Sunday, August 19, 2012

A key to pronunciation exercise and practice persistence: perceived incremental progress

Clip art: Clker
Several earlier posts have referred to the use of "self determination theory" in exploring factors relating to exercise persistence. SDT (Deci & Ryan 1985) holds that four factors may combine in various settings to account for exercise persistence: (Professed) autonomy, relatedness (to group or institution), (program or group) support and (achieved or initial) competence. In a 2011 MA thesis by Martinez, which looked at physical exercise program persistence over the course of a semester, only the latter was shown to predict persistence, and that only in women, not men.

Clip art: Clker
There are no systematic studies that I am aware of in pronunciation instruction that look at (a) what kind of homework is prescribed in pronunciation instruction, (b) the effects of "homework persistence" or (c) personality characteristics or context support features which might support persistence in doing assigned pronunciation exercises and procedures outside of class. If we assume that (a) is important and that (b) is essential to success and that (c) is at least worth considering, then Martinez' research gives us an interesting clue, perhaps a place to start. Why would achieved competence appear to be the sole significant motivator of persistent exercise, and that only in women? Martinez' conclusion is that (probably) the course was structured so that participants could recognize incremental progress on an ongoing basis, week to week, and were thus motivated to keep going. (The men, apparently, were (predictably) not quite as attentive to the "details" of the work or the course, itself.)

Designing physical exercise regimens of that kind seems, at least at face value, to be an easier job than managing pronunciation improvement. In haptic-integrated work, where consistent practice and developing precision of pedagogical movement pattern is tied to pronunciation accuracy, evidence of change and progress, in part because of the "physical" basis of the work, should be easier to both build in and (for both students and instructor) easier to perceive. (See earlier blogposts on "future pacing" and benchmarking trajectories.) Now that is progress. 

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