Thursday, March 22, 2012

Systematic and a-systematic U2A2U pronunciation teaching

Several earlier posts have alluded to the importance of  an explicit, systematic, "unawareness to awareness to unawareness" (U2A2U) framework in pronunciation instruction. Furthermore, the general absence of research into what actually goes on in the classroom in terms of effectiveness of specific techniques or comprehensive methods (cf., Derwing & Munro, 2010) is indicative of something else: the common lack of success in enabling integration between pedagogy and spontaneous performance or use. The basic tenets of the "systems thinking" framework (compliments of Wikipedia) help focus on key aspects of the "integration" problem. Coherent systems are defined by a number of properties. Among them:
  • Independent elements can never constitute a system. Pronunciation teaching is almost by definition a-systematic.
  • Emergent properties not possible to detect by analysis should be possible to define by a holistic approach. A characterization of the process of integration as being strictly a function of the abilities, dispositions and context of the learner defines most contemporary accounts of the process. 
  • Systemic interaction must result in some goal or final state. The converse is also true:goals without explicit accounts of systemic interaction are accepted but not pedagogically productive. 
  • In a closed system inputs are determined once and constant; in an open system additional inputs are admitted from the environment. Open system frameworks can easily  sidestep pedagogical responsibility for effective usage-based outcomes. 
  • Transformation of inputs into outputs - this is the process by which the goals are obtained. This is the "missing" center of the integration process in most frameworks, that is managed or guided transformation from classroom to spontaneous conversation. 
  • Entropy - the amount of disorder or randomness present in any system. A good predictive "counter"measure of potential success at integration, especially at higher levels of proficiency. 
  • Regulation - a method of feedback is necessary for the system to operate predictably. Systematic research on feedback effectiveness carried out in the classroom is almost nonexistent. 
  • Hierarchy - complex wholes are made up of smaller subsystems. The emphasis on structural, hierarchical relationships is today much less prominent, in part because of attention to higher level, analog, prosodic (rhythm, stress and intonation) functions. 
  • Differentiation - specialized units perform specialized functions. The elements of the method must be perceptually salient to the learner and functionally integrated for efficiency and effectiveness. 
  • Multifinality and Equifinality  - attaining alternative objectives from the same inputs (divergence) or alternative ways of attaining the same objectives (convergence). The former is certainly desirable and expected; the latter should only be available for more experienced practitioners who have substantial experience with the system as a whole. 
The especially critical elements are the first, second and last. Systems that provide a wide range of options to instructors not possessing a "quorum level" of training and practice, and also place excessive responsibility on the learner cannot efficiently enable integration of targeted pronunciation, U2A2U . . . eh! 

2 comments:

Angelina Van Dyke said...

You too, eh, to you? Alternative ways of attaining the same objective would be teaching more intentionally than getting alternate objectives from the same inputs - that happens naturally, and can sometimes be a mistake to learn from!

Angelina Van Dyke said...

Fantastic find on NPR on the brain and God
http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=110997741

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