Thursday, April 9, 2015

Executive indecision: pronunciation teaching overthink and attention management

Clipart:
Clker.com
An essential problem in contemporary pronunciation teaching with adults (as opposed to children) is that it entails both highly "physical" and "cognitive" engagement. I think it is safe to say that most methods, as evident either explicitly or implicitly in available textbooks, leave the question unresolved by presenting both type of exercises and explanations--and letting the instructor and learner figure out how much of what to do when. 

Intuitively, we understand that too much analysis, explanation--or worry--probably does not help all that much in being able to learn how to pronounce or remember a sound or word. I have often poked fun at what I term the "hyper-cogs" in the field who overemphasize meta-cognitive side of instruction, that is insight, planning and explanation at the cost of sufficient attention to the physical side of the process. 

Now comes a fascinating study by Grafton of UC Santa Barbara and colleagues at the University of Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins University (summarized by ScienceDaily.com--see full citation below) that identifies the culprit: excessive activity in the frontal and the anterior cingulate cortices of the brain.

In essence what the study demonstrated was that those subjects who learned a task involving identifying patterns and responding by pushing a button FASTEST had significantly less "activity" in those areas of the brain responsible for executive functions, managing thought and critical functions. (Recall that Asher's initial interest in Total Physical Response teaching of language was based on the concept that faster learning was generally more successful as well.) 

There could, of course, be a number of reasons for that finding which probably involves overall mental functioning, but the implication for instruction is interesting: More efficient teaching and learning of skills that involve physical patterning, such as pronunciation, should consider carefully the balance of attention to executive functions (conscious analysis and explanation) and embodied training (kinaesthetic, somatic and tactile involvement). 

Probably the answer for us lies in understanding better the changing qualities of attention (awareness) in the sequential tasks of ongoing, moment-by-moment pronunciation instruction.  From our perspective, haptic work involves almost continuous attention to and monitoring of what bodies are doing during the lesson. Think of that as the baseline that explanation and reflection are then "added on to" and you'll be on the right track. 

Record one of your classes or segments of one and review it from that perspective. And, of course, keep in touch. 

Citation:
University of California - Santa Barbara. (2015, April 6). The brain game: How decreased neural activity may help you learn faster. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 8, 2015 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/04/150406121348.htm

2 comments:

Angelina Van Dyke said...

Of course, those with less executive functioning are much easier to control and are more highly suggestible to the instruction and direction of others. Executive functioning seeks to interpret and integrate external stimuli at the gate. : )

Angelina Van Dyke said...

Needless to say the danger of intellectual paralysis with meta-cogging is not desirable either!

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