Saturday, January 10, 2015

Mastering new movement (and pronunciation!): Follow through, follow up or foul up?

Mastery learning has gotten an undeservedly bad rap in many areas of education--but not fo
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r those of us engaged in the "somatic" or bodily arts, where systematic control of movement in training is critical. In athletic or music training it is a given; in contemporary pronunciation work and elsewhere it is a decidedly mixed bag. Articulatory work with learners, for example, can be incredibly difficult. What level of mastery of a sound, for example, is adequate in a given context? More importantly, how can you get there?

A new study by Howard, Wolpert and Franklin (Summarized by Science Daily -  See complete reference below), looked at the function of follow through in learning new movement. Subjects were trained in a new hand movement (grasping and turning a handle of sorts) and a "path" to a resting state for the hand to take after the targeted movement execution. 

What they discovered was that the more inconsistent the movement on the follow-through path, the more the mastery of the targeted movement was compromised: " . . . this research suggests that this variability . . . reduces the speed of learning of the skill that is being practiced . . . "

Keep in mind that this is training in movement, although the parallel to learning in general seems striking. There are analogous practices in various disciplines. In hypnotherapy, for example, what immediately follows the focused training will always be some kind of dis-associative technique to "protect" what has been anchored from distraction and conscious "doubt" or negation.

Following up on a recent post on "distraction," after reading the study, I did a quick review of the pedagogical movement patterns (movement, or controlled gesture, plus touch on stressed vowel) that we use in haptic pronunciation teaching. About half have a prescribed follow through back to a resting posture or state. Interestingly, the ones that do NOT tend to be the more problematic. Definitely requires follow up on my part!

How well  or consistently do you "conduct" the physical side of your teaching, especially pronunciation?  

Full citation:
Ian S. Howard, Daniel M. Wolpert, David W. Franklin. The Value of the Follow-Through Derives from Motor Learning Depending on Future Actions. Current Biology, 2015 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2014.12.037

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