Wednesday, April 22, 2015

ADHD and good pronunciation teaching: Move it or lose it?

Have had this "intuition" for decades that most (if not all) great conversation and pronunciation teachers are basically ADHD or close to it. Conversely, great reading and writing instructors (and all tenured researchers in the field) tend to go in the opposite direction.

During my decade in Japan I was fascinated by one of the tenets of the Aikido school of martial arts: Do not block the thrust of your opponent but redirect the energy and movement for your purposes. That is also a first principle of early elementary education, especially in dealing with boys . . .

Now comes a study by Shaver and colleagues at Central Florida University, summarized by Science Daily - full citation below) demonstrating how leaners with ADHD function and learn. In effect, they learn better on cognitive tasks when they "squirm" as they do, to quote the researchers. Apparently what is happening is that the movement is activating areas of the brain controlling executive/control functions to maintain alertness. But here is the more interesting finding:

"By contrast, the children in the study without ADHD also moved more during the cognitive tests, but it had the opposite effect: They performed worse."

That must apply to adult learners as well. The delicate balance between the  facilitative role of movement and gesture in pronunciation teaching and the potentially disruptive effects is key. Pronunciation teaching is, of course, somewhat unique in that regard, some aspects are more motor-training-centered; others are more cognitive in nature, such as rules and explanations. 

This study helps in understanding more about how movement affects or interferes with some kinds of  cognitive processing--and the obvious aversion to kinaesthetic work by some on the other end of the ADHD scale.  We know that most cannot learn better pronunciation just by talking or thinking about it--or by simple, mindless repetition. It does suggest what an optimal instructional model may look like, however . . .

A modest example: Haptic pronunciation work is based on the idea of managing extraneous, random movement so common in unsystematic (but enthusiastic) use of gesture in the classroom, while at the same time still keeping both mind and body engaged. Try it or something like it. (It is impossible to sit still while you do!)

Full citation:
University of Central Florida. (2015, April 17). Kids with ADHD must squirm to learn, study says. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 22, 2015 from


Bill Acton said...

There is, of course, the broader issue of controlling body state and distracting movement in the visual field during instruction of any kind. In haptic (pronunciation) work the movement of the hands and arms across the visual field both creates something of a "filter", limiting distraction by other movement in the room, but still generates an adequate level of body engagement to bring together the concept (a word or sound-symbol) and the physical experience of it. Touch greatly enables that binding.

Bill Acton said...

Forgot to give the link to the most well-known "Move it or lose it!" episode! (

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