Wednesday, February 4, 2015

From warm up to wacky: Experiential learning and expressiveness in pronunciation teaching

This is a follow up to last week's post on a new haptic pronunciation teaching workshop we are doing this month at the BCTEAL Regional Island conference focusing on expressiveness. A recent study by Rangel, et al. looked at the interaction between instructor expressiveness and learner experiential learning style preference. (Hat tip to Mike Burri.) What they found, in effect, was that expressive delivery in training works well, or at least better, when the trainee is more amenable to experiential learning. 

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What all of us in pronunciation work know is that you must engage learners expressively--or you lose them. Furthermore, getting beyond the basics is futile without something of that experiential "abandon" and receptivity. This is the conundrum: pushing learners beyond their comfort zone so that they can both understand and communicate expressiveness can be lethal. (It is the "Achilles Heel" of many loveable but wacky practitioners!) 

For that "expressive" instructional style to work requires a complementary openness to a less explicitly cognitive and more intuitive response from students. Here is how experiential learning style  is defined (excerpt from Rangel, Chung, Harris, Carpenter, Chiaburu and Moore, 2015. See full citation below.) 

 ". . . a form of processing that is intuitive, automatic and associated primarily with affect and emotional responses (Novak & Hoffman, 2009; Pacini & Epstein, 1999). 
 . . . the experiential learner typically demonstrates low(er) levels of cognitive engagement in the traditional learning process, and instead requires external, affective cues to effectively activate the experiential system and, thus, information processing. Such cues can be provided by one’s instructor when he or she employs expressive, stimulating delivery techniques." 

Does that sound like your typical (traditional?) pronunciation class or lesson? The problem, of course, is setting up the classroom experience so that effective experiential learning can happen, so that even the less naturally experientially-oriented learner can still join the party. 

Haptic pronunciation training is, by definition, highly experiential (as unpacked in any number of previous posts) and (should be) very stimulating, but why is requiring "uptake of" expressiveness, which requires more experientially-directed learners, especially at the conversational discourse-level absolutely essential? 

The Rangel et al. study points toward the answer: It allows more direct, albeit perhaps temporary, unfiltered access to the intentions and emotions being communicated by the speaker. Meta-communicative analysis can follow, of course, but the research would suggest that reverse is almost surely not the case. 

So how do you do that? How do you create an environment where experiential, expressive learning is not only tolerated but embraced by students, especially those in highly visual-cognitive career tracks? (Recall the great Nike commercial: Just do it!) 

One image that certainly comes to mind for me is that of a poetry instructor I had as an undergrad. She gradually enabled/required an extraordinary level of expressiveness in reading poems, where we all seemed to be completely at ease, uninhibited and "in" the experience. 

 If you have thoughts on that or references to published methods that do that quickly and well . . . please express them!

And stay tuned. We'll be trying out a new expressiveness-orientation model in the workshop at the conference. 

Full citation:
Bertha Rangel, Wonjoon Chung, T. Brad Harris, Nichelle C. Carpenter, Dan S. Chiaburu and Jenna L. Moore (2015 ) Rules of engagement: the joint influence of trainer expressiveness and trainee experiential learning style on engagement and training transfer. International Journal of Training and Development 19:1 ISSN 1360-3736, doi: 10.1111/ijtd.12045

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