-level cognitive functions called

executive skills these are the skills

that help us to decide what activities

or tasks we will pay attention to and

which ones will choose to do executive

skills allow us to organize our behavior

over time and override immediate demands

in favor of longer-term goals through

the use of these skills we can plan and

organize activities sustain attention

and persist to complete a task executive

skills enable us to manage our emotions

and monitor our thoughts in order to

work more efficiently and effectively

simply studied these skills help skills

help us to regulate our behavior and

they continue and say as we noted above

executive skills are built-in but while

they are built-in executive skills

obviously are not developed at birth or

for some time after that we see their

beginnings in the infant and toddler and

even more of them in the five-year-old

but even in the 15 year old we sometimes

marvel at the lack of planning time

management or especially inhibition so

these skills which are at the heart of

self-regulation or self-control begin to

develop in early infancy and continue to

develop well into adolescence and early

adulthood and they conclude by saying if

we can understand how these skills

improve through childhood we can begin

to understand how much control children

exercised over themselves at different

ages this information in turn can help

us as adults to know how much support

and structure to provide as children

develop so to break these down into

concrete skills sets what's kind of like

regarded as core in terms of executive

or cognitive control functions are three

different skill sets the first one what

is called working memory which is about

the ability to hold information in mind

and use it we're not talking about

long-term memory here which of course is

extremely important when you think of

learning a language how important it is

to retain lexical sets etc etc etc here

we're talking short-term memory the

second one inhibitory

control which has been defined as the

ability to master thoughts and impulses

so as to resist temptations distractions

and habits and to pause and think before

acting so when you think of a a group of

young learners or even if you go into

preschool classes some of these skills

clearly are not there and need to be

developed and thirdly cognitive

flexibility which we need to master in

our everyday work of course which is

about the capacity to switch gears and

adjust to changing demands so when

children suddenly are confronted with a

new task that's different to what they

have been used to for some time some of

them actually get get they sort of lose

their their focus the capacity to switch

gears adjust to changing demands

priorities or perspectives in recent

work two more areas or aspects have been

added to this especially also in

connection with cognitive flexibility

I haven't underlined those on on purpose

because most of the the literature you

will find mention the three areas but I

think these these two worth exploring

also because they are really important

in terms of helping children and

adolescents learn efficiently the first

one is time management which which is

self explanatory in many ways if you

think of a teenage classroom how

important it is to help them cope with

procrastination for example that would

be one example and meta cognition which

we can act

according to Dawson and and guar a

demonstrate which students demonstrate

when they are able to select and use the

most effective strategies to accomplish

a goal or a task it's about their

recognizing when a task is not

understood asking for help when needed

it's about completing assignments that

require making inferences drawing

conclusions grasping the main idea or

reading between the lines so of course

here we are you know with higher-order

thinking skills and and and reading

comprehension and and and what have you

if you think of tests all these these

skills and these skill sets are

extremely important and last but not

least going over their own work when

they for example written something and

learning to to proofread learning to

correct what they have actually produced

let's have a look at the range of

activities I'd like to suggest now they

start with working memory some of these

are very very simple activities the

first one is actually something you

could do in a preschool classroom even

you know you you show them two images

you ask them to say the words and

remember them in the same order then you

cover up the items or you blank the

screen so this is really working memory

not long-term memory then you ask them

to say the words in the same order well

with the with the images covered up and

you ask them to check and and you carry

on like this for some time then you

gradually increase the number of items

but this is what it would look like for

example you ask your cars to share these

say them to each other they check then

you go on to the next one they try to

remember it they you cover them up they

say them too

each other they check etc etc etc etc

looks very easy I know let's try it out

with a series of lexical items something

we can do of course with with single or

multi word items I've chosen some

phrasal verbs here what I'd like you to

do just to wake you up is now have a

look at these phrasal verbs and just try

and remain but remember them in the same

order okay here we go

repeat them to your partner


okay ready for four here we go

say them to each other



did you get them right almost do you

want to go one more up sorry yes

teenagers yes yes not for your primary

cars you're ready for the next one let's

go up to five share them

Jake right no well actually it's it's

quite challenging isn't it because this

is difficult because it's multi-word

items of course but most people actually

go up to - you know for quite

comfortably still five is a real

challenge and six becomes very

challenging so of course no problem for

you but let's not go there now that's

another one the n-back task quite

challenging it's for teenagers I've done

this also in my primary class they love

it but as you will see I'll show you

what I do with primary kids so you

present the sequence of items one at a

time students watch and they indicate

for example by capping their hands or

knocking on their desks whether the item

they are shown is the same item they

were shown one or two or three items ago

right you get a very good quality of

attention in your cars try it out okay

here we go so let's just do as a warm-up

let's do n minus 1 so you cap your hands

when the word I show is identical with

the word I showed previously easy right

here we go you ready brilliant

no not brilliant yes


nope okay you you're getting the idea to

back you ready okay here we go


yes yes fantastic sure try three back

okay you ready

so this three back doesn't work with my

primary kids two back you're still okay

it's perfectly okay yep ready simple

words there you go here we go we start


okay you ready indeed yes Wow yes okay

lovely and of course you can if you want

go further this is from Steinberg's book

the science of adolescence the new

science of our lessons

he says practicing the n-back task has

been shown to improve working memory the

training needs to be scaffolded so what

you should actually not do is what I've

done here start with two then

immediately to three then immediately to

four and and even five afterwards so he

says by this I mean that the activities

should be demanding but not so demanding

that they overwhelmed the adolescents

current capabilities practicing it might

involved repeating multiple item

sequences of the same length until this

number of items is mastered let's have a

look at cognitive flexibility this is

the current favorite in my group of

seven eight year olds you all know the

game Simon Says right so what I do is I

play Simon Says with them but then

remember cognitive flexibility is about

adapting to a situation where the rules

change okay so after some time

doing you know some Simon Says sequences

I say well now the game is not Simon

Says now it's Jennifer says and then I

said Simon Says stand up and of course

some of them immediately wanna try to

stand up but they are not allowed to

because it's now Jennifer says and and I

I continue like that you get an

excellent quality of listening an

excellent quality of attention with this

simple game of course the key thing is

and that's what I also talked about with

them in in meta discussion phases that

they do not just you know watch others

and do what others do but they actually

listen themselves and focus on their own

performance here this is another one

that I'd like to quickly do with you

I've just tried it out in a group of

teenagers recently and it was actually

very popular can I ask you to stand up


we only have two minutes left

oh my god okay good now when I say walk

you walk on the spot when I say stop you

you freeze okay stop walk stop stop okay

excellent now let's let's reverse them

okay when I say stop you walk when I say

walk you stop stop stop walk okay

next phase when I say country you call

out your country when I say cap you cap

your hands cap country stop walk country

okay now let's reverse the second two

also okay sorry be reverse country and

yeah okay stop stop walk country okay

etc etc etc you add another do another

two and do the same thing with two more

instructions learning to be mindful

we're not doing any of these activities

but this is basically about you know

many young people are distracted by

external visual input okay

from from fast moving screens to the

movement in the classroom etcetera

etcetera etcetera so it's about

switching off the visual channel it's

about going inside learning to be


it's about closing one's eyes and we

have a number of ideas here just sit

still for what they believe is one

minute for example that's a good break

every now and then in a classroom ask

them to open their eyes and to give you

a signal when they think the minute is

over it's about asking students to close

their eyes listen to sounds they can

hear from inside the room from outside

whether there's traffic noise

when have you asked them to focus on

their own breathing without slowing it

down just observe as their breath comes

and goes but it's also about creative

visualization negativities close your

eyes and imagine okay all each of these

activities of course have a value it's

obvious because it's about listening

comprehension but at the same time it's

also about creativity it's about

inspiring their imagination you can get

them to write text afterwards you can

get them to talk about their

imaginations okay when it comes to

metacognition these are often connected

to cognitive flexibility and they

integrate I think a number of

higher-order thinking skills one very

simple example is from my primary class

actually I told you that that it's a

monolingual language background

classroom and of course as you can

imagine because all these kids speak

German as their own language especially

when they are excited they frequently

fall back into their mother tongue so

it's one of the biggest challenges for

me so one day about two months ago so

what I did was I took out my mobile

phone and I went into the stopwatch and

I started the stopwatch and I said let's

try and speak English for as long as you

can and the attempt was over after one

minute in 12 seconds because somebody of

course fell back into their mother

tongue but the fascinating thing was I I

noticed how sorry that one child was and

how everybody regretted the fact that

that they they couldn't like carry on

for longer I reset the stopwatch I wrote

one minute and 12 seconds on the board

and there was the second attempt and

actually at the end of this first cast

we had a new record which was something


eight minutes and 42 seconds it's

fascinating how this has evolved over

these two months now because whenever I

start a lesson they remind me that I

need to take out the stopwatch

they are extremely eager to communicate

in English only they take risks they use

when this is necessary their hands and

their feet they negotiate meaning and

and another thing what I notice is that

there's some scaffolding going on among

themselves so when somebody wants to say

something it happens quite frequently

that another one gently notches them and

says but speaking is pleased and this is

this is really wonderful and when I do a

phase of meta discussion afterwards and

I ask them in their mother-tongue we do

this at certain intervals I ask them to

reflect on their their experiences in

trying to speak English only what's

often happened is that they've referred

back to to certain moments in this

process and they they refer back to

something they wanted to say but

couldn't say and I then write it down on

a big piece of poster paper so rather

than me spoon feeding them the language

that I hope they will use they ask for

language that they actually need I know

I have to finish this up now I wanted to

mention one thing I'm skipping this this

is for teenagers but I wanted to mention

study strategies because this I think

has a lot to do of course with meta

cognition and I would like to recommend

one one paper by Van Loski and and

others improving students learning with

effective learning techniques promising

directions from cognitive and

educational psychology this is a meta

paper they are looking at I think if I

remember correctly seven or eight

hundred research papers into what are

the most effective study

strategies and I don't have the time to

go into this now it's fascinating and I

think this is something for the teenage

classroom to discuss with students they

look at 10 study strategies which they

say I get used by most young adult and

and and adolescent students and I've

sort of selected the ones that seem to

have more relevance for the ELT

classroom because all of them for the

ELT classroom and actually would be good

if we could just see where you would put

your money which of which of these is

the most or are the two most efficient

ones would you say well we don't have

the time really but these have although

or moderate utility and the two that

have clearly been been shown as having

the highest utility a practice testing

and distributed practice you can find

this paper on the Internet's a

fascinating paper I would I would really

want to recommend this here we go we've

been looking at executive brain

functions the role of cognitive control

functions in language learning and we've

even tried out a few activities for

young learners and for teenagers I don't

know if we have the time

if not I'll show this for slide anyway

and if you have any questions to come up

to me during the breaks or over with in

okay I'd like to thank you very much for

taking part so actively thank you




The Description of Herbert Puchta - Preparing young learners and teenagers for tomorrow's world