Friday, February 23, 2018

How watching curling can make you a better teacher!
Tigger alert: This post contains application of insights from curling and business sales to teaching, certainly nothing to be Pooh-Poohed. 

The piece linked above by Dooley on, How watching curling helps you sell better, explores the potential effects of ongoing attention to sales, brushing away obstacles, influencing the course of "the rock." Most importantly, however, it emphasizes the idea of constantly examining and influencing the behavior of your customers (your students.)

It sounds at first like that analogy flies in the face of empowering the learner and encouraging learner autonomy, let alone questionable manipulation . . .  Not quite. It speaks more to instructor responsibility for doing as much as possible to facilitate the process, but especially the whole range of "influencing" behaviors that neuroscience is "rediscovering" for us, many times less explicit and only marginally out of learner awareness, such as room milieu, pacing, voice characteristics, timing and even . . . homework or engagement with the language outside of class.

Marketers, wedded to the new neuroscience (or pseudo-science) consultants, are way out ahead of us in some respects, far behind in others. What are some major "rocks" that you might better outmaneuver with astute, consistent micro-moves, staying ahead, brushing aside obstacles? One book you might consider "curling  up with, with a grain of salt" is Dooley's Brainfluence: 100 Ways to Persuade and Convince Consumers with Neuromarketing.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Ferreting out good pronunciation: 25% in the eye of the hearer!
Something of an "eye opening" study, Integration of Visual Information in Auditory Cortex Promotes Auditory Scene Analysis through Multisensory Binding, by Town, Wood, Jones, Maddox, Lee, and Bizley of University College London, published on Neuron. One of the implications of the study:

"Looking at someone when they're speaking doesn't just help us hear because of our ability to recognise lip movements – we've shown it's beneficial at a lower level than that, as the timing of the movements aligned with the timing of the sounds tells our auditory neurons which sounds to represent more strongly. If you're trying to pick someone's voice out of background noise, that could be really helpful," They go on to suggest that someone with hearing difficulties have their eyes tested as well.

I say "implications" because the research was actually carried out on ferrets, examining how sound and light combinations were processed by their auditory neurons in their auditory cortices. (We'll take their word that the ferret's wiring and ours are sufficiently alike there. . . )

The implications for language and pronunciation teaching are interesting, namely: strategic visual attention to the source of speech models and participants in conversation may make a significant impact on comprehension and learning how to articulate select sounds. In general, materials designers get it when it comes to creating vivid, even moving models. What is missing, however, is consistent, systematic, intentional manipulation of eye movement and fixation in the process. (There have been methods that dabbled in attempts at such explicit control, e.g., "Suggestopedia"?)

In haptic pronunciation teaching we generally control visual attention with gesture-synchronized speech which highlights stressed elements in speech, and something analogous with individual vowels and consonants. How much are your students really paying attention, visually? How much of your listening comprehension instruction is audio only, as opposed to video sourced? See what I mean?

Look. You can do better pronunciation work.

Citation: (Open access)

Thursday, February 8, 2018

The feeling of how it happens: haptic cognition in (pronunciation) teaching

Am often asked the question as to how "haptic" (movement+touch) can enhance teaching, especially pronunciation teaching. A neat new study by Shaikh, Magana, Neri, Escobar-Castillejos, Noguez and Benes, Undergraduate students’ conceptual interpretation and perceptions of haptic-enabled learning experiences, is "instructive". Specifically, the study,

 " . . . explores the potential of haptic technologies in supporting conceptual understanding of difficult concepts in science, specifically concepts related to electricity and magnetism."

Now aside from the fact that work with (haptic) pronunciation teaching should certainly feel at times both "electric and magnetic", the research illustrates how haptic technology, in this case a joy-stick-like device, can help students more effectively figure out some basic, fundamental concepts. In essence, the students were able to "feel" the effect of current changes and magnetic attraction as various forces and variables were explored. The response from students to the experience was very positive, especially in terms of affirmation of understanding the key ideas involved.

The real importance of the study, however, is that haptic engagement is not seen as simply "reinforcing" something taught visually or auditorily. It is basic to the pedagogical process. In other words, experiencing the effect of electricity and magnetic attraction as the concepts are presented results in (what appears to be) a more effective and efficient lesson. It is experiential learning at its best, where what is acquired is more fully integrated cognition, where the physical "input" is critical to understanding, or may, in fact, precede more "frontal" conscious analysis and access to memory. (Reminiscent, of course, of Damasio's 2000 book: The feeling of how it happens: Body and emotion in the making of consciousness. Required reading!)

An analogous process is evident in haptic pronunciation instruction or any approach that systematically uses gesture or rich body awareness. The key is for that awareness, of movement and vibration or resonance, to at critical junctures PRECEDE explanation, modeling, reflection and analysis, not simply to accompany speech or visual display. (Train the body first! - Lessac)

We are doing a workshop in May that will deal with discourse intonation and orientation (the phonological processes that span sentence and conversational turn boundaries). We'll be training participants in a number of pedagogical gestures that later will accompany the speech in that bridging. To see what some of those used for expressiveness look (and feel) like, go here!