Sunday, March 5, 2017

Killing pronunciation 3: Grit
To the "gritty" student, there can be nothing more frustrating than pointless, unproductive pronunciation homework--or even worse, none at all.

If you are a follower of this blog, you know I am a big fan of James Clear. If you need to change something--most anything--and you still don't need a coach or therapist to help get you there, his website is worth a visit. His latest post on "building mental toughness" linked to an earlier piece: Grit: a complete guide on being mentally tough. (Embedded in that post is a TED talk by Duckworth, on "grit" which you should also watch if you haven't already.)

Grit is defined in a number of ways but, basically, it means having the strength of character to persevere to ones goals. 

Grit is a key variable in success in pronunciation, I'm sure, although I have been unable to find a good study to verify that. My own experience with accent reduction clients is that to fix their accent  they need just two thing: grit and money (and time, of course.)

Where that especially comes into play is in homework--my current area of research in preparation for a panel at the 2017 TESOL Convention later this month. If you have a student who has real grit, in terms of pronunciation homework, can you provide him or her with sufficient direction as to what to work on and practice outside of class? I have been asking that question repeatedly of late and the overwhelming response from instructors is . . . No!

In fact some instructors have replied that monitored and required practice outside of class, such as drill and repetition and oral reading is probably not worth the effort. And even if it is, "how am I to know whether it was done well or productively?"

There you have it. One of Clear's key principles, based on current research, is that in developing grit the learner must NOT rely on motivation but on habit, on discipline. But for a student to do that, there must be clear guidance and assignments.

How do your homework assignments and guidance to your students on how to improve their pronunciation stack up with that criteria? Probably not all that well, right? This is big, actually. We are just coming out of a period where focus on motivation and meta-cognition (thought and planning about pronunciation change) have been enormously influential.

One of Clear's other principles in developing it is to: Build grit with small physical wins. There are any number of ways to do that, of course, but it takes a consistent, coherent method at least. In pronunciation work, that is or should be a "gimme!"

EHIEP is based on the idea that embodied (gesture-based) homework/practice is key. The success of the system relies on establishing cognitive schema (haptic cognition) such that subsequent in class or incidental learning or correction of pronunciation will happen efficiently, as the learn relates back to the model or rule learned earlier. (That is one of the most important findings in research on incidental correction in class of pronunciation.) In general, homework is carefully prescribed to help create such schema and students need to "homework" at least 3 times a week for 30 minutes to facilitate that, preferably every day.

It takes "true grit" to do that -- and manage it. If that is not part of your current method and "growth mindset" (Dweck, 2016), "Clear" up your current pedagogical habits and grit back to us!

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