As we clarify our purposes for teaching, we can focus on the sciences of learning and linguistics. For the Purpose Principle, we can find purpose in three general ways (1) by creating a work or doing significant deeds; (2) by experiencing something or encountering people; and (3) by the attitude we take regarding suffering (Frankl, 2006, p. 75).
For general learning principles, we help students better learn when they do Retrieval, Interleaving, Spacing, Elaboration, Generation, and when they learn to Opine positively about their ability to succeed. I call this the RISE-&-GO principle, the content of which is summarized in the excellent book “Make It Stick” by Brown, Reedier, and McDaniel, (2014). RISE-&-GO actually stands for 6 separate principles that work together to promote learning.
Retrieval and Interleaving
First, with Retrieval practice, we ask students to recall from memory words, grammatical structures, ideas, events, and stories. “Retrieval strengthens memory and interrupts forgetting” (Brown et al., 2014, p. 3). Flash cards, simple quizzes, and self-quizzes are good ways to do retrieval practice, and they work better than reviewing notes or rereading a text because reviewing and rereading give us the illusion of knowing as we become familiar with the material, but familiarity does not always mean that we can retrieve information from memory.
Second, with Interleaving, we mix different batches or units of content as we do retrieval practice. For example, a ukulele player who needs to learn three songs might be tempted to master one song at a time, but that would be a form of shorter-lasting massed-practice. Rather, if he interleaves separate songs and spaces out the practice, he would find it more effortful, but that effort would produce more lasting learning.
In language classes, we can do interleaving by having students interleave retrieval practice of vocabulary words from different units or lessons. We can have them memorize three separate super short stories, jokes, proverbs, or quotations where they mix up (interleave) their memorization efforts for each separate text, or we can have students interleave the retrieval of grammatical structures as opposed to reviewing one at a time.
Spacing or Spaced-Practice
Third, learners often do cramming or massed-practice. But with Spacing or spaced-practice, students do retrieval after a space of time, after some forgetting sets in. Spacing makes the retrieval harder and feel less productive. But these feelings are deceptive because when students make the effort to retrieve items from memory after spacing, the extra effort produces learning that lasts longer and is more flexible for various applications.
Flash cards or self-quizzing are good ways to do retrieval, interleaving, and spacing. In my classes where almost all students share the same first language (L1), we do this kind of retrieval, interleaving, and spacing for new words. First the students read an easy story where they might meet 5 unknown words. Each student writes down their new English words on flashcards, with the target English word on one side of the card and the L1 translation on the other.
Then in pairs, the students quiz each other, from English to Japanese and Japanese to English. I tell students that it is best to practice the retrieval of English words from the L1 since they are trying to acquire the English words. This is a simple form of retrieval practice. We will do this once after the students read the story and maybe one more time right before the end of class (spacing). Over the term, students will read more stories, and repeat the process. However, during the retrieval time, we will also practice spacing with interleaving. That is, students will quiz each other on words from three or four stories. They can quiz each other on words from one story at a time, and they can mix the words all up.
Elaboration and Generation
Fourthly, in addition to retrieval, interleaving, and spacing, we can do elaboration with generation. With Elaboration, we make new material meaningful by putting it in our own words and connecting it with what we know (Brown, et al., 2014). Following the above vocabulary activity, students make sentences with their new words. When doing this, they only use one unknown word in the novel sentence, which is the one they are trying to learn. In this way, they elaborate on the new words using words that they already know.
Fifthly, we look at generation. With Generation, we try to solve a problem before seeing the solution (Slamecka and Graf, 1978). In a content-based lesson, pairs of students can try to answer comprehension questions before reading the text. After reading, they can circle new words and try to guess their meanings before using a dictionary, and they can share their guesses in pairs or with the class. In a typical cloze activity, students can guess all the answers before listening, which can result in better memory and learning than simply reading the text.
This kind of generation is basically trial and error leaning, but it works! “Generation has the effect of making the mind more receptive to new learning” (Brown, et al., 2014, 208). Even if students get wrong answers, they benefit from the process of generating the answer. They see more clearly the holes or gaps in their knowledge. They process the questions and content more deeply, and this prepares their minds for remembering more than by being given the answers.
Opining Positively (The Growth Mindset)
For the last part of the RISE-&-GO principle, we look at how to help students Opine positively about their ability to learn and grow. This is the idea of the “growth mindset” (Dweck, 2007). The opposite of a growth mindset is a fixed mindset, the idea that intelligence is fixed at birth. A fixed mindset causes us to avoid challenges and reminds us that failure is proof of our so-called stupidity. But with a growth mindset, we come to understand that we can change our brains and our intelligence, and this helps us to take on challenges and not give up so easily.
The growth mindset is based on believing in a simple fact. That is, our mental powers are not fixed; we can change them. Dweck says our success depends less on IQ and more on courage, curiosity, and stick-to-it-iveness. And, as mentioned previously regarding the Purpose Principle, we can add some healthy purpose into the recipe. That is, we can recall a deeper purpose for overcoming a particular difficulty. For example, if as a teacher, I fail to give a good class to a group of students, I can remind myself of a simple purpose: “always improve yourself,” and then ask myself, “How can I give a better class next time?” The wonderful thing about a growth mindset is that we can teach it to students, and it can have a wonderfully positive effect on their abilities to learn.
Most of all, in order to help students develop a growth mindset, we need to teach them the contrasting concepts of fixed mindset and growth mindset. We can teach them the simple truth that intelligence (and this includes linguistic intelligence) is not fixed at birth, and that we can change it by effort, and we can also tell them stories about the power of a growth mindset.
Dweck (2010, p. 67) tells a story of a young man who was struggling with depression. It was his first year at university, and it was his first time to be away from home. He didn’t have any friends. His classes were very difficult, and as time passed, he became depressed. In spite of his feelings, he worked hard, but as more time passed, his feelings were not getting better. He was still homesick. His classes were still hard, and he didn’t have friends. The situation became so difficult that he found it hard to get out of bed in the morning.
Nevertheless, he did get up. He showered, shaved, and did all the things he was supposed to do. He attended class. He did his homework. He took all his exams, and he did well on them, yet he was still lonely and sad. Finally, he went to get help. The counsellor asked him, “Are you attending classes, doing your homework, and doing well on your exams?” The young man said, “Yes, I am.” At this point, the counsellor said something rather strange. She said, “Then you are not depressed.”
In fact, he was depressed, but, according to Dweck, he was coping with his depression with a growth mindset. If he had a fixed mindset, then maybe he would have given up. The fixed mindset would tell him: “You just can’t do this. College life away from home is not for you.” But this is not what happened. His growth mindset helped him respond positively to this difficult situation. He listened to the voice of the growth mindset: “You feel bad, so get up, change yourself, grow, and solve the problem.”
Four Steps to a Growth Mindset
Dweck (2010) suggests four steps to help teachers and students develop a growth mindset. First, we need to recognize the voice of the fixed mindset. That is, we must identify the voice of the fixed mindset when it speaks. When facing challenges, the voice of the fixed mindset might say, “If you fail, people will call you a failure.” “Maybe you don’t have the talent to do this.” “Maybe you are just not smart enough.” We must recognize this voice as a liar, telling us a false story that we cannot grow.
Second, Dweck reminds us that we have a choice. That is, we need to choose to respond to trouble with a growth mindset. Do we choose to look at the challenge from a fixed mindset or a growth mindset? If we look at it from a fixed mindset, then we may give up or not even try in the first place. But if we look at challenges from a growth mindset, we will think of ways to develop ourselves and keep trying. The choice is this. The challenge may be hard, but learners can grow and change to meet this challenge.
Third, we can learn to speak with a growth mindset. That is, we need to disagree with the fixed mindset and speak to it with a growth mindset. By this Dweck means that we “talk back” to the fixed mindset. Maybe the fixed mindset says, “You don’t have enough talent to meet this challenge.” But we talk back with a growth mindset. “Maybe I can’t do it now, but I can work and grow, and then I will be able to do it.” The fixed mindset might say, “It’s not your fault. Your teacher is not good.” But the growth mindset doesn’t blame. It takes responsibility, so you respond, “If I take responsibility, then I can meet the challenge.”
Lastly, we start to act and live by the growth mindset. That is, we take action based on the growth mindset. We take on challenges and try our best. If we fail, then we learn from our mistakes. We value failure because it can be a great teacher. In this way, Dweck reminds us that we need to be aware of the voice of the fixed mindset so that we can (a) respond with the voice of the growth mindset and (b) follow the voice of the growth mindset with positive effort, courage, and confidence.
RISE-&-GO with Extensive Reading
The RISE-&-GO principle provides teachers and learners helpful tools to learn, remember, and constantly grow, and it represents sound educational psychology that we can directly apply in language teaching. By way of conclusion, I would like to comment on how RISE-&-GO works with extensive reading (ER) because this principle raises a big question. As mentioned above, reading and rereading a text creates an illusion of knowing. If so, then what is the value of reading? If reading and rereading only bring familiarity with material and not long-lasting knowledge, then how should we view extensive reading? If RISE-&-GO helps us make information knowledge, then what about reading?
These are big questions that we cannot fully answer here. Nevertheless, ER still applies RISE-&-GO albeit in a different way. When we read extensively, we practice a kind of retrieval, interleaving, and spacing with vocabulary and grammar. That is, as we read extensively, we encounter lexical and grammatical structures over and over. If we understand this lexis and grammar, then at some level we do mental retrieval with these structures. Moreover, as we read extensively, we interleave and space the retrieval of grammar and lexis by virtue of our exposure to large amounts of text. Additionally, if we read deeply in a subject, we can move beyond familiarity and into knowledge of that subject, elaborating on new knowledge by connecting it to the old.
Therefore at some level ER does employ the RISE of the RISE-&-GO principle though readers need to intentionally practice Elaboration and Generation as they read. In the end, we need to look more closely at how RISE-&-GO relates to ER, but we shouldn’t be discouraged about extensive reading. It fits with RISE-&-GO, and reading still remains one of our main ways to filter knowledge through the RISE-&-GO principle, not to mention a great way to enjoy a life of art and learning.