Author Archives: John H. Morton

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Strategies for Accelerating Language Learning (or Any Learning)

Here are 10 research-based strategies for accelerating language learning or any type of learning.

|  Determine what is worth practicing (Marzano, et al., 2001).

As we all know, practice takes a lot of time and consumes significant effort. For that reason we don’t have time to practice everything to the “mastery” level. For some words simply being “familiar” with them is enough. Sometimes we “recognize” a word, but can’t find it’s meaning, even with context. Sometimes we recognize a word and the context helps us remember the meaning. Sometimes we recognize and use the word regardless of context (mastery). We will typically only “master” 50% of the vocabulary floating around in our brain.

Massed Practice and Distributed Practice. The brain remembers better when we practice small bits many times as opposed to large chunks a few times. Our brain also benefits from a highly compressed routine of practice at the start of learning a new skill. Then, that skill can be “refreshed” by practicing at longer and longer intervals.

For language learning this means, choose what you will use most to practice the most. Mass the practice for the first week. Then, because you are using the new skill, you can slowly stop the formal practice because you will be practicing it in conversation. Remember, you don’t want to reinforce a mistake, so be sure your practice is accurate and correct (especially pronunciation).

Remember the See, Say, and Do strategy. When you do each of these things it engages a different brain system. You are giving the brain triple the capacity to store and retrieve the information.

|  Memorize information through storytelling techniques (Allen, 2008).

Stories are easier to remember than lists of words. By linking words together into a story, the brain has an easier time recalling them. You are creating a “chain of associations” for the words. Try to fill the story with visual imagery.

|  Connections link learning to life (Allen, 2008).

Our brain has multiple systems for storing and recalling information (See, Say and Do Strategy). The more we connect something new to something known (background knowledge), the easier it is for us to recall. At the most basic level, this means when you are talking about something, have the physical object present. If you are learning vocabulary for fruit, have the fruits on the table to touch, smell, taste, and see.

Experiences through multiple senses strengthens learning.

Another application of this idea is use something tangible to represent something abstract. For instance, if you are working on a vocabulary list, assign one word to one of your own body parts, e.g. hand, finger, forearm, neck, stomach, etc. Then every time you say the word, touch or associate it with that body part.

|  Movement magnifies learning (Allen, 2008).

Movement has been shown to deepen learning and enhance recall. The obvious first application is to actually move for any words that are movement related. When studying the word for “sit,” actually sit. When studying the word for “eat,” actually eat or at least make the motion of eating. This is also known as “Total Physical Response.”

This concept can also be applied to words not usually associated with movement. You can attach any movement to a word and then do the movement with the word. Then chain the movements together to work through the words. Or maybe you like to dance, assign a certain dance step to a word and build a routine while saying the words. Maybe work it into your exercise routine!

5  |  Novelty intrigues the mind and fires curiosity (Allen, 2008).

Do something to make your practice “novel.” Vary the routine. Go practice in a different place. Do different activities. Make it novel.

6  |  Make it social (Allen, 2008).

Add a socializing component to your practice. Work together in small groups or pairs. Don’t just sit on your couch and spend an hour reading flash cards. It will be 58 minutes wasted. That time is better spent engaging the content in a socializing context. Play a word game with new vocabulary. Do a vocab scavenger hunt. Make it social.

7  |  Do you see what I mean (Allen, 2008)?

Make it visual. As often as possible connect the concept of the word to a visual image. Looking at the printed word is okay, but that’s not really the best way. Look at a picture of the concept. Draw a picture of the concept and rehearse the word.

8  |  Reflect on the learning (Carraway, 2014).

At the end of your practice session, leave a few minutes to reflect on what you’ve learned. Take about 15 minutes to just sit quietly and let your brain process all that it has just taken in. If you drift off for a short nap, it’s okay!

Jensen (2008) also recommends building in a “settling time” and rest. Short walks, or time for some physical activity between learning sessions increases the brain’s ability to continue absorbing information.

“Too much, too fast, it won’t last!”

9  |  Revisit the information right before bed (Jensen, 2008).

Re-read your notes, look at the pictures, rehearse the gestures, etc. from your practice session earlier in the day. Don’t consider this a “study time,” but rather just a short refreshing. It’s at night during REM sleep that the brain wires and stores the information from the day. By doing a short review, you are moving that information “up in the queue” to be stored. Did you catch that?…REM sleep is critical for building long term memory. Get enough rest!

10  |  Give your brain the chemicals it needs (Jensen, 2008).

The brain uses certain chemicals to store and retrieve information. Some foods that are high in lecithin include eggs, salmon, and lean beef, and they help boost recall. Other foods have been found to support memory function and they include: spinach, lean proteins, most vegetables, and salmon.


For more ideas and detailed explanations…

Allen, R. 2008. Green light classrooms, teaching techniques that accelerate learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Carraway, K. 2014. Transforming your teaching, practical classroom strategies informed by cognitive neuroscience. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.

Jensen, E. (2008). Brain-based learning: The new paradigm of teaching. Corwin Press.

Marzano, R., Norford, J., Paynter, D., Pickering, D., & Gaddy, B. 2001. A handbook for classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD

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EduCAN Inspire StoryTime

Inspire: Launching the Pilot

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Remember what started this whole adventure in creating the Inspire Early Learning Program? It’s true that necessity is the mother of invention! One of EduCAN’s primary guiding principles is to practice sustainable development. If that phrase is new to you, one of the things it means is doing development in a way that will outlive your direct involvement.

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Lets get to work

What is Inspire?

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Okay, here we go…let’s get to writing!

The Overview

To give this program shape, I have to answer the question, “What is the Inspire Early Learning Program?” Basically, it’s a simple introduction to the principles of early childhood development. It’s an accessible approach to providing quality and meaningful learning experiences for young children. Consider it a guide to helping adults develop their young learner’s basic skills they need to embark on the life-long quest of building knowledge. It seeks to lay a solid foundation that prepares children to enter the more formal environment of “school.”

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Inspire Early Learning Program — 5 Areas of Development

The Inspire Early Learning Program Is Born

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I don’t think “a preschool program for villages” makes a very good title. I thumb through my mental thesaurus for single words that have a positive connotation for education. As I think of each one, I immediately do a Google search to see it’s taken. Of course it’s taken—it’s a great word! This happens over and over, but I do not give up.

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Village near Aswan

“We need a preschool program for villages”

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Pam, my wife, and I live in Aswan, Egypt in a small Nubian village along the Nile. I am privileged to serve on the board of a local organization that does community development. As we sat in the board meeting, the director said, “We need a preschool program for villages.”

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What Schools Need and What They Don’t

Recently, it seems like educational systems face increased scrutiny. Global testing reveals the strengths and weaknesses of departments of education, schools, administrators, teachers, and students around the globe. For the last 50 years the world has focused on building “schools” and increasing enrollment in developing countries. But have we actually improved learning? Do students leave school prepared to make a productive contribution to the community, to society?

According to Lant Pritchett, “schooling ain’t learning.” In his book, The Rebirth of Education:  Schooling Ain’t Learning, Mr. Pritchett proposes that we have done a good job of building school buildings and the infrastructures of departments of education but have not actually improved achievement. He makes many compelling points.

In well-intentioned efforts organizations have focused on building schools and infrastructure. We have assumed that if there’s a school, then there’s learning. Unfortunately, that assumption has not been culturally informed. We have brought our own culture of a love of education and forced it into the word “school” thinking it would just happen. But it hasn’t.

In many developing countries (if not most), education sits low on the priority list for national funding. As a result, a mentality has developed that “We don’t have enough resources, therefore our schools are ineffective.” Until we have more inputs (desks, chalk, books) we can’t have successful schools.

In one sense that rings true. I would have to agree that when three students share one very old, poorly written textbook, the likelihood of learning wanes. But, if those same three students had high quality textbooks but a teacher who taught only by rote methods, they would still not achieve at acceptable levels.

The “inputs” represent the “low hanging fruit,” a quick, tangible fix with some money and very little dirtying of the hands. However, international organizations have thrown money at developing countries for decades with little to show for it in terms of measurable achievement.

This brings us to the heart of EduCAN. We believe that communities want their children to learn, to achieve, and to produce for the community. We also believe that teachers exist in nearly every school who want their students to advance in real ways.

Every workshop I’ve done in a developing country, the teachers devour whatever information we present. Their hunger for new ideas, strategies, and methods of teaching drives them to engage, come early, and stay late!

We at EduCAN want to be a catalyst for those who want to get past the “throw money at it” approach and actually get their hands dirty. We want to serve alongside passionate local educators who dream of making a difference in their school.

We want to see training and a culture of professional development in every school. We want to see educators connecting to share best practices, challenge each other, and strategize for the good of their students and communities. We want to see the existing resources of communities brought together for the good of educating their children.

Let’s dream of a time where “schooling IS learning!”

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Meet the Board Members

The five EduCAN board members bring a wealth of practical education experience to the organization. Out of their professional teaching experience both domestically and abroad, each has a heart for investing in the success and development of educators. They have more than 100 years of combined experience in education.

John H. Morton, M.Ed. serves as the president of the board. He taught for 10 years at the college level and worked as the academic dean at an international school in Khartoum. He and Pam, his wife, have lead professional development workshops in Sudan, Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, and Comoros. He holds a Master of Education in Curriculum Development.

Bud Greve, Ph.D., EduCAN’s vice president, lead the Springfield Public Schools as superintendent for many years.

Pam Morton serves as the treasurer and secretary of the board. She brings experience as an author, speaker, and teacher.

Rosemary Owens, Ph.D. retired from Missouri State University in Springfield, Missouri as a professor and the assistant chair of the Music Department.

Sarah Tattershall-Tillinghast teaches first grade at Eldon South Elementary in Eldon, Missouri. She has also taught internationally.

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Reading Foundation

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“We need an ABCs class!” The director of our local partner organization, Community Development Ministry, came to me asking if we could help with an “ABCs class.” A local village wanted to know the best way to teach the ABCs. As I thought about that request, I realized, there’s so much more to it than just the ABCs. I suggested we title the series of workshops, “Building a Foundation for Reading…It’s more than just the ABCs.” She agreed and we set out putting the workshop together.

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Zanzibar Educators

Zanzibar: What Great Teachers Do Differently

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In cooperation with Zanzibar’s Department of Education and local company Aslan Associates, EduCAN Development Corporation conducted a week-long series of international professional development workshops for 25 local educators. Todd Whitaker’s insightful book, “What Great Teachers Do Differently: 17 Things That Matter Most” (2011) served as the starting point for the course.

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