Friday, August 31, 2012

Body wisdom in pronunciation teaching: Listen to your heart . . .

Clip art: Clker
Clip art: Clker
In haptic-integrated work, the right degree of "body awareness" is essential. There are many ways to accomplish that, of course. Sometimes students come to class with it already; sometimes it requires work. The term "body wisdom" in the title of the blogpost is a reference to Lessac's 1978 book, Body Wisdom, my introduction to Lessac and embodiment. There are any number of systems such as that for leading learners to optimal use of the body in speaking and just daily functioning. One thing they all share is a conceptual (nonverbal or verbal) strategy for checking on and managing the "status" of the various systems of the body, both autonomic and those which you can control consciously, like posture. One of them, in fact, was learning how to listen to your heartbeat. (That is also used in some biofeedback and meditation systems as well, for example.) Dunn and colleagues at Cambridge conducted a study where a similar awareness of heartbeat enhanced decision making. In fact, the better subjects were at monitoring their heartbeat, the better their decisions in a  complex card game tended to be. The researchers do not speculate (enough) on exactly why that should be the case, I will. Even if all that is doing is managing distraction and attention momentarily, that is often enormously beneficial. Often just doing a quick voice and body warm up, the "buzz" that results at least keeps learners thoughts in the room and on instruction for a few minutes--until disinterest, apathy or fatigue set in. In a noisy room, the felt sense of the heart beat can be nearly impossible for some to get. (The researchers used head sets and electronic heart monitors, like the one I run with.) But a good warm up and repeated use of pedagogical movement patterns to anchor speech can serve the same function, and more. In fact, it is relatively easy from the front of the room to visually monitor the fluent/dis-fluent body rhythms of students--and adjust those as necessary. (If you don't know how, ask your local kindergarten teacher.) As the title of the Science Daily says, "Trust your gut . . . " or something close to that!

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