Saturday, October 15, 2011

Widdowson's Error II: Focus on form during "communicative" activities

Following up on the previous post, here is a 2010 study by Ellis looking at how corrective feedback and intervention happens in what he refers to as "communicative" classroom instruction. What is typical and fascinating is that at no place in the description of the study does he provide any real detail as to what was actually going on in the classroom--or whether it was being done well. We are to assume that it was, and that we all agree what we mean by communicative--and that most any type of communicative activity is, for research purposes, of equal effectiveness and impact. That is almost standard practice in research related to pronunciation teaching practices.

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You will rarely get much information as to what went on clinically, only pedagogically--which means just providing the name of the technique(s) used. Imagine a psychotherapist trying to convince colleagues of the efficacy of a new protocol simply by focusing on the results, not the details of the process. From that perspective, it is just as reasonable in reviewing many studies of attempts to correct pronunciation in oral communication classes to ask whether the communicative dimensions of the class were conducted well. Unless proven otherwise, we have to assume that the problem with the focus on form may have been also caused by or at least exacerbated by poor communicative instruction.

True to "form," from a HICP/EHIEP perspective, that should almost always be the case: unless the class communicative narrative is strong, haptic anchoring of pronunciation change will not work either. Maybe Widdowson was right after all.

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