Saturday, February 2, 2013

Collaborative pronunciation group work--by design!

Clip art: Clker
There is , as far as I can tell, virtually no accessible, published research on the efficacy of group work in pronunciation teaching. (If you know of some PLEASE post a comment with the link!) There are any number of informal reports and recommendations along those lines, including Gilbert (2008) (a free pdf that you should be familiar with already!) that has some good ideas for pair work on stress assignment and intelligibility of vowel and consonant articulation, a good complement to the Acton Haptic - English Pronunciation System, AH-EPS. (See earlier post  and sidebar on name changes of both our company and what was formerly the "EHIEP" or "HIPOECES" system. Change . . . )

New research by Vaquero of Hewlett-Packard and Cebrian of the University of San Diego, summarized by Science Daily, demonstrates the potential benefits of group collaborative work, as opposed to working alone. So far, so good. But, get this: " . . . almost equally interesting is the fact that these high-performing students form 'rich-clubs', which shield themselves from low-performing students, despite the significant efforts by these lower-ranking students to join them. The weaker students try hard to engage with the elite group intensively, but can't. This ends up having a marked correlation with their dropout rates."

So, in pronunciation work, especially in classes of mixed ability, how do you do effective group work, if at all? Separate out the "rich" and "poor" clubs? Integrate them? For most, the answer is "Neither!" In AH-EPS work, where developing accurate pedagogical movement patterns (PMPs) is one important feature each module--not initial phonetic accuracy, the opportunity for mixed-level group work is excellent. (In fact, many times there appears to be little or no early correlation between "haptic-ability" and proficiency.)

The nonverbal, collaborative communication centers on PMP execution--best done in groups of three or more--coordinating it with articulation of the sound, sound pattern, stress, rhythm or intonation assignment. (Note: The key "haptic"  principle here is that accurate PMP anchoring should, by itself, in short order enable more accurate articulation--without a great deal of conscious, auditory self-monitoring.)

Any pronunciation class can, in principle, be "grouped" in attending to some suprasegmental targets, such as in Gilbert (2008). For the most part AH-EPS group and (potentially) homework practice is also wonderfully stress-free and noncompetitive--and egalitarian! A "rich" source of anchored, focused noticing. Ah! (or AH!) a new acronym even: AnFoNot!

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