Monday, January 29, 2018

Anxious about your (pronunciation) teaching? You’d better act fast!

Probably the most consistent finding in research on pronunciation teaching from instructors and student alike is that it can be . . . stressful and anxiety producing. And compounding that is often the additional pressure of providing feedback or correction. A common response, of course, is just to not bother with pronunciation at all. One coping strategy often recommended is to provide "post hoc" feedback, that is after the leaner or activity is finished, where you refer back to errors, in as low key and supportive a manner as possible. (As explored in previous posts, you might also toss in some deep nasal breathing, mindfulness or holding of hot tea/coffee cups at the same time, of course.) Check that . . . 

A new study by Zhang, Lei , Yin, Li and Li (2018) Slow Is Also Fast: Feedback Delay Affects Anxiety and Outcome Evaluation, published in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, adds an interesting perspective to the problem. What they found, in essence, was that: 

  • Learners who tended toward high anxiety responded better to immediate positive feedback than such feedback postposed, or provided later. The same type of learners also perceived overall outcomes of the training as lower, were the feedback to be provided later. 
  • Learners who tended toward low anxiety responded equally well to immediate or delayed feedback and judged the training as effective in either condition. There was also a trend toward making better use of feedback as well. 
  •  Just why that might be the case is not explored in depth but it obviously has something to do with being able to hold the experience in long term memory more effectively, or with less clutter or emotional interference.
I'm good!
So, if that is more generally the case, it presents us with a real a conundrum on how to consistently provide feedback in pronunciation teaching, or any teaching for that matter. Few would say that generating anxiousness, other than in the short term as in getting "up" for tests or so-called healthy motivation  in competition, is good for learning. If pronunciation work itself makes everybody more anxious, then it would seem that we should at least focus more on more immediate feedback and correction or positive reinforcement. Waiting longer apparently just further handicaps those more prone to anxiety. How about doing nothing? 

This certainly makes sense of the seemingly contradictory results of research in pronunciation teaching showing instructors biased toward less feedback and correction but students consistently wanting more

How do you provide relatively anxiety-free, immediate feedback in your class, especially if your preference is for delayed feedback? Do you? In haptic work, the regular warm up preceding pronunciation work is seen as critical to that process. (but we use a great deal of immediate, ongoing feedback.) Other instructors manage to set up a more general nonthreatening, supportive, open and accommodating classroom milieu and "safe spaces". Others seem to effectively use the anonymity of whole class responses and predictable drill-like activities, especially in oral output practice.

Anxiety management or avoidance. Would, of course, appreciate your thoughts and best practice 0n this . . as soon as possible!

Citation: Zhang X, Lei Y, Yin H, Li P and Li H (2018) Slow Is Also Fast: Feedback Delay Affects Anxiety and Outcome Evaluation. Front. Hum. Neurosci. 12:20. doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2018.00020

Sunday, January 21, 2018

An "after thought" no longer: Embodied cognition, pronunciation instruction and warm ups!

If your pronunciation work is less than memorable or engaging, you may be missing a simple but critical step: warming up the body . . . and mind (cf., recent posts on using Mindfulness or Lessac training for that purpose.) Here's why.

A recent, readable piece by Cardona, Embodied Cognition: A Challenging Road for Clinical Neuropsychology presents a framework that parallels most contemporary models of pronunciation instruction. (Recall the name of this blog: Haptic-integrated CLINICAL pronunciation research!) The basic problem is not that the body is not adequately included or applied in therapy or instruction, but that it generally "comes last" in the process, often just to reinforce what has been "taught", at best.

That linear model has a long history, according to Cardona, in part due to " the convergence of the localizationist approaches and computational models of information processing adopted by CN (clinical neuropsychology)".  His "good news" is that research in neuroscience and embodied cognition has (finally) begun to establish more of the role of the body, relative to both thought and perception, one of parity, contributing bidirectionally to the process--as opposed to contemporary "disembodied and localization connectivist" approaches. (He might as well be talking about pronunciation teaching there.)

"Recently, embodied cognition (EC) has put the sensory-motor system on the stage of human cognitive neuroscience . . .  EC proposes that the brain systems underlying perception and action are integrated with cognition in bidirectional pathways  . . , highlighting their connection with bodily  . . . and emotional  . . .  experiences, leading to research programs aimed at demonstrating the influence of action on perception . . . and high-level cognition  . . . "  (Cardona, 2017) (The ellipted sections represent research citations in the original.) 

Pick up almost any pronunciation teaching text today and observe the order in which pronunciation features are presented and  taught. I did that recently, reviewing over two dozen recent student and methods books. Almost without exception the order was something like the following:
  • perception (by focused listening) 
  • explanation/cognition (by instructor), 
  • possible mechanical adjustment(s), which may or may not include engagement of more of body than just the head (i.e., gesture), and then 
  • oral practice of various kinds, including some communicative pair or group work 
There were occasional recommendations regarding warm ups in the instructor's notes but nothing systematic or specific as to what that should entail or how to do it. 

The relationship between perception, cognition and body action there is very much like what Cardona describes as endemic to clinical neuropsychology: the body is not adequately understood as influencing how the sound is perceived or its essential identity as a physical experience. Instead, the targeted sound or phoneme is encountered first as a linguistic construct or constructed visual image.

No wonder an intervention in class may not be efficient or remembered . . .
So, short of becoming a "haptician" (one who teaches pronunciation beginning with the body movement and awareness)--an excellent idea, by the way, how do you at least partially overcome the disembodiment and localization that can seriously undermine your work? A good first step is to just consistently do a good warm up before attending to pronunciation, a basic principle of haptic work, such as this one which activates a wide range of muscles, sound mechanisms and mind.

One of the best ways to understand just how warm ups work in embodying the learning process is this IADMS piece on warming up before dance practice. No matter how you teach pronunciation, just kicking off your sessions with a well-designed warmup, engaging the body and mind first, will always produce better results. It may take three or four times to get it established with your students, but the long term impact will be striking. Guaranteed . . . or your memory back!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Touching pronunciation teaching: a haptic Pas de trois
For you ballet buffs this should "touch home" . . . The traditional "Pas de trois" in ballet typically involves 3 dancers who move through 5 phases: Introduction, 3 variations, each done by at least one dancer, and then a coda of some kind with all dancing.

A recent article by Lamothe in the UK Guardian, Let's touch: why physical connection between human beings matters, reminded us of some the earliest work we did in haptic pronunciation teaching that involved students working together in pairs, "conducted" by the instructor, in effect "touching" each other on focus words or stressed syllables in various ways, on various body parts.

In today's highly "touch sensitive" milieu, any kind of interpersonal touching is potentially problematic, especially "cross-gender" or "cross-power plane", but there still is an important place for it, as Lamothe argues persuasively. Maybe even in pronunciation teaching!

Here is one example from haptic pronunciation teaching. Everything in the method can be done using intra-personal and interpersonal touch, but this one is relatively easy to "see" without a video to demonstrate the interpersonal version of it:
  • Students stand face to face about a foot apart. Instructor demonstrates a word or phrase, tapping her right shoulder (with left hand) on stressed syllables and left elbow (with right hand) on unstressed syllables--the "Butterfly technique"
As teacher and students then repeat the word or phrase together,
  • One student will lightly tap the other on the outside of the her right shoulder on stressed syllables (using her left hand).
  • The other student will lightly tap the outside of the other student's left elbow on unstressed syllables (using her right hand). 
Note: Depending on the socio-cultural context, and depending on what the general attire of the class is, having all students use some kind of hand "disinfectant" may be in order! Likewise, pairing of students obviously requires knowing well both them individually and the interpersonal dynamics of the class. Consider competition among pairs or teams using the same technique. 

If you do have the class and context for it, try a bit of it, for instance on a few short idioms. It takes a little getting used to, but the impact of touch in this relatively simple exercise format--and the close paralinguistic "communication"-- can be very dramatic and . . . touching.

Keep in touch!