A new study by Rizzi, Coban and Tan of University of Basel. Excitatory rubral cells encode the acquisition of novel complex motor tasks. summarized by Sciencedaily.com, exploring the connection between fine motor engagement such as reaching for and grasping objects and enhanced brain plasticity (learning) adds another fascinating piece to that puzzle. (It is almost worth reading the original article just to have the term, "excitatory rubral cells," part of your active vocabulary . . . )
Why is this of such interest to haptic pronunciation teaching (HaPT)--literally, and language teaching in general, figuratively? At least three reasons. HaPT involves:
1. Synchronized movement between student and instructor or student and student.
2. Repetition of words, phrases or clauses in coordination w/#1
3. Use of gesture anchored by touch on stressed vowels in the words, phrases or clauses of #2, where one hand either grasps or taps the other hand in various ways. (To see demonstrations of some of those combinations, go check them out here.)
The study itself is perhaps something of a reach . . . in that Tan et al. are studying the effect in mouse brains, looking at the impact of fine motor learning on increased plasticity. (If those neuroscientists think the parallel between rodent brain plasticity and ours is worthy of research and publication, who am I to disagree?) See if you can "grasp" the concept from the ScienceDaily summary:
"The red nucleus, which, over the years, has received little attention in brain research, plays an important role in fine motor coordination. Here the brain learns new fine motor skills for grasping and stores what it has learned."
What this study adds for us is, to quote the authors, the potential impact of novel complex motor tasks on plasticity--in other words learning new patterning and relationships. In the HaPT-English system today there are over 300 novel complex motor tasks, that is combinations of gestures+touch associated with unique positions in visual field or on the upper body. They are "novel" in the sense that gesture complexes have been designed to be as distinct as possible from gestures associated with natural languages and cultural systems.
In fact, over the years probably 50 or 60 potential "pedagogical movement patterns" (PMPs) have been proposed and dropped due to possible parallel signalling of other meanings and significance to one culture or another. In that sense then the sound-motor-touch complexes, or PMPs should be both novel to the learner and physically and interpersonally engaging.
This same principle applies to use of gesture in teaching and learning as well, of course. Consistent use of movement and gesture in instruction appears to promote more general brain plasticity than often assumed. So, even if you consider systematic body work useful just to keep things "loose" and flexible, you may have had it right all along.
Start a new movement today!
And don't forget to join us for the next bi-monthly Webinar, what we call "Hapticanar" on July 17th and 18th! (For reservations, contact:
Giorgio Rizzi, Mustafa Coban, Kelly R. Tan. Excitatory rubral cells encode the acquisition of novel complex motor tasks. Nature Communications, 2019; 10 (1) DOI: 10.1038/s41467-019-10223-y