Friday, July 3, 2015

Putting the festive and 'fʌn' back in (pronunciation) teaching and testing: The Taylor Swift effect!

Clipart: Clker.com
Following an earlier, tongue-in-cheek post on excessive "fear of micro-aggression" in pronunciation teaching, we have an almost equally "deep" (or surreal) potential antidote for the most obvious kind of macro-aggression: testing! Developed by a sociology instructor, Dougherty, at Baylor University (Summarized by ScienceDaily.com) the trick is basically just to bring in "balloons, streamers, treats and music" and call tests "Learning celebrations." There was a little more to it than that, of course--including making items on tests "amusing" . . .  (Of course, just not taking undergraduate sociology too seriously in the first place might be a good place to begin as well.)

But Dougherty does have a point--other than simply bribing students with sugar and creating an atmosphere of "unbearable lightness of being." My son tells a great story of one of his graduate instructors, a phenomenally good lecturer and world famous researcher, who would always serve students homemade cookies before handing out class evaluations and then would play guitar and sing to them while they filled them out--but noting up front that he was in no way attempting to influence their responses . . . 

Making learning fun works, but creating a test that is also a true, formative, fun leaning experience is extraordinary. From the summary, however, it is not at all clear how the sociology test actually contributed to the overall objectives and "delivery" of the course, other than a modest 2 point (out of 100) increase in mean score across semesters. 

I love my work; teaching, for me, is often fun. Making a class "fun and entertaining" is too easy. Making the intrinsic learning experience rewarding and perceived as "fun"--through what is accomplished or learned--is a different matter entirely, although sometimes related. That is especially the case with pronunciation teaching, where the basic tools of explanation and drill and controlled practice are often very difficult to enliven or make at all meaningful. 

In other words, if you can't figure out a way to seriously "embody" fun in the classwork itself, you can at least use Dougherty's approach--which is precisely what so many experienced pronunciation teachers do--especially those trained in earlier affective and holistic methods, such as drama, poetry and music: create a high-energy, fast-moving, entertaining experience to rub off on the grind of mechanical body work required. 

That "rub off" effect is now very well researched in marketing. You may have seen stories in the media where any product in close proximity to a life-size picture of Taylor Swift--regardless of age or whether or not the customer knew who she was--sold better, significantly.  

Your other alternative, of course, is just to "Be Haptic!"

Full citation:
Baylor University. "Tests vs. Fests: Students in 'learning celebrations' rather than exams scored higher and enjoyed themselves." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 June 2015. .

1 comment:

Bill Acton said...

I should have titled this post: Fun with the Taylor Swift effect and put her name in the labels!!!

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