Saturday, April 26, 2014

Post-method Pronunciation Teaching and Research: Myths and (Haptic) Method

To understand something of the conundrum faced by teachers new to pronunciation work today, you probably need to begin with Kumaravadevilu's (2003) initial characterization of the "Post-method" era, or, even better, Kumaravadevilu (2007). That, along with a great new book just out, Pronunciation Myths, edited by Grant and Brinton, provides a good perspective on the question. 
Clip art:

In essence, the first (a) builds a compelling case for the idea that no one method can possibly work in all contexts and (b) provides a set of 10 strategies for, in essence, building your own personal classroom teaching method--while at the same time warning that an inflexible "method" is to be avoided at all costs. In part that is because the only way you can test a method is to try it yourself, in your classroom. And also you must--at least temporarily--believe the "testimonies" of those who use it, while you test it. 

The second, "Myths," while thoroughly dispensing with several common misconceptions (and a few "straw men") about pronunciation teaching, provides a very useful review of the range of research-tested techniques that have, in fact, been shown to be effective. (I count 40 or 50 discrete techniques or variants in all.) 

Add to those two the current theoretical perspective that pronunciation must to the extent possible be integrated into general instruction and you have the post-method conundrum: How do I personally assemble the techniques that can be integrated and will work in my (unique) classroom? (Murphy's chapter in "Myths" addresses that issue quite well in fact.) 

What we refer to as "Haptic-integrated pronunciation teaching" is, in fact, a method based on the use of a wide range of well-established and proven techniques. (All reported in "Myths!") What makes it different is just that (a) the techniques are generally anchored (or reinforced) using movement and touch--based on multiple "haptic" studies in other disciplines, and (b) the method focuses principally on modelling, feedback and correction--and to some extent integration into spontaneous speech. Those are dimensions of pronunciation teaching that have been studied extensively in "the lab" but not in the classroom, especially in terms of long term improvement. 

And to finish up the post-modern stew: EHIEP (Essential Haptic-integrated English Pronunciation)  work is essentially experiential, both learning with it and about it. The best evidence that we have now that the method, itself, "works" are about a decade of reports from students in the classroom and related research from a dozen other disciplines. The same is the case with all methods, of course. 

For a number reasons, it is exceedingly difficult to test a method, among them the fact that no matter what the results, in today's "hyper-localized" theoretical view of methodology,  the nature of the learner population may radically limit generalizability. Few if any classroom studies or action research in pronunciation teaching provide much in the way of detail as to how the techniques or treatments were actually conducted or relate to the other instruction or ongoing experiences that students/subjects were involved in at the time of the study.  

Theoretically, one should, of course, be able to generalize from the local. (That is, after all the raison d’etre for the dominance of qualitative research in the field currently.) In practice, research is today still so thoroughly “critical-agenda-driven” that general applicability of methodology cannot be of interest. In time, in depth studies of one teacher's method will again be in fashion and doctoral dissertations. (I'm working on a book proposal that will do something like that.) 

For the time being . . . Just do it!


Tom Tabaczynski said...

I agree Bill, and I suspect that the post-method theorising, while there's probably some truth to it, may suffer to some extent from a category error.

In a certain sense, no recipe for anything will work in all circumstances. The work of Hubert Dreyfus on the acquisition of expertise in any field indicates that the expert (eg., teacher) has the practical know-how to adapt their knowledge to the immediate circumstances. No explicit recipe, whether for driving cars or playing chess, will produce expert performance because there are too many local variables.

The post-method approach is true if it says that there is no recipe for teaching language as a whole (which is kind of obvious), and is also true if it says that no recipe will work in all circumstances (which seems trivial given what Dreyfus has said).

But it might well be false if it claims that we can dispense with recipes altogether, or that we should cease seeking better recipes/methods for teaching language.

It also seems a reasonable anti-dote against over-enthusiasm about certain approaches. And it also seems that we should maintain a critical stance in our teaching.

But the danger is that it might be read as suggesting that there are no techniques that make learning certain things more efficient and effective. Of course, if the students lack resources in terms of time, money, or motivation, learning is unlikely to occur. What needs to be shown is that given reasonable circumstances in terms of time and access to the required resources and equipment, and a good level of motivation, techniques and methods won't get the student from A to B efficiently.

So it seems that the (somewhat trivial) conclusion is that the teacher needs to apply their critical judgement in administering pedagogical techniques in a non-authoritarian way. In saying this I have to admit that I have not spent too much time reading the post-method literature (more on learner autonomy and critical literacy, though) because I needed to use my limited time searching out the most effective ways (methods?) of teaching language.

Bill Acton said...

Interesting. Maybe a good way to look at it is more ontologically, that is (especially in the case of EHIEP, of course) not to bias the process by saying up front that a method, a systematic set of techniques, as a whole should not be at least initially adopted--and then maybe adapted. I'll do another post or follow up on this thread to unpack the idea of how a method should be approached or judged. Decades ago we used the "approach-method-technique" distinction to pull things apart. When it became clear that doing that in practice was, among other things, critically messy (in the Critical Pedagogy sense), leaving the inherent authority of the method and methodologist in tact, rather than empowering the teacher, the concept of method or at least the status of it, was repositioned to what it is today, more the result of the individual practitioner's rationalized assembly of techniques. With AH-EPS, I am arguing that it is coherent and systematic enough to be a method, without claiming to be able of doing everything pronunciation-related but some key elements that are to a large extent missing in most of todays models.

Angelina Van Dyke said...

I think I'm seeing a paradigm shift hit the TESOL field - yeah! It's interesting to note that while we are in a post-method period in TESOL, the primary focus of good teaching practice is to find the method that works for your particular context. Tom says that his time is spent searching out the most effective ways of teaching language, and I would concur with that as well.

What HICPR provides is a heuristic for pronunciation practice that is fluid, yet systematic enough to improve spontaneous L2 speech. Generalizing a method across contexts doesn't have to be authoritarian, taking away the local autonomy of teachers and students, but it is necessary to provide a grid from which to make relative judgements about what constitutes good and bad teaching and learning given the variables at play. It's an Einsteinian relativity in reference to a grid, rather than a Newtonian stasis. TESOL has to learn to jive with subjective elements in concert with objective facts about how things work. What fractal math does for digitally mapping coastlines, so methodology in TESOL needs to reckon that critical-agenda-driven pedagogies will lead us down a rabbit hole we can never get out of unless we have a more comprehensive map to place it on. Looking forward to your book proposal, Bill!

Post a Comment