Monday, December 26, 2016

Passionate about teaching pronunciation? Amygdala for your thoughts . . .

Tigger warning*: The following contains neuro-science-related material that may be perceived by some as being mildly political . . . This research by Kaplan, Gimbel and Harris of USC, summarized by SciencDaily, is just too "target rich" a piece to pass up.

The research question was something like: Why is it so difficult to get people to change their opinions on things like religion and politics? (The same problem is evident in changing attitudes toward pronunciation--and in many ways, perhaps, for the same reasons, I think.) In essence, here is what they did:
  • Found 40 self-identified, political liberals and then  . . .
  • Had them respond to statements that seemed to contradict either their political beliefs or their beliefs about non-political things such as who is smartest guy who ever lived, etc. 
  • Connected them up to fMRI technology to observe how their brains lit up in each condition
What they found was that:
  • On nonpolitical challenges, most expressed some change in position, however slight--and the brain response was relatively unemotional.
  • On the political issues, however, there was virtually no change in position, accompanied, however, by a stronger emotional response in their collective amygdalas. 
  • And their conclusion (get ready): " . . . when we feel threatened, anxious or emotional, then we are less likely to change our minds." (In part because our core identity and "deep" thinking responses have been threatened or intruded upon.)
Caveat emptor: The subjects were all political liberals, self-professed, no less--from Southern California. Why so? Why was it not a "balanced" design, say with political conservatives from the Napa Valley of California, or . . . Texas? Was it that that group tended to be more emotional in reacting to challenges to their beliefs? (Liberals, more reactive or conservatives, less, in general? Nah!) Was it that it was impossible to find 40 conservatives in Southern California? The researchers do not comment on that . . (I will leave that rabbit trail to the interested reader . . . ) But see earlier research on this topic!

As research on teacher cognition has repeatedly demonstrated, beliefs about pronunciation tend also to be emotionally charged. Based on this research, I may have to go back and review the subject pools of that earlier research to check for political orientation of the teachers/subjects/researchers, too! Who knew?

The study may, however, as the researchers suggest, give us some additional insight into how (carefully and circumspectively) we might go about persuading others to do more pronunciation work in class.

But by allowing teachers to avoid pronunciation entirely for fear of triggering emotional reactions and violating safe identities, have we just been too "conservative" on this issue--or not conservative enough in interpreting the research in the first place?  As is evident now in most contemporary stress reduction systems, inoculation and gradual introduction of problematic stressors has been proven to be far more effective than either avoidance or relaxation/coping methods.

So, Just do it, eh!

Tigger warning (used on this blog in lieu of "trigger" warnings)
Translation of "Amygdala for your thoughts . . ." in the title.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Tired of just "horsing around" with pronunciation? Key principles of equestrian training applied to pronunciation teaching
If you have followed this blog for a bit, you know that some of my favorite models for understanding key aspects of body-biased/haptic pronunciation teaching come from golf (Hank Haney) and horse training (Griffin, University of Kentucky), two disciplines where "training the body first" (Lessac) are a given. Recently I spent a pleasant evening with trainers of "cutting" quarter horses.

The commonality of effective training concepts was striking. One reason for that is that both disciplines require at least understanding of how to train the body, relatively independent of language and meta-cognitive involvement. Here are some of the principles from Griffin's list, along with my informal extrapolation to pronunciation teaching (in italics):

  • "Research has shown that horses work harder and maintain higher response rates when reinforcements are not on a predictable schedule. You should avoid becoming routine when reinforcing responses." Question: How do you reinforce appropriate pronunciation? My guess is that you have a very limited repertoire of responses, at best. Record yourself or have a colleague observe you in action . . . weep!
  • "Long, concentrated learning sessions are an inefficient method of training horses. A more effective training method is to have more training sessions per week of shorter duration. Work on different maneuvers each day. Refrain from repetitive drilling on a maneuver after the horse has learned it well." This is the gold standard of integrated instruction, especially with multi-level classes, requiring consistent preparation and follow up. That last note is especially revealing, what is known as the "delearning effect." (In haptic instruction that is particularly relevant.)
  • "Inherent emotionality is a horse's (general) psychological state.  . . . A good trainer quickly recognizes the emotional state of the horse and adjusts training regimens accordingly." Pronunciation teaching/learning is perhaps the most emotionally problematic aspect of language learning. Research (e.g. Baker, 2012) has established that a surprising number of instructors avoid pronunciation for that reason alone.
  • "  . . . An older horse may have a decreased learning performance, most likely because it has learned to ignore the type of stimuli often utilized in learning." This actually goes back to the first point: balance between variety and consistency. Pronunciation techniques have the (probably deserved) reputation of being boring in the extreme, with drill and meaningless "speaking" or oral reading. There are, of course, other ways to anchor new patterns and sounds. (See the right hand column, for instance . . . )
  • "Horses have very good memory . . . Recent research in this area has shown that horses learn to learn. The learn-to-learn phenomenon is simple: The more tasks a horse learns to perform, the easier it will be for that horse to learn new tasks. These new tasks may be tasks that the horse will never use, but they will aid in learning ability." This one is critical for pronunciation instruction: It is not absolutely essential that everything presented is recognized by learners as being immediately applicable or "relevant" to their use of the language. Learning, itself, enhances ability to learn, in effect. Recent research on "simple" memorization, for example,  has demonstrated that the very practice itself helps learners develop better memories and aptitude for learning in general--and memory for longer lists of procedural "steps" as well.
The parallel is remarkable. With the advent of more and more web-based instruction, learners are by default being forced to learn more by reading text and listening, along with often exceedingly "disembodied" speaking in response. Haptic pronunciation teaching, of course, is one approach, as are several others, requiring more or less instructor explicit management of body movement and presentation/control.

Saddle up!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Pronunciation teaching not your cup of tea? It may be your metaphor or M-Cat!

Neuroscientist, Glaser, of King's College, as reported in the Guardian, may just have the "answer": adjust your metaphors! For example, if your students are not as friendly or malleable as they should be, have them all hold a cup of warm tea for a bit. (Caveat emptor: The following is serious fun!) In one study:

"Those holding hot drinks were also more likely to be generous, and less likely to display behaviour thought of as selfish. This is due to the strong linguistic and metaphorical links created in the brain by repeatedly using the words ‘warm’ or ‘cold’ to describe personalities."

"This is due . . . " Wow. That is a bit of a stretch, of course, but he is getting warm . . . Pretty strong claim there, that it is the specific use of such adjectives alone that generates the visceral, affective response. Without digging too deeply into the evidence (which he doesn't, in fact), just hold your warm latte in both hands and read on. 

I've reported earlier on the blog similar research "linking" the metaphorical and somatic/tactile link between words such as "rough" or "coarse", for example, and how the brain seems to interpret those in a way very similar to when one actually touches a surface possessing that tactile quality.

Similar studies connect language and olfaction (smell/aroma therapy), e.g. That argument stinks! Likewise, beginning with work such as Metaphors we live by,  Lakoff and Johnson (2003), and continuing more recently in language teaching, e.g.,  Holme (2004) Mind, Metaphor and Language Teaching, in a very real sense, anything in the classroom is in principle, amenable to intentional (metaphorical) design and adjustment.

In the past, asking students to hold something random to affect their perception of something else was seen as pretty far out--objectionable to the point of unconscious manipulation. But today, with both research on the impact of placibos and pop-neuroscience that encourages a wide range of conscious adjustment of perception, it is a different "ball game"! (I make extensive use of balls in pronunciation teaching.) But first we need to ferret out all the classroom behaviors that are potentially working against us!

What we might term "meta-cup-a-tea" (M-Cat), that is the sensation evoked by touch or physical contact and presence is a variable in all instruction, including pronunciation. In general pronunciation instruction M-Cat may rarely be attended to consciously, but in haptic pronunciation instruction (HaPT) it can be critical, since it can divert awareness away from pronunciation-focused touch-based techniques. (For more on that see this!) In L2 work, however, cultural "misinterpretation" of in-class touching can of course go almost anyplace imaginable.

So let's just look at a few traditional pronunciation teaching "tactile experiences" (other than what goes on in the mouth or what is involved in HaPT) for their potential "Meta-cup-a-tea" contribution (or lack of contribution) to instruction. Listed below are some of my students' best M-Cats. On the face of it many of these are done to reinforce or correlate with a targeted sound or pattern. In practice, it is not at all clear what if any connectedness is realized, nonetheless. In many cases the "contact" or pressure can be counterproductive, interfering or distracting attention--but still fun:
  • blowing air on tissue paper or hands: X is mostly hot air, germ dispersing 
  • touching the face: X is untrained; has not taken course in public speaking
  • clapping or tapping hands: X is attention-deprived
  • stretching rubber bands: X is all thumbs, overextended
  • snapping fingers: X impulsive, too much math, phonetics or syntax
  • overly precise hand writing: X is scary or boring or compulsive
  • hands holding things that are not warm: X is cold, unfeeling
  • spinning pencils: X is neurotic, not from this culture, not a native speaker!
  • fingers on smart phones, especially when multi-tasking: X is "situ-phrenic"
  • hands excessively on books, notebooks: X is bookish, introvert, anachronist, dead-tree-ite
  • hands excessively on body parts: X has pronounced problem
  • hand or marker moving on iPad or white/smart board: X is hip, maybe even creative
  • going through practice cards: X is a dealer
  • caressing keyboard or mouse: X is geek-ish, L2-a-phobe, possibly closet rat
  • glutes on chair: X is sedentary, butt stable
  • sitting on chair in language lab: X is antisocial, isolationist
  • full body on bed: X is seriously sedentary, probable "sound-nambulant"
  • earphones on/in ears: X is audio-phont, "ear-y" at best
  • chewing, eating, drinking: X is hypoglycemic or language hungry
  • continually wiping finger prints off iPhone screen: dys-Appled, but possibly good follower
  • head scratching: lice, itching to learn, excessive meta-cognition in process
Got any more good M-Cats? Post'em and I'll add them to the list.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

(New) Haptic cognition-based pronunciation teaching workshop at 2016 TESL Ontario Conference

If you are coming to the 2016 TESL Ontario Conference later this month (November 24 and 25 in Toronto) please join us for the Haptic Pronunciation Teaching Workshop, on Thursday, 3:45 to 4:45. This will introduce the new "haptic cognition" framework for (amazingly) more efficient and integrated pronunciation modeling and correction that we have been developing for the last year or so. (See previous post on the applicability of a haptic cognition-based  model to pronunciation teaching in general.)
HaPT-E, v4.0

Haptic cognition defined: 
  • The felt sense of pronunciation change (Gendlin, 1996) – somatic (body) awareness and conscious, meta-cognitive processing 
  • Change activated consciously and initially through body movement pattern use (Lessac, 1967) 
  • Haptic (movement+touch) uniting, integrating and “prioritizing” of modalities in anchoring and recall (Minogue, 2006)
Modalities of the model:
  • Meta-cognitive (rules, schemas, explanations, conscious association of sound or form to other sounds or forms)
  • Auditory (sound patterns presented or recalled) 
  • Haptic
    • Kinesthetic (movement patterns experienced/performed or mirrored by the body, gesture, motion patterns)
    •  Cutaneous (differential skin touch: pressure, texture, temperature)
  • Vocal resonance (vibrations throughout upper body, neck and head)
  • Visual (visual schema presented or recalled: graphemes, charts, colors, modeling, demonstrations) 
 General instructional principles:
  • Get to "haptic" as soon as possible in modeling and correcting.
  • Use precise pedagogical movements patterns (PMPs), including tracking and speed in the visual field.
  • Insure as much cutaneous anchoring as possible.
  • Go “light” on visual; avoid overly “gripping” visual schema during haptic engagement.
  • Use as much vocal resonance as possible.
  • Repeat as few times as possible.
  • Insure that homework/follow up is feasible, clear—and done (including post hoc reporting of work, results and incidental/related learnings).
  • Use haptic PMPs first in correction/recall prompting, before providing oral, spoken model.
The elaborated, audio-embedded Powerpoint from the workshop will be available later this month.


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The "myth-ing" link in (pronunciation) teaching: Haptic cognition

Nice piece from The Guardian Teacher Network, Four neuro-myths still prevalent in schools, debunked, by Bradley Bush (@Inner_Drive). Now granted, The Guardian is not your average  refereed, first-line journal, but the sources and research cited in the readable piece are credible. Just in case you need a little more information to help your colleague finally abandon any of them, check it out. The four myths are:
Haptic Wolverine, 2016
  • Learning styles are important in teaching and instruction
  • We use just 10% of our brains.
  • Right vs left brain is a relevant distinction in understanding learning and designing instruction
  • Playing "brain" games makes you smarter and should have a more prominent place in instruction
So, if those popular "teacher cognitions" are lacking in empirical support, especially the first and third, how should that affect design of instruction? (The fact that the second and fourth just seem so "right" at times when in the classroom, notwithstanding!)

One helpful framework, cited by Bush (and this blog earlier) is Goswami (2008), which argues that learners learn best, in general, when taught using a  multi-sensory, multiple-modality approach. From that perspective, for example, when teaching a sound or process or vocabulary word, as many senses as possible must be brought to the party, either simultaneously or in close proximity:
  • Auditory (sound)
  • Visual (imagery)
  • Kinesthetic (muscle movement and memory)
  • Tactile/cutaneous (surface skin touch)
  • General (somatic) sensation of vocal resonance throughout the head and upper body. 
  • In addition, the potential impact of that is conditioned by the degree of meta-cognitive engagement (conscious awareness on the part of the learner of all that sensory input, plus existing schemas, such as rules, experience and connections to related sounds and language bits and processes). 
How to best do that consistently is the question. The concept of "haptic cognition" (Gentaz and Rossetti, in press) suggests why haptic awareness can function to bring together all those modalities in learning. From the conclusion:

"Taken together, this suggests that the links between perception and cognition may depend on the perceptual modality: visual perception is discontinuous with cognition whereas haptic perception is continuous with cognition." (Emphasis, mine.)

In other words, visual schema, such as charts, colors and even text itself, may actually work against integration of sound, resonance, movement and meaning in pronunciation teaching. Research from a number of fields has established the potentially problematic nature of visual modality overriding auditory, in effect disconnecting sound from meaning. On the contrary, the haptic modality generally serves to unite sensory input, connecting more readily with cognition based in sound, resonance and meaning. 

Another myth then, that of visual explanatory schemas (images and text) being a good approach in pronunciation teaching in textbooks and media--as opposed to active experience of sound, movement and awareness of resonance, plus some visual support, needs serious reexamination. What Gentaz and Rossetti are asserting (or confirming) is that visual imagery may not always effectively contribute to conscious, critical, cognitive integration and awareness in learning--the ultimate goal of all media advertising!

In other words, pronunciation instruction should be centered more on comprehensive haptic cognition. If you are not sure just how that happens . . . ask your local haptician!

(Coincidentally, the name of our company is: Acton Multiple-Modality Pronunciation Instruction Systems, AMPISys, inc.!)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Teaching aggression--right out of the gait!

Your "perceived pedagogical physical presence" (PPPP) in the classroom not all that it could be?  According to new research by Satchell and colleagues at the University of Portsmouth reported by Science Daily, it may well be your . . . gait! According to their study, the way you move your upper and/or lower body may be perceived by students as overly (or micro-ly) aggressive. And we know what that can mean, if your classroom is not a "safe space" today!

In the study, subjects did both a paper test that looked at aggressive tendencies and were video recorded walking on the treadmill. Degree of upper body, lower body movement and gait speed were then correlated with various indices of aggression and gender.  My summary of the results:

Overall tendencies:
  • More combined upper and lower body motion was correlated with tendency toward physical aggression.
  • More upper body motion was correlated with tendency toward conscientiousness.
  • More lower body motion was correlated with tendency toward extroversion.
Male tendencies: 
  • More upper or lower body motion was correlated with tendency toward verbal aggression.
  • More upper body motion was correlated with tendency toward extroversion.
Female tendencies:
  • More combined upper and lower body motion was correlated with tendency toward physical aggression. 
  • More upper body motion was correlated with tendency toward conscientiousness.
  • More lower body motion or overall speed of gait was correlated with tendency toward agreeableness. 
See how those can add up on you and at the same time become confounded? Viewed and critiqued any video recording of your teaching lately? Regardless of how well your upper or lower body tends to move, whether in class or on the dance floor, regular review of your current PPPP is the only conscientious thing to do! You agreeable to that? 

University of Portsmouth. (2016, September 13). Link between walk, aggression discovered. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 26, 2016 from

Friday, October 21, 2016

The business of correcting and remembering pronunciation
Doing a workshop today on correcting pronunciation with Rebeka delaMorandiere, based on her recently completed MA Thesis at the BC TESOL annual conference in Burnaby, BC. The conference attendees are generally public school teachers, so the focus is on classroom correction strategies for key pronunciation problems. Will see about posting some version of the Powerpoint later.

One  new addition to the overall framework is the inclusion of a (somewhat) common sensical 5-point framework from Business Insider website piece entitled "5 strategies for remembering everything you learn". That, in turn, is based on a neat book, Make it stick: the science of successful learning that I have linked to in earlier posts. The key strategies, along with my read on the application to pronunciation correction, are:
  • Force yourself to recall (Before you provide a student with the correct pronunciation, see if they can do it themselves first.)
  • Don't go easy on yourself (Practice a new word or sound like mad, especially in homework.)
  • Don't fall for fluency (Just because a student can recall the right pronunciation or you can get them to do it in class, don't assume that the change will take without practice and conscious work on it.)
  • Connect the new thing to the old things (Very important to connect a corrected word or corrected sound to as many other words with it in it as possible. That can be done many ways, but it is generally essential for there to be consistent uptake.)
  • Reflect, reflect, reflect (Especially with older learners, from middle school on, research shows that they have to be meta-cognitively in the game, managing at least some of their practice and exploring ways of improving at their own initiative, or you may be wasting your time.)
That is a pretty cool list. Using the 5 tips. see how quickly you can memorize it . . . and recall it later!

And, of course, keep in touch!