Monday, July 28, 2014

Haptically Speaking!

Have been meaning to do a blogpost on a project of Dr David Hurd Professor of Geosciences and Planetarium Director at the Edinboro University of Pennsylvania. His work in support of the visually disabled and haptic learning in general is very impressive. This one, on lunar craters (or the one on Mars), is a classic. Unfortunately, he created the website "Haptically Speaking" before I thought to capture that name!

Very good stuff! If you want to know what it feels like to do haptic work, Lunar Craters is a great place to start. Have often been asked if AHEPS/EHIEP is also not a great fit for the visually impaired or for application to other such learning challenges. I look forward to exploring those questions in the years ahead.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Stop using excessive repetition in pronunciation teaching! (Especially if your student almost gets it right the first time!)

 "Words, words, words." (Hamlet)

There is probably no topic more controversial in pronunciation teaching than the role of repetition in learning and change. Key in "repetition in pronunciation teaching" into Google and you get about 1,000,000 hits. Educated opinion ranges from "use only sparingly and strategically, if at all" to highly sophisticated routines with multiple repetitions.

Applicability of repetition of language forms varies greatly, in differing forms and with learner populations. The operating principle may, in fact, be--to paraphrase an old pop song--neither "too much repetition-- or not quite enough."

The former injunction, to use repetition sparingly in at least some contexts, is seemingly supported by a 2014 study by Reagh and Yassa of the University of California-Irvine (summarized by Science Daily) in which repeated viewing of pictures seemed to " . . . increase factual recall but actually hindered subjects' ability to reject similar "imposter" pictures. This suggests that the details of those memories may have been shaken loose by repetition." Their model, Competitive Trace Theory, also is said to postulate that " . . . details of a memory become more subjective the more they're recalled and can compete with bits of other similar memories."

Now granted, that study focused only on repeated viewing of pictures, rather than oral (or haptic) repetition. What that does at least in part explain, however, is why repetition may not only be ineffective at times but possibly counterproductive, downgrading even further the memory of the target sound, word or phrase. In cases where there is a competing or "dangerously similar" L1 or L2 sound, word or phrase in the neighbourhood, either phonologically or semantically, the effect may be significant.

Recall that Asher's 1970's pre-Total Physical Response research was, in part, based on the concept that the fewer the number of repetitions when a word is learned for the first time, the better the chances of it being remembered.)

There are any number of approaches to effective repetition in pronunciation teaching, depending on what is being learned and when. If just articulation of a specific sound is the purpose, multiple, rapid repetition may be in order. If, on the other hand, the pronunciation of new or "repaired" vocabulary is the goal, then the effect alluded to by Reagh and Yassa may be in operation: the "uniqueness" of the target being hammered off or dulled.

In EHIEP work we generally try to limit the number of repetitions of words or short phrases to 3x, and even then requiring as much intense "full body" engagement as possible, accompanied by haptic anchoring--movement and touch on a stressed syllable.

Coming soon!
AHEPS v3.0 Bee & Butterfly
(Artist: Anna Shaw)
Repetition, like all aspects of instructional design must be intentional, meaningful and developmentally appropriate. Working 1x1, as in tutoring, that is more manageable. At the class level or during independent study, however, it is another question entirely.

Just ask Zig Zigler“Repetition is the mother of learning, the father of action, which makes it the architect of accomplishment.” 

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Stop assigning pronunciation homework! (Unless it is systematic and you follow up on it!)

Clip art: Clker
Time to check your homework . . . How's this for a formula for success: Instruction (in class, f2f or online) + out-of-class-work + student ability and initiative. You with me so far? The key factor is often said to be the last one, which entails motivation and a number of other more personal variables, including being organized and disciplined. 

It is always good to have "just blame the student" (or his or her genes) on the list of legitimate excuses for lack of progress. It is, of course, the insidious flip side of metacognitive practice: train the learner how to manage his or her learning in and out of class--and then he or she is on his or her own. 

How does your homework or out of class practice regimen work? How do you know? Do you care? 

As reported is several other blogposts, the research on homework is extensive (in the field of Education and others) and all over the map. Every disciple speaks to that process is some fashion, even car manufacturing

Many intensive language programs (20+ hours per week) program in systematic practice on site or online that involve monitoring and assessment. Good for them. I'm only interested here in instruction where pronunciation is not the sole focus of the class but is integrated into other skill and content teaching. (Haptic-INTEGRATED)

Just as an example, a guideline, here is the general EHIEP approach:

Systematic homework practice is "the bottom line" of Essential Haptic-integrated English Pronunciation (EHIEP) teaching system. Basically, when a word or phrase containing a problematic sound or sound process (e.g., rhythm, stress, juncture or intonation) is targeted it should be assigned to a list of some kind and briefly practiced by the learning outside of class about six times over the course of two weeks. (To understand what targeting and "haptic practice" is about in this method, check out the general description on the website.) The practice times and work done should also be noted in some kind of journal or "pronunciation log" for continuous review by the instructor. 

We should do a book on this--or at least develop a good comment thread on the topic below! There is a new appendix in AHEPS, v3.0 (rolling out this fall) on homework protocols. 

Keep in touch--and do your homework.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Stop practicing pronunciation! (If your students can explore it!)

This is a follow up on, "Stop correcting pronunciation! (If your students can afford it!)," based on a post by Tabaczynski. Question: Does (more) practice make perfect, or at least make one better than the competition? A couple recent summaries of meta-analyses by Science Digest add support to Tabaczynksi's argument, suggesting . . . well . . . maybe not so much.

Macnamara, Hambrick and Oswald (2014) note that: 

"Practice accounted for about 26% of individual differences in performance for games, about 21% of individual differences in music, and about 18% of individual differences in sports. But it only accounted for about 4% of individual differences in education and less than 1% of individual differences in performance in professions."

Stafford and Dewar (2013) add that: 

"Game play data revealed that those players who seemed to learn more quickly had either spaced out their practice or had more variable early performance -- suggesting they were exploring how the game works -- before going on to perform better."

Clip art:
Haptic pronunciation teaching methodology certainly aims to be more embodied, incorporating frameworks and techniques from gaming, music and sports. It is also pretty consistent with Tabaczynski's "(schematic) buckets and spaced (practice and scaffolded) retrieval" proposal.

Think I'll stop right there . . .

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Stop correcting pronunciation! (If your students can afford it!)

Clip art: Library
 of Congress
Good post by Tabaczynski, Counselling Paradigm in Language Teaching that seems very in line with where the field, in general, is headed. Here is his bottom line:

"I would suggest that instead of correcting we simply provide feedback. Students, I would argue, need feedback rather than correction. . . . the idea is that the development of language is non-linear, dynamic, and emergent, a product of the interaction of several systems . . .  I suggest that the task of teaching is providing external scaffolding systems of ‘buckets’ to collect information and manage spaced out retrieval practice."

Just as an aside, what does "correct" mean anyway?  According to Merriam Webster's, a range of things, such as:
  • to make or set right 
  • to alter or adjust so as to bring to some standard or required condition 
  • to punish (as a child) with a view to reforming or improving
  • to point out usually for amendment the errors or faults of
Got to be a better way (or at least metaphor) than that! Simple question, however: How might such a "spaced out buckets" approach work for you and your students? 

It would, of course,  be one thing were your students to be working on their English near full time in an academic preparation program (EAP.) That is especially the case when most students have good financial resources behind them or have the academic training or guidance to manage their learning and work with "strategies"--or even have time to think about them (as are most of Tabaczynski's students and thousands in the developed world like them.)

But how about if you have only minimal time and training to assist with pronunciation or attention to form in general, your students are not really very--or at all--"meta," they can not even afford textbooks, and they are in a class of 50 that meets only an hour or two a week? Might you still not be (justifiably) tempted to "kick the bucket" in favour of more direct, traditional "pointing out" or "punishing with a view to improving?"

My point. Today, where learners can afford it--especially with computer-assisted and better trained instructor support-- things look promising. For those who can't or whose programs won't, as Tabaczynski argues persuasively, with the current additional cognitive overlay of underlying behaviourists' reinforcement, extinction metaphors and methods, they may well be even worse off . . .

The answer, you ask? Next post, I'll address one (moving and touching) solution to this emerging "rags or riches" conundrum in the field. Perhaps we also need a new mantra: Pedagogical Justice for incorrect Pronunciation!

Keep in touch!