The Brain is a Muscle. Train It!

Do the steps you’re taking every day line up with where you want to go?

Stage 1: SMART goal setting

Stage 2: Training diary (below)

Following the guiding principles of the outstanding From English Teacher to Learner Coach, our priority should be for successful students, not just successful lessons. This isFrom English Teacher where I hope an English training diary (available for download at the end of the article) can help. Here’s why:

teacher is very different from a coach. A teacher imparts information; a coach helps people help themselves. Coaches focus on helping people identify areas of personal or professional need, elicit goals and strategy for accomplishing those goals (SMART goal setting), and serve as accountability mechanisms and positive reinforcement.

As language coaches, we’re focused on our learners’ brains, like a sport coach might target other parts of the body, depending on the sport. And like an athlete’s muscles, the human brain grows and adapts given appropriate and consistent impetus to do so. 

Put simply, it’s our job as language coaches to encourage our learners to train their language brains regularly. As one of my favourite YouTube Italian teachers Alberto at Italiano Automatico says: “The important thing is to remain in daily contact with the language”. Like an athlete would train their body six days a week, anyone serious about improving their language skills should strive for this level of consistency.

English training diary

This year I’ll recommend that my learners keep a diary of their contact with the English language, whatever that might be: online gaming, watching YouTube videos, reading articles, class homework. The important thing is that they are in contact with English for at least five days a week. We can then use class time to discuss how their daily habits are sufficiently challenging and relevant to their self-professed goals (SMART goal setting again!), because as American sprinter Michael Johnson said:

“I’d crafted a decade of dreams into ambitions, 

Refined ambitions into goals, 

And finally hammered goals into plans”.

Daily habits build towards long-term results, and as language coaches, we can encourage our learners to optimise their daily contact with English to move towards where they want to go.


One thought on “The Brain is a Muscle. Train It!

  1. Great stuff, James! It’s so helpful to receive, not just inspiration, but actual ideas to take into the classroom. Your professional development session on Fishing Rods vs. Fish springs to mind.

    The ‘stage’ of the lesson with my C1 groups went something like this.

    1. Talk in groups about your training experience, why it is important…
    2. “The Brain is a Muscle, train it – you’re going to watch a video on how to grow your brain. At the end you’ll all have to share one thing you got from it.”
    3. Video + takeaways (I took notes)
    4. You need to be in contact with English (or any subject content) for five days a week, or more.
    5. They wrote their short diary entry for the lesson and any other ‘contact’ from the day.

    The lesson was closed with the point that what happens in this classroom is important, however, the real growth occurs out there, in between lessons, in the real world.

    Student Takeaways
    1. Our brain has approximately 80-100 billion neurons
    2. Struggling is great for our progress (x2)
    3. The brain of a 6 year old has many more neurons than that of a newborn
    4. The brain is a muscle, use it
    5. We can change our intelligence (x2)
    6. Wrong answers = growth
    7. We are able to grow and develop our brain

    *I appreciate one of the main underlying theme of your posts – Growth Mindset!

    Liked by 1 person

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