Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Sub-par, gesture-enabled (pronunciation) teaching?

FORE! Never quite gotten into the "swing" of using movement and gesture in pronunciation, vocabulary, speaking or general instruction? Being an occasional golfer, myself, this promo for Hank Hanley's stuff immediately resonated. I think it will with you as well. Here's what the great golf swing (as taught by Tiger Woods' former swing coach) teaches us about the effective application of gesture (or movement) to teaching, especially pronunciation teaching. (Hanley's 4 principles)

  • Find your "swing plane". (Use gestures that are visually and physically consistent, that is track through the visual field on the same path--every time.)
  • Tighten your turn. (Carefully manage all other extraneous body movement or random thought during execution of the pedagogical movement pattern.)
  • Finish your bunker swing. (Follow through after using a gesture to anchor a sound or sound pattern by instructing learners as to how to uptake the key feature of that "teachable movement" whether by quickly replaying it right then, writing a quick note or practicing it as homework.)
  • Don't fight the putter. (Putting is about touch. Touch is the centre of haptic anchoring, using touch to focus attention on the stressed syllable of a word or the multi-sensory experience.)

It should be required for continuing certification, that every professional language instructor practice and continue to improve their "swing," whatever form that takes, whether dance, singing, musical instrument, painting, calligraphy or sport. Doing haptic pronunciation teaching well requires--or fosters--continual refining of the "swing," our physical-pedagogical presence in the classroom.

As we say, "See you in the movies!" (or: Keep in touch!)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Back to the future of pronunciation teaching (and the "Goldfish" standard for attention management)

You apparently have a bit more than 8 seconds to read this post. So you may want to just scroll down to the conclusion and start there . . .

Clip art: 
Capturing and holding attention, if only for a few seconds, is the key to effective change in pronunciation work, especially for "mechanical" adjustments--and most other things in life. In earlier blog posts, the "gold standard" or is sine qua non of haptic pronunciation work has been seen to be about 3 seconds. In other words, for a learner to adequately experience the totality of a new sound or word, physically, auditorily, visually and conceptually--connecting things together, before moving on to practice or at least noticing or any chance at "uptake"-- takes complete, undivided attention for at least that long or longer.

Even that is often an unrealistic requirement with all the other potential distractions in the classroom or visual field. Research on the effectiveness of recasting learner utterances by instructors, for example, (Loewen and Philip, 2006) suggests that most of the time that strategy is relatively ineffective. One critical variable is always the quality or intentionality of learner attention, both in term of what the function the instructor is attempting to carry out and general learner receptivity.

Recall that Microsoft claims that our collective attention span, in part due to the impact of technology, has now dropped to about 8 seconds, just below that of the goldfish. (The UK Telegraph report is much more entertaining than that from the techies.

A new study by Moher, Anderson and Song of Brown University, summarized by Science, adds a fascinating piece to the puzzle and may suggest how to begin to maintain attention better in class. What they discovered in an experimental study was that their subjects were, in effect, better able to "block" obvious distractions than they were more subtle ones. Backgrounded images in the visual field had more effect on subsequent action than did foregrounded, more striking elements which appeared to be easier for the brain to manage or ignore. They seem to have "discovered" one possible path into the mind by subliminal stimuli, evading first line conceptual or perceptual defences.

What is the obvious "subtle, unobtrusive, yet potent" application to pronunciation teaching? If you don't have "full body, mind and visual field" attention, there is no telling what is interfering with anchoring of sound change in the brain and subsequent total or partial recall.

Early on in EHIEP (Essential Haptic-integrated English Pronunciation) work I experimented extensively with controlling eye movement, in part to maintain concentration and attention, based primarily on the research underlying the therapeutic model of "Observed experiential integration" (See citation below) developed by  Bradshaw and Cook (2011). The effect was dramatic in working with individuals but applying those techniques to the classroom proved at least impractical. In part because the haptic pedagogical system was just developing, I backed off from eye patterning techniques in pronunciation work in 2009.

Based on Moher et al's research, however, it is perhaps time to again give directed eye movement management a "second look" in our work, going back to what I believe is the (haptic) future of pronunciation instruction, especially in virtual, computer-mediated applications.

Will report back on an in progress exploratory study with one learner using some eye movement management later this summer. Not surprisingly I am already "seeing" some promising results, attending to features of the teaching session that I would normally not have noticed!

Full citations:

Brown University. "Surprise: Subtle distractors may divert action more than overt ones." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 July 2015, (Jeff Moher, Brian A. Anderson , Joo-Hyun Song. Dissociable Effects of Salience on Attention and Goal-Directed Action. Current Biology, 2015 DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.06.029)

Bradshaw, R. A., Cook, A., McDonald, M. J. (2011). Observed experiential integration (OEI): Discovery and development of a new set of trauma therapy techniques. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 21(2), 104-171.

Loewen, S., and Philip, J. (2006). Recasts in the adult English L2 classroom: Characteristics, explicitness, and effectiveness. The Modern Language Journal, 90, 536-556.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

/i/ or /ɪ/: Perception to Production

Nice piece of research by Lee and Lyster (Lee and Lyster, 2015 - Full citation below) demonstrating the impact of feedback on "instructed" L2 speech perception. (Hat tip to Michael Burri for pointing me at it!) In a simulated-classroom setting, native Korean language students significantly improved their ability to perceive the distinction between /i/ and /I/ in English. The full article is worth the read. Just a couple of caveats before we talk about what that might mean for teaching in the classroom:
  • The title is a bit deceptive, as the authors note: " . . . our use of simulated classrooms in this study begs the question as to whether such intense instruction would be feasible in a regular classroom curriculum and whether the results would be similar."
  • The tasks are, indeed,  excellent and well controlled--but give almost any competent pronunciation teacher about 6+ hours of classroom time with a homogenous group to work on just that single contrast and see what happens. (I may try to do that, in fact!) 
That does not diminish the importance of the study. The point is that with focused instruction, perception of vowel contrast can be radically improved--and by implication, production also. The question is, how can we begin to approximate that effect in the classroom? (If you are a regular reader of the blog, I'm sure you can see what is coming!)

Photo credit: EHIEP, v4.0 logo
Anna Shaw
Dealing with that /i/-/I/ distinction in North American English (as opposed to British or Australian) is one of the most straight-forward and effective features of the EHIEP (Essential, haptic-integrated English Pronunciation) system. Rather than taking about 5 hours to set things up (and in Lee and Lyster, 2015 there is no long-term follow up on the effect of the study), the EHIEP method, were it to focus only on that contrastive pair, would in toto run less than 1 hour initially and then be integrated into general classroom instruction from there on. 

Without going into all the details here (detailed in AHEPS v3.0 and coming this fall, v4.0), check out the free demos: lax/rough vowels, tense/double vowels and/or our 2012 conference write up, citation below), the procedure is basically:
  • Introduce the EHIEP lax and tense vowel pedagogical movement patterns, either with the video (about 15 minutes each) or do it in person.
  • Practice just those two vowels in word lists and in context in class: about 30 minutes
  • Begin providing both modelling and corrective, in context feedback in class regularly.
  • Watch how the contrast shows up in student spontaneous production
I realize that sounds far too simple and obvious to be effective. Great classroom techniques are often like that! We now have over a decade of experience using that basic procedure. Given Lee and Lyster (2015), a classroom-based study using the EHIEP framework, and integrating some of those tasks, especially the Bingo and card sort techniques, seems very possible. Before we get to that, try it yourself and let us know. 

Full citations:

Acton, W., Baker, A., Burri, M., Teaman, B. (2013). Preliminaries to haptic-integrated pronunciation instruction. In J. Levis, K. LeVelle (Eds.). Proceedings of the 4th Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference,Aug. 2012. (pp. 234-244). Ames, IA: Iowa State University.

Lee, A. H., & Lyster, R. (2015). The effects of corrective feedback on instructed L2 speech perception. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 38. doi:

Friday, July 3, 2015

Putting the festive and 'fʌn' back in (pronunciation) teaching and testing: The Taylor Swift effect!

Following an earlier, tongue-in-cheek post on excessive "fear of micro-aggression" in pronunciation teaching, we have an almost equally "deep" (or surreal) potential antidote for the most obvious kind of macro-aggression: testing! Developed by a sociology instructor, Dougherty, at Baylor University (Summarized by the trick is basically just to bring in "balloons, streamers, treats and music" and call tests "Learning celebrations." There was a little more to it than that, of course--including making items on tests "amusing" . . .  (Of course, just not taking undergraduate sociology too seriously in the first place might be a good place to begin as well.)

But Dougherty does have a point--other than simply bribing students with sugar and creating an atmosphere of "unbearable lightness of being." My son tells a great story of one of his graduate instructors, a phenomenally good lecturer and world famous researcher, who would always serve students homemade cookies before handing out class evaluations and then would play guitar and sing to them while they filled them out--but noting up front that he was in no way attempting to influence their responses . . . 

Making learning fun works, but creating a test that is also a true, formative, fun leaning experience is extraordinary. From the summary, however, it is not at all clear how the sociology test actually contributed to the overall objectives and "delivery" of the course, other than a modest 2 point (out of 100) increase in mean score across semesters. 

I love my work; teaching, for me, is often fun. Making a class "fun and entertaining" is too easy. Making the intrinsic learning experience rewarding and perceived as "fun"--through what is accomplished or learned--is a different matter entirely, although sometimes related. That is especially the case with pronunciation teaching, where the basic tools of explanation and drill and controlled practice are often very difficult to enliven or make at all meaningful. 

In other words, if you can't figure out a way to seriously "embody" fun in the classwork itself, you can at least use Dougherty's approach--which is precisely what so many experienced pronunciation teachers do--especially those trained in earlier affective and holistic methods, such as drama, poetry and music: create a high-energy, fast-moving, entertaining experience to rub off on the grind of mechanical body work required. 

That "rub off" effect is now very well researched in marketing. You may have seen stories in the media where any product in close proximity to a life-size picture of Taylor Swift--regardless of age or whether or not the customer knew who she was--sold better, significantly.  

Your other alternative, of course, is just to "Be Haptic!"

Full citation:
Baylor University. "Tests vs. Fests: Students in 'learning celebrations' rather than exams scored higher and enjoyed themselves." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 25 June 2015. .