Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Temporary Mind-FILL-ness in (pronunciation) teaching: Weil's 4-7-8 technique

A few months ago I sat through a good presentation on a technique for "fixing" the English rhythm of adult Japanese learners--in relatively big classes. At the time I was very interested in research on the role of attention in learning. Later, over coffee I asked the presenter something to the effect of "How do you know that the students were paying attention?" (I had earlier taught for over a decade in a seemingly very similar context in Japan, myself.) His response was: "Good question . . . Almost everybody was looking at me and more than half of the lips were moving at the appropriate time . . . "

How do you establish, maintain and manage attention in your teaching? (Anybody looking for a great MA or PhD topic, take note!) Based on my recent survey of the research literature, I'm preparing a conference proposal on the subject now. This is a follow up to the earlier post on how pronunciation should be taught "separately", in effect partitioned off from the lesson of the day and the distractions of the room and surroundings.

One problem with efficient attention management  is often in the transitions between activities or just the initial set up. Some tasks require learners to be very much "up"; others, decidedly "down" and relaxed. 

The popularity of Mindfulness training today speaks to the relevance of managing attention in class and the potential benefits from many perspectives. Most of the basic techniques of Haptic Pronunciation Teaching are designed to require or at least strongly encourage at least momentary whole body engagement in learning and correcting articulation of sound in various ways. I have experimented with a number of Mindfulness-based techniques to, in effect, short-circuit mental multitasking and get learners (sort of) calmed down and ready to go . . .

Powerful, effective stuff, but it is not something that most teachers can just pick up and begin using in their classes without at least a few hours of training, themselves, especially in how to "talk" it through with students and monitor "compliance" (manage attention.) I'd recommend it, nonetheless.

I recently "rediscovered" an amazing focus technique, suggested by Dr Andrew Weil (Hat tip, this month's issue of Men's Health magazine!), that works to create very effective boundaries without requiring any special training to administer. One of the best I have ever used. Simple. "Mechanical" (not overly cognitive or "hypnosis"-like) and quick. Takes maximum of 90 seconds. Anybody can do it, even without having seen it done:

A. Breath in with mouth closed, a slow count of 4
B. Hold the breath for a slow count of 7
C. Blow out through the mouth softly for a slow count of 8

*Do that four times. It basically lowers the heart rate and helps one focus. May take a two or three times for 4-7-8 to get to full effectiveness, but it does quickly, almost without fail. You can use 4-7-8 two or three times per class period. If you don't have a warm up that gets everybody on board consistently, try this one. I'd especially recommend it before and after pronunciation mini-lessons.

Pronunciation, and especially haptic techniques, are very sensitive to distraction, especially excessive conscious analysis and commentary. 4-7-8 is not necessarily the answer, but it will at least temporarily get everybody's attention. After that . . . you're on!

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