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. .

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