Thursday, May 28, 2015

Front and back-brained creativity--"monkeying around" with (haptic) pronunciation change!

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One argument against extensive kinaesthetic involvement in general instruction or pronunciation teaching (using gesture and movement) has always been the superiority of "front brain" as opposed to more "back brain" learning -- or the excessive "flamboyance" of many overly "gesticular" promoters of such systems, myself included up to about a decade ago, unfortunately!

That also seemed to be supported by the apparent separation between areas of the brain involved with "higher" executive, cognitive functions such as planning and strategy use (in the prefrontal cortex) from those that have more to do with motor control and learning, for example, the "lowly" cerebellum at the back of the brain. In other words, the more conscious, cognitive insight, control and involvement "up front", probably the better.

But consider this new research by Saggar, Quintin, Kienitz, Bott, Sun, Hong, Chien, Liu, Dougherty, Royalty, Hawthorne and Reiss of Stanford University (longest list of co-authors I have ever seen!) entitled:  Pictionary-based fMRI paradigm to study the neural correlates of spontaneous improvisation and figural creativity. (Full citation below).

According to the Science Daily summary, the researchers have discovered "unexpected brain structures" that connect creativity to motor centres in the brain. In effect, they have demonstrated that motor involvement or embodiment is apparently fundamental to a much wider range of learning and cognitive functioning than thought previously.

And why was this just now revealed? Simple, perhaps. According to the authors, previous models were based primarily on earlier research with primate/monkey brains. Not surprisingly, in retrospect, the connection between thinking and moving in the monkey brain might, indeed, be a bit different than that--in at least most of our students . . . 

The research design was ingenious, using Pictionary/creative drawing tasks with fMRI monitoring of brain engagement. (Being a great fan of Pictionary, that is not surprising!) What was surprising, however, was that the motor centres in the cerebellum remained active and engaged long after the actual body movement activity had subsided, revealing the "embodied" side of what would normally be assumed to be visual/cognitive thought or processing.

In other words, the creative, improvisational activity was being carried on best, at least to some degree, outside of awareness, by what had appeared to be primarily "motor" circuits. Relatively too much pre-frontal involvement in the task was clearly counterproductive. 

One of the section subtitles of the Science Daily summary highlights a very relevant implication of that "discovery" (for haptic or other highly kinasethetic pronunciation work): 'The more you think about it, the more you mess it up' . . . Or, to quote the great Nike slogan: Just do it!

That may explain some of the current ineffectiveness of pronunciation instruction: Too much cerebellum or not quite enough!

Think about it!

Full Citation from Science (To appear soon in the Journal Scientific Reports):
Stanford University Medical Center. "Unexpected brain structures tied to creativity, and to stifling it." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 May 2015. .

Monday, May 25, 2015

Are you out of your brain? More evidence why warm ups work in (pronunciation) teaching

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Always good to get a bit more empirical confirmation of our common sense and practice in teaching. As any experienced pronunciation or speech instructor will tell you, kicking off a lesson with a brief warm up that shifts attention to the resonance or awareness of the voice--or the body in general--is essential for effective and efficient intervention.

In a study by Hajo and Obodaru of Rice University, summarized by Science Daily (See full citation below), subjects were first given training that focused their sense of self as "residing" more in either their "brains" or their "hearts." (One interesting finding in the study was that those "American" subjects tended to see themselves as more "brain-centred", as opposed to those from what is vaguely described as an "Indian" culture, who tended to be more "heart-centered.") The observation was made that the former also tended to be more self-centred or independent; the latter, more relationally-dependent.

They then worked through a second task that asked them to indicate how much they would, in principle, contribute to a charity focused on Alzheimer's disease, as opposed to one aimed at helping to prevent heart attacks. You guessed it. The "brain" group went more with the former; the "heart" group, with the latter.

In the summary it was not clear exactly how the researchers guided the attention of the subjects in either direction, toward mind, as opposed to body, awareness. That can be done in any number of ways. (For example, the popular Mindfulness training, ironically, uses extensive body awareness to help clear the mind. Perhaps, "Mind-less-ness" training would be a more accurate label!)

So what does that suggest to those of us in many disciplines who work with changing speech? Simple, in some sense. Haptic pronunciation teaching was inspired early on by Lessac's dictum of Train the body first! Here we see more evidence as to why that point of departure, a body-based warm up of some kind, is often critical in getting learners to then attend long enough and intensely enough to anchor (establish) new movements, sounds and sensations.

If that doesn't immediately "make sense" to you, it is obviously time you "took it to heart!"

Full citation:
Rice University. "Do you see 'the self' in your brain or your heart? Decision-making differs." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 May 2015. .

Friday, May 8, 2015

Been there, done that: One-shot (pronunciation) teaching and learning!

When  or how does pronunciation work STICK--quickly?

Here is a fascinating new, seemingly counter-intuitive study on what people do with some types of new information they encounter - by Lee, O’Doherty, and Shimojo of CALTECH: Neural Computations Mediating One-Shot Learning in the Human Brain. Summarized by - Full citation below, whose title I like: Switching on one-shot learning in the brain. Essentially what they found was:

"Many have assumed that the novelty of a stimulus would be the main factor driving one-shot learning, but our computational model showed that causal uncertainty was more important . . . If you are uncertain, or lack evidence, about whether a particular outcome was caused by a preceding event, you are more likely to quickly associate them together."

For example, if a learner immediately associates or links a pronunciation correction back to some (probably conscious, cognitive) aspect of previous instruction, the brain may just switch off the "one-shot" learning circuits and activate "been there, done that" processing instead. In other words, taking the "time" even if involuntarily to connect back mentally to a previous schema or visual image can actually inhibit "quick" learning. Any number of studies over the decades in several fields have established the concept that in some contexts, the faster something is learned, the better. (That was, in fact, the motivation behind early development of Total Physical Response teaching.)

So when might quick or "one-shot" learning happen? My two favourite questions for speaking/listening/pronunciation classroom teachers are: (a) How (if at all) do you follow up in class after you present and (maybe) practice some aspect of pronunciation? (b) How (if at all) do you do spontaneous correction of pronunciation in class?

 . . . I'll wait a minute while you answer those questions, yourself . . . The general answer, in one form or another, is: Not much, if at all. Frequent reasons for that: (a) Don't know how. (b) Don't have time. (c) Not necessary, as long as I do a first rate job of presenting and practice in class and (d) Learners are pretty much responsible once I have done "c"!

Bottom line: One of the reasons that gesture works--and that haptic works even better by adding systematic touch--is that to some degree it bypasses conscious cognitive "cause and effect" processing. (Asher described that more or less metaphorically as by passing the left hemisphere in favour of the right, which was earlier said to much more holistic, more consciously analytic, etc. As a shorthand, I'm ok with that but in reality it a gross oversimplification and probably creates more problems than it solves today.)

I'm not saying that we should do away with formal instruction in pronunciation, including books, explanation, drill and contextual practice in class--just adding another "quick change channel."

Using EHIEP (Essential haptic-integrated English pronunciation) pedagogical movement patterns (PMP, a gesture anchored by touch associated with a sound of sound pattern) generally will not interrupt the flow of conversation or narrative as a correction is performed. It is, in effect, operating on another channel, more outside of language awareness, not disrupting as much speaking and thought. That assumes that learners have been earlier introduced to the kinaesthetic patterning of the PMP; haptic "signalling" during classroom instruction or during homework can be exceedingly effective and seamless to the course of the lesson and on other modalities.

In some sense, mindless drill doesn't engage the cognitive side of the house either--but it also can easily deaden all the senses instead if not done very carefully with as much somatic engagement as possible. (A very good example of doing drill well, however, is Kjellin's approach which I often use when anchoring a specific sound articulation.)

Haptic pronunciation teaching--Give it a shot! (A perfect place to start is here, of course!)

Full citation:
California Institute of Technology. "Switching on one-shot learning in the brain." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 28 April 2015. .