Saturday, September 5, 2015

Gesture-assisted vocabulary instruction for (even) the kinaesthetically-challenged


"Iran" into an interesting study recently by three Iranian reseachers looking into "The Effect of Using Gesture on Resolving Lexical Ambiguity in L2" (Khalili, Rahmany, and Zarei, 2014 - Full citation below.) Basically, they found that using (extensive) gesture in teaching homonyms results in better uptake. In addition, it appeared as if the kinaesthetically more enabled subjects were even a bit better at it. Although from the published description of the gestural procedures it is not possible to figure out exactly how much of what was done when--other than the impression that the gesture work was extensive and often impromptu--the conclusion/results are pretty much what we'd expect from decades of related studies. 

What was of particular interest, however, was the (relatively week but significant) correlation between score on the post-test and kinaesthetic intelligence. Now there could be any number or reasons for that--including the nature of the gestural instruction itself which may well have favoured the kinaesthetic in the experimental group. (That was post hoc; the groups were not set up based on "intelligence" initially.) As has been addressed here on the blog any number of times, one of the reasons that work with gesture in teaching often does not work at all or is even counterproductive is the often unsystematic to even "spastic" gesticulations of instructors or those required of students. 

There is a better way, of course, to ensure that gesture-assisted pronunciation and vocabulary is more appropriate for the widest possible range of "intelligences" present in the classroom. A chapter by Amanda Baker, Michael Burri and myself, entitled: Anchoring Academic Vocabulary with a “hard hitting” Haptic Pronunciation Teaching Technique - in a forthcoming book edited by Tamara Jones, Pronunciation in the Classroom: The Overlooked Essential. Tamara Jones (ed). New York: TESOL, attempts to do just that. 

The specific haptic pronunciation teaching technique, the Rhythm Fight Club, is designed to be a highly controlled, yet systematic, very powerful anchoring procedure for assisting learners in learning and recalling terms from the Academic Word List. It is, in several ways, a model of how gestural work should be integrated into teaching. All movement of hands and arms is tightly "tracked" for consistency in the visual field in front of the body. The gestural patterns are practiced by learners so that they can readily read the gestural prompts coming from the instructor or other students. And, finally, the patterns, although very energetic are generally within the comfort zone of even the most introverted or kinaesthetically-challanged among us. 

Keep in touch--but keep it together . . .

Full citation:
Khalili, Rahmany, and Zarei (2014). The Effect of Using Gesture on Resolving Lexical Ambiguity in L2, Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 5(5)1139-1146.

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