Thursday, January 5, 2012

Facilitating insight into problem solving (and pronunciation) with directed movement

Clip art: Clker
Here is a report on a "moving" research study by Thomas and Lleros (2009) that demonstrates the potential impact of using a gesture in instruction: "Consistent with embodied theories of cognition, these findings show that actions influence thought and, furthermore, that we can implicitly guide people toward insight by directing their actions." In this case, the movement used, a focused swinging of the arms in a specific, controlled pattern (which very indirectly suggested a possible solution to a complex conceptual, thought problem) strongly promoted subjects' solving that problem.

That technique is strikingly similar to the use in EHIEP of about 12 pedagogical movement patterns (PMPs) to teach intonation contours in English. (Basically, the left hand traces a part of each contour across the visual field, including at some point touching the right hand on a stressed element of the word or phrase.) The indirect relationship between the shape of the PMP and the changes in pitch, pace and volume of the voice is quite analogous to that employed by that study where subjects were asked to figure out how to tie two strings together using a set of objects on the table in front of them--and then given short regular breaks where they were led in briefly exercising in a way consistent with a key move required to solve the problem (without being told the purpose of the exercise, other than to study the effect of exercise on problem solving.)

An important principle of HICP work is that PMPs should be to the extent possible both haptic (involving movement and touch) and isomorphic (being of similar form to) a gesture that could reasonably be used in the language for some function. Waving arms across the visual field in front of students to illustrate intonation patterns is a common technique used by many pronunciation instructors--for an empirically validated, good reason it now turns out. Insightful, to say the least!

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