Thursday, May 24, 2018

Paying attention to paying attention! Or else . . . !

Two very accessible, useful blogposts, primers by Mike Hobbis, PhD student in neuroscience @UCL on attention in teaching worth a read, one on why there should be more research on attention in the classroom, and a second, which I like a lot, on attention as an effect, not a just cause.
Hobbis' basic point is that attention should be more the "center of attention" in methodology and research today than it is. Why it isn't is really good question. In part, there are just so many other things to "attend to"  . . .

I was really struck by the fact that I, too, still tend to use attention more as a cause, not an effect, meaning: if students are not paying attention in some form, my lesson plan or structure can not possibly be at fault: it is probably the continuous "laptopping" during the class or lack of sleep on their parts. The research on the impact of multitasking at the keyboard in school on a whole range of subjects and tasks, for example, is extensive . . . and inconclusive-- except in teaching pronunciation, where, as far as I can determine, there is none. (If you know of some PLEASE post the link here!)

There is, of course, a great deal of research on paying attention to pronunciation from various perspectives, per se, such as Counselman 2015, on "forcing" students to pay attention to their pronunciation and variance from a model. But, the extent to which variable attention alone contributes to the overall main effect is not pulled out in any study that I have been able to find.

Now I am not quite to Counselman's level of "forcing" attention, either by totally captivating instruction or capturing the attention and holding it hostage along the way, but Hobbis makes a very good point in the two blogposts that must go in both directions, if not simultaneously but at least systematically. In haptic pronunciation work--or most pronunciation teaching for that matter-- the extensive use of gesture alone should function at both levels. The same applies to any movement-enhanced methodology such as TPR (Total Physical Response) or  mind-body interplay, as in Mindfulness training. The question, of course, is how mindful and intentional in methodology are we.

There has been a resurgence of attention to attention in the last decade in a number of sub-disciplines in neuroscience as well. Have you been paying attention--either to the research or in your classroom? If so, share that w/us, too! (The next blogpost will focus on the range of attention-driven, neuroscience-grounded best practice classroom techniques.) Join that conversation. You have our attention!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

I like the way you move there! (Why haptic pronunciation teaching is so attractive!)

Do you like your students? Really? If you do, can they tell? If you don't, do they know? Do you like
teaching pronunciation? Does it show?
If your answer to any of those 6 questions is "I don't know . . . ,"  A meta-analytic investigation of the relation between interpersonal attraction and enacted behavior, by Montoya, Matthew; Kershaw and Prosser, summarized by, may be of interest. What they did is look at a bunch of studies, done on "hundreds" of cultures, trying to find universally recognized human behaviors that signal attraction (e.g., I like you!) Those nonverbal behaviors that (they claim) are universal are: 
  • Smiling
  • Eye contact
  • Proximity (getting close in space)
  • Laughter
Now, of course, how those behaviors are actually conveyed in different cultures may be quite different, but it is a fascinating claim. The summary goes on: 

"Other behaviors showed no evidence of being related to liking, including when someone flips their hair, lifts their eyebrows, uses gestures, tilts their head, primps their clothes, maintains open body posture or leans in." (Some of those at least intuitively seem to be related to attraction, at least in North American or Northern European cultures.)
One of the other, most striking findings (to me, at least) is that mimicking (or mirroring) and head nods were only associated with attraction in English. In other words, if your nonverbal messaging or expectations of students in the classroom relies to any extent on mirroring (of you or of your mirroring of them) or head nodding--and for the native English speaking instructor it certainly will to some degree--there can be a very real affective mismatch. 

Any native English speaker who has taught in Japan, for instance, can easily have their perception of audience engagement scrambled initially, when those in the audience sit (apparently) very still, with less body movement or mirroring, and nod heads for reasons other than just understanding or attraction. 

The intriguing implication of that research, in terms of haptic pronunciation teaching and training, is that both head nods and mirroring figure in very prominently in the teaching methodology, in effect making it perhaps even more "English-centric" than we had imagined. In most instances of modeling or correction of pronunciation, for example, a student "invited" to synchronize his or her upper body movement with the instructor or other students, as they repeat the targeted word, phrase or clause together. Likewise, upper torso movement in English and in the haptic system accompanies or drives head nodding, often referred to as upper torso nods, in fact.

In other words, the basic pedagogical process of haptic pronunciation work is, itself, "attractive," involving nonverbal "synchronization" of head and body in ways that enable acquisition of at least English. The only other language that we have done some work in to date is Spanish, but its "body language" is, of course, closely related to English. 

Even if you are not entirely "attracted" to haptic yet, this research certainly lends more support for the use of mirroring in English language instruction, especially pronunciation. (Nod if you agree!)

“A meta-analytic investigation of the relation between interpersonal attraction and enacted behavior” by Montoya, R. Matthew; Kershaw, Christine; & Prosser, Julie L. in Psychological Bulleting. Published May 8 2018. doi:10.1037/bul0000148