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!


Saturday, October 15, 2016

(Really) great body-enhanced pronunciation teaching

If you are interested in using gesture more effectively in your teaching, a new 2016 study by Nguyen, A micro-analysis of embodiments and speech in the pronunciation instruction of one ESL teacher, is well worth reading. The study is, by design, wisely focused more on what the instructor does with her voice and body during instruction, not on student learning, uptake or in-class engagement.

The literature review establishes reasonably well the connection between the gesture described in the study and enhanced student learning of language and pronunciation. I can almost not imagine a better model of integrated gestural use in pronunciation teaching . . . The instructor is a superb performer, as are many who love teaching pronunciation. (Full disclosure: From the photos in the article I recognize the instructor, a master teacher with decades of experience in the field teaching speaking and pronunciation.)

From decades of work with gesture, myself, one of the most consistent predictors of effective use of gesture in teaching is how comfortable the instructor feels with "dancing" in front of the students and getting them to move along with her. The research on body image and identity and embodiment are unequivocal on that: to move others, literally and figuratively, you must be comfortable with your own body and its representation in public.

Knowing this instructor I do not need to see the video data to understand how her personal presence could command learner attention and (sympathetic, non-conscious) body movement, or her ability to establish and maintain rapport in the classroom. Likewise, I have not the slightest doubt that the students' experience and learning in that milieu are excellent, if not extraordinary.

The report is a fascinating read, illustrating use of various gestures and techniques, including body synchronization with rhythm and stress, and beat gesture associated with stress patterning. If you can "move" like that model, you got it. When it comes to this kind of instruction, however, the "klutzes" are clearly in the majority, probably for a number of reasons.

The one popular technique described, using stretching of rubber bands to identify stressed or lengthened vowels is often effective--for at least presenting the concept. It is marginally haptic, in fact, using both movement and some tactile anchoring in the process (the feeling of the rubber band pressing differentially on the inside of the thumbs.) In teacher training I sometimes use that technique to visually illustrate what happens to stressed vowels or those occurring before voiced consonants, in general. There is no study that I am aware of, however, that demonstrates carry over of "rubber banding" to changes in spontaneous speech or even better memory for the specific stressed syllables in the words presented in class. I'd be surprised to find one in fact.

In part the reason for that, again well established in research on touch, is that the brain is not very good at remembering degrees of pressure of touch. Likewise, clapping hands on all syllables of a word or tapping on a desk but a bit harder on the stressed syllable should not, in principle, be all that effective. That observation was, in fact, one of the early motivations for developing the haptic pronunciation teaching system.  By contrast, isolated touch, usually at a different locations on the body, seems to work much better to create differentiated memory for stress assignment. (All haptic techniques are based on that assumption.)

I, myself, taught like the model in the research for decades, basically using primarily visual-kinesthetic modeling and some student body engagement to teach pronunciation. The problem was trying to train new teachers on how to do that effectively. For a while I tried turning trainees into (somewhat) flamboyant performers like myself. I gave up on that project about 15 years ago and began figuring out how to use gesture effectively even if you, yourself, are not all that comfortable with doing it, a functional . . . klutz.

The key to effective gesture work is ultimately that the learner's body must be brought to move both in response to the instructor's presentation and in independent practice, perhaps as homework.(Lessac's dictum: Train the body first!)  Great performers accomplish that naturally, at least in presenting the concepts. The haptic video teaching system is there for those who are near totally averse to drawing attention to their body up front, but, in general, managed gesture is very doable. There are a number of (competing) systems today that do that. See the new haptic pronunciation teaching certificate, if interested in the most "moving and touching" approach.

Nguyen, Mai-Han. (2016). A micro-analysis of embodiments and speech in the pronunciation instruction of one ESL teacher. Issues in Applied Linguistics. appling_ial_24274. Retrieved from:

Friday, October 7, 2016

Picture this! Affective use of smart phones in (pronunciation) teaching!
Tigger warning: The following post contains both fun and "happy talk" of various stripes!

Although the research on the effect (and affect) of classroom smartphone presence runs the gamut, from minus (BBC) to plus (Inside Higher Ed.), every new pronunciation textbook or system must be at least highly handheld-compatible or have its own app. Something apparently all studies to date missed, however, was to what extent using a handheld, especially taking and posting pictures, contributes to . . . HAPPINESS!

Chen, Mark and Ali, of University of California-Irvine have happily filled in that gap: Promoting Positive Affect through Smartphone Photography, linking happiness with use of selfies and shared photos. From the Science Daily summary:

Researchers collected nearly 2,900 mood measurements during the study and found that subjects in all three groups experienced increased positive moods. Some participants in the selfie group reported becoming more confident and comfortable with their smiling photos over time. The students taking photos of objects that made them happy became more reflective and appreciative. And those who took photos to make others happy became calmer and said that the connection to their friends and family helped relieve stress.

Without getting into the somewhat suspect methodology and conclusions of the research--which would obviously detract from the fun of drawing out the implications for pronunciation teaching (or any kind of teaching for that matter), let's just focus on a few of the more fascinating possibilities:

A. Selfie's promote confidence and comfort with one's own photos.
Teaching application: In addition to just added confidence, being more comfortable with "objectively" critiquing one's voice production, especially pronunciation would be for many learners exceedingly valuable. 
B. Photos of things that make one happy encourage reflectiveness and "appreciativeness".
Teaching application: Reflectiveness is now the "gold standard" for both learners and instructors. Just imagine the implications for instructor and course evaluations! In addition, some of the most interesting and productive work with smart phones has been with learners exchanging and discussing favorite photos where peer and self monitoring of language form and content is involved (See C, below, too.)
C. Photos to make others happy make one calmer and relieve stress.
Teaching application: Calm, stress-free working milieu is invaluable in pronunciation instruction but exceedingly difficult to maintain. The connection to the connectedness of the other members of the class is, of course, key. A good example of that is having students creating and talking about various kinds of photo collections, collages or web-applications that organize and display pictures with unlimited numbers of contributors.

Just doing this post made me feel, well . . . happier! There are, it seems, even more good (affective and pedagogical) reasons why students should be encouraged to use their smart phones in class! Get the picture?

University of California, Irvine. (2016, September 13). Study links selfies, happiness. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 5, 2016 from

    Monday, October 3, 2016

    Why feedback on pronunciation (often) fails--and how to make it work better.
    We are getting a much better idea from research as to what kind of feedback from teachers seems to produce best results in a range of contexts (various mixes of explanation, modeling and guided practice). Notice that I said SEEMS to produce best results. New research by Winstone and colleagues at the University of Surrey and Aston University (summarized by Science Daily) suggests there may be something else going on here that significantly contributes to the puzzle: what learners DO with the feedback, not the feedback, itself.

    In a meta-analysis of a large number of studies in education, they found that the actual form of feedback was not contributing as much variance to results as was how students followed up on that feedback, either on their own, or preferably in some kind of ongoing dialogue with their instructor. Their primary recommendation is that we "talk" with learners more, seeing feedback more as a process rather than an event. If you do process writing, you certainly know what they are getting at.

    A good example of "one way" feedback in pronunciation work is a nice study by Darcy and Ewert (2013) where explicit feedback and improvement on suprasegmentals (rhythm, stress and intonation) was associated with the kind of feedback provided. From the absract:

    An analysis of classroom treatment recordings demonstrates that explicit phonetic instruction that makes learners notice L2 features (i.e., explicit presentation of contents, guided analysis and
    practice, and corrective feedback.

    What that research report did not look at systematically is how those four classroom activities actually happened. You could imagine a wide range of "interactivity" between instructors and students going on during any of those. In other words, something worked . . . but why exactly. According to Winstone et al., just listing those classroom pedagogical practices, especially the last does not tell really tell us much--or help us predict how well the same study would go with a different instructor who might be more or less "dialogic" in her teaching style.

    In a 2016 study which complements that research, Feedback on second language pronunciation: A case study of EAP teachers beliefs and practices, Baker and Burri examine what EAP teachers believe about feedback and providing it. From the extensive literature review and the data analysis one question or theme in effect, did not even come up: What do students actually DO with the feedback you (or teachers, in general) provide--and how important is that?

    That the researchers did not probe that line of inquiry, itself, reflects the near complete absence of research on what students consistently do either in class or out of class with pronunciation feedback, i.e., correction of various kinds. Teachers in the study did see the value of individualized feedback, which, if done face to face, would almost certainly involve monitoring of student response to feedback and a more dialogic approach to exploitation of feedback.

    Granted, studying dialogic classroom engagement between instructors and learners to find out what is really going on is both time consuming and expensive, but you almost have to go there to figure out some of this. You can at least do that in your own classroom. 

    Baker and Burri conclude by recommending use of oral journaling, for example, where students can be directed in any number of ways to actively work with teacher-provided feedback. That practice is, in fact, quite popular with language instructors in general, but I have been unable to find published research examining, in depth, what learners actually do with feedback in journaling or elsewhere that may significantly impact effectiveness of learning and uptake of targeted forms.

    Welcome your contribution of other research sources and  feedback on this! 


    Baker, A. and Burri, M. (2016) Feedback on second language pronunciation: A case study of EAP teachers beliefs and practices, Australian Journal of Education 41(6). 
    Gordon, J., Darcy, I., and Ewert, D. (2013) Pronunciation teaching and learning: Effects of explicit phonetic instruction in the L2 classroom. In J. Levis & K. LeVelle (Eds.). Proceedings of the 4th
    Pronunciation in Second Language Learning and Teaching Conference. Aug. 2012. (pp. 194-206). Ames, IA: Iowa State University.University of Surrey. (2016, September 21). Research shows that how students engage with feedback is as important as its content. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 2, 2016 from