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 Daily.com, 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, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/07/150716123831.htm. (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.

No comments:

Post a Comment