Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Pronunciation teaching not your cup of tea? It may be your metaphor or M-Cat!

Neuroscientist, Glaser, of King's College, as reported in the Guardian, may just have the "answer": adjust your metaphors! For example, if your students are not as friendly or malleable as they should be, have them all hold a cup of warm tea for a bit. (Caveat emptor: The following is serious fun!) In one study:

"Those holding hot drinks were also more likely to be generous, and less likely to display behaviour thought of as selfish. This is due to the strong linguistic and metaphorical links created in the brain by repeatedly using the words ‘warm’ or ‘cold’ to describe personalities."

"This is due . . . " Wow. That is a bit of a stretch, of course, but he is getting warm . . . Pretty strong claim there, that it is the specific use of such adjectives alone that generates the visceral, affective response. Without digging too deeply into the evidence (which he doesn't, in fact), just hold your warm latte in both hands and read on. 

I've reported earlier on the blog similar research "linking" the metaphorical and somatic/tactile link between words such as "rough" or "coarse", for example, and how the brain seems to interpret those in a way very similar to when one actually touches a surface possessing that tactile quality.

Similar studies connect language and olfaction (smell/aroma therapy), e.g. That argument stinks! Likewise, beginning with work such as Metaphors we live by,  Lakoff and Johnson (2003), and continuing more recently in language teaching, e.g.,  Holme (2004) Mind, Metaphor and Language Teaching, in a very real sense, anything in the classroom is in principle, amenable to intentional (metaphorical) design and adjustment.

In the past, asking students to hold something random to affect their perception of something else was seen as pretty far out--objectionable to the point of unconscious manipulation. But today, with both research on the impact of placibos and pop-neuroscience that encourages a wide range of conscious adjustment of perception, it is a different "ball game"! (I make extensive use of balls in pronunciation teaching.) But first we need to ferret out all the classroom behaviors that are potentially working against us!

What we might term "meta-cup-a-tea" (M-Cat), that is the sensation evoked by touch or physical contact and presence is a variable in all instruction, including pronunciation. In general pronunciation instruction M-Cat may rarely be attended to consciously, but in haptic pronunciation instruction (HaPT) it can be critical, since it can divert awareness away from pronunciation-focused touch-based techniques. (For more on that see this!) In L2 work, however, cultural "misinterpretation" of in-class touching can of course go almost anyplace imaginable.

So let's just look at a few traditional pronunciation teaching "tactile experiences" (other than what goes on in the mouth or what is involved in HaPT) for their potential "Meta-cup-a-tea" contribution (or lack of contribution) to instruction. Listed below are some of my students' best M-Cats. On the face of it many of these are done to reinforce or correlate with a targeted sound or pattern. In practice, it is not at all clear what if any connectedness is realized, nonetheless. In many cases the "contact" or pressure can be counterproductive, interfering or distracting attention--but still fun:
  • blowing air on tissue paper or hands: X is mostly hot air, germ dispersing 
  • touching the face: X is untrained; has not taken course in public speaking
  • clapping or tapping hands: X is attention-deprived
  • stretching rubber bands: X is all thumbs, overextended
  • snapping fingers: X impulsive, too much math, phonetics or syntax
  • overly precise hand writing: X is scary or boring or compulsive
  • hands holding things that are not warm: X is cold, unfeeling
  • spinning pencils: X is neurotic, not from this culture, not a native speaker!
  • fingers on smart phones, especially when multi-tasking: X is "situ-phrenic"
  • hands excessively on books, notebooks: X is bookish, introvert, anachronist, dead-tree-ite
  • hands excessively on body parts: X has pronounced problem
  • hand or marker moving on iPad or white/smart board: X is hip, maybe even creative
  • going through practice cards: X is a dealer
  • caressing keyboard or mouse: X is geek-ish, L2-a-phobe, possibly closet rat
  • glutes on chair: X is sedentary, butt stable
  • sitting on chair in language lab: X is antisocial, isolationist
  • full body on bed: X is seriously sedentary, probable "sound-nambulant"
  • earphones on/in ears: X is audio-phont, "ear-y" at best
  • chewing, eating, drinking: X is hypoglycemic or language hungry
  • continually wiping finger prints off iPhone screen: dys-Appled, but possibly good follower
  • head scratching: lice, itching to learn, excessive meta-cognition in process
Got any more good M-Cats? Post'em and I'll add them to the list.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

(New) Haptic cognition-based pronunciation teaching workshop at 2016 TESL Ontario Conference

If you are coming to the 2016 TESL Ontario Conference later this month (November 24 and 25 in Toronto) please join us for the Haptic Pronunciation Teaching Workshop, on Thursday, 3:45 to 4:45. This will introduce the new "haptic cognition" framework for (amazingly) more efficient and integrated pronunciation modeling and correction that we have been developing for the last year or so. (See previous post on the applicability of a haptic cognition-based  model to pronunciation teaching in general.)
HaPT-E, v4.0

Haptic cognition defined: 
  • The felt sense of pronunciation change (Gendlin, 1996) – somatic (body) awareness and conscious, meta-cognitive processing 
  • Change activated consciously and initially through body movement pattern use (Lessac, 1967) 
  • Haptic (movement+touch) uniting, integrating and “prioritizing” of modalities in anchoring and recall (Minogue, 2006)
Modalities of the model:
  • Meta-cognitive (rules, schemas, explanations, conscious association of sound or form to other sounds or forms)
  • Auditory (sound patterns presented or recalled) 
  • Haptic
    • Kinesthetic (movement patterns experienced/performed or mirrored by the body, gesture, motion patterns)
    •  Cutaneous (differential skin touch: pressure, texture, temperature)
  • Vocal resonance (vibrations throughout upper body, neck and head)
  • Visual (visual schema presented or recalled: graphemes, charts, colors, modeling, demonstrations) 
 General instructional principles:
  • Get to "haptic" as soon as possible in modeling and correcting.
  • Use precise pedagogical movements patterns (PMPs), including tracking and speed in the visual field.
  • Insure as much cutaneous anchoring as possible.
  • Go “light” on visual; avoid overly “gripping” visual schema during haptic engagement.
  • Use as much vocal resonance as possible.
  • Repeat as few times as possible.
  • Insure that homework/follow up is feasible, clear—and done (including post hoc reporting of work, results and incidental/related learnings).
  • Use haptic PMPs first in correction/recall prompting, before providing oral, spoken model.
The elaborated, audio-embedded Powerpoint from the workshop will be available later this month.


Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The "myth-ing" link in (pronunciation) teaching: Haptic cognition

Nice piece from The Guardian Teacher Network, Four neuro-myths still prevalent in schools, debunked, by Bradley Bush (@Inner_Drive). Now granted, The Guardian is not your average  refereed, first-line journal, but the sources and research cited in the readable piece are credible. Just in case you need a little more information to help your colleague finally abandon any of them, check it out. The four myths are:
Haptic Wolverine, 2016
  • Learning styles are important in teaching and instruction
  • We use just 10% of our brains.
  • Right vs left brain is a relevant distinction in understanding learning and designing instruction
  • Playing "brain" games makes you smarter and should have a more prominent place in instruction
So, if those popular "teacher cognitions" are lacking in empirical support, especially the first and third, how should that affect design of instruction? (The fact that the second and fourth just seem so "right" at times when in the classroom, notwithstanding!)

One helpful framework, cited by Bush (and this blog earlier) is Goswami (2008), which argues that learners learn best, in general, when taught using a  multi-sensory, multiple-modality approach. From that perspective, for example, when teaching a sound or process or vocabulary word, as many senses as possible must be brought to the party, either simultaneously or in close proximity:
  • Auditory (sound)
  • Visual (imagery)
  • Kinesthetic (muscle movement and memory)
  • Tactile/cutaneous (surface skin touch)
  • General (somatic) sensation of vocal resonance throughout the head and upper body. 
  • In addition, the potential impact of that is conditioned by the degree of meta-cognitive engagement (conscious awareness on the part of the learner of all that sensory input, plus existing schemas, such as rules, experience and connections to related sounds and language bits and processes). 
How to best do that consistently is the question. The concept of "haptic cognition" (Gentaz and Rossetti, in press) suggests why haptic awareness can function to bring together all those modalities in learning. From the conclusion:

"Taken together, this suggests that the links between perception and cognition may depend on the perceptual modality: visual perception is discontinuous with cognition whereas haptic perception is continuous with cognition." (Emphasis, mine.)

In other words, visual schema, such as charts, colors and even text itself, may actually work against integration of sound, resonance, movement and meaning in pronunciation teaching. Research from a number of fields has established the potentially problematic nature of visual modality overriding auditory, in effect disconnecting sound from meaning. On the contrary, the haptic modality generally serves to unite sensory input, connecting more readily with cognition based in sound, resonance and meaning. 

Another myth then, that of visual explanatory schemas (images and text) being a good approach in pronunciation teaching in textbooks and media--as opposed to active experience of sound, movement and awareness of resonance, plus some visual support, needs serious reexamination. What Gentaz and Rossetti are asserting (or confirming) is that visual imagery may not always effectively contribute to conscious, critical, cognitive integration and awareness in learning--the ultimate goal of all media advertising!

In other words, pronunciation instruction should be centered more on comprehensive haptic cognition. If you are not sure just how that happens . . . ask your local haptician!

(Coincidentally, the name of our company is: Acton Multiple-Modality Pronunciation Instruction Systems, AMPISys, inc.!)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Teaching aggression--right out of the gait!

Your "perceived pedagogical physical presence" (PPPP) in the classroom not all that it could be?  According to new research by Satchell and colleagues at the University of Portsmouth reported by Science Daily, it may well be your . . . gait! According to their study, the way you move your upper and/or lower body may be perceived by students as overly (or micro-ly) aggressive. And we know what that can mean, if your classroom is not a "safe space" today!

In the study, subjects did both a paper test that looked at aggressive tendencies and were video recorded walking on the treadmill. Degree of upper body, lower body movement and gait speed were then correlated with various indices of aggression and gender.  My summary of the results:

Overall tendencies:
  • More combined upper and lower body motion was correlated with tendency toward physical aggression.
  • More upper body motion was correlated with tendency toward conscientiousness.
  • More lower body motion was correlated with tendency toward extroversion.
Male tendencies: 
  • More upper or lower body motion was correlated with tendency toward verbal aggression.
  • More upper body motion was correlated with tendency toward extroversion.
Female tendencies:
  • More combined upper and lower body motion was correlated with tendency toward physical aggression. 
  • More upper body motion was correlated with tendency toward conscientiousness.
  • More lower body motion or overall speed of gait was correlated with tendency toward agreeableness. 
See how those can add up on you and at the same time become confounded? Viewed and critiqued any video recording of your teaching lately? Regardless of how well your upper or lower body tends to move, whether in class or on the dance floor, regular review of your current PPPP is the only conscientious thing to do! You agreeable to that? 

University of Portsmouth. (2016, September 13). Link between walk, aggression discovered. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 26, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160913125309.htm

Friday, October 21, 2016

The business of correcting and remembering pronunciation

Doing a workshop today on correcting pronunciation with Rebeka delaMorandiere, based on her recently completed MA Thesis at the BC TESOL annual conference in Burnaby, BC. The conference attendees are generally public school teachers, so the focus is on classroom correction strategies for key pronunciation problems. Will see about posting some version of the Powerpoint later.

One  new addition to the overall framework is the inclusion of a (somewhat) common sensical 5-point framework from Business Insider website piece entitled "5 strategies for remembering everything you learn". That, in turn, is based on a neat book, Make it stick: the science of successful learning that I have linked to in earlier posts. The key strategies, along with my read on the application to pronunciation correction, are:
  • Force yourself to recall (Before you provide a student with the correct pronunciation, see if they can do it themselves first.)
  • Don't go easy on yourself (Practice a new word or sound like mad, especially in homework.)
  • Don't fall for fluency (Just because a student can recall the right pronunciation or you can get them to do it in class, don't assume that the change will take without practice and conscious work on it.)
  • Connect the new thing to the old things (Very important to connect a corrected word or corrected sound to as many other words with it in it as possible. That can be done many ways, but it is generally essential for there to be consistent uptake.)
  • Reflect, reflect, reflect (Especially with older learners, from middle school on, research shows that they have to be meta-cognitively in the game, managing at least some of their practice and exploring ways of improving at their own initiative, or you may be wasting your time.)
That is a pretty cool list. Using the 5 tips. see how quickly you can memorize it . . . and recall it later!

And, of course, keep in touch!


Saturday, October 15, 2016

(Really) great body-enhanced pronunciation teaching

If you are interested in using gesture more effectively in your teaching, a new 2016 study by Nguyen, A micro-analysis of embodiments and speech in the pronunciation instruction of one ESL teacher, is well worth reading. The study is, by design, wisely focused more on what the instructor does with her voice and body during instruction, not on student learning, uptake or in-class engagement.

The literature review establishes reasonably well the connection between the gesture described in the study and enhanced student learning of language and pronunciation. I can almost not imagine a better model of integrated gestural use in pronunciation teaching . . . The instructor is a superb performer, as are many who love teaching pronunciation. (Full disclosure: From the photos in the article I recognize the instructor, a master teacher with decades of experience in the field teaching speaking and pronunciation.)

From decades of work with gesture, myself, one of the most consistent predictors of effective use of gesture in teaching is how comfortable the instructor feels with "dancing" in front of the students and getting them to move along with her. The research on body image and identity and embodiment are unequivocal on that: to move others, literally and figuratively, you must be comfortable with your own body and its representation in public.

Knowing this instructor I do not need to see the video data to understand how her personal presence could command learner attention and (sympathetic, non-conscious) body movement, or her ability to establish and maintain rapport in the classroom. Likewise, I have not the slightest doubt that the students' experience and learning in that milieu are excellent, if not extraordinary.

The report is a fascinating read, illustrating use of various gestures and techniques, including body synchronization with rhythm and stress, and beat gesture associated with stress patterning. If you can "move" like that model, you got it. When it comes to this kind of instruction, however, the "klutzes" are clearly in the majority, probably for a number of reasons.

The one popular technique described, using stretching of rubber bands to identify stressed or lengthened vowels is often effective--for at least presenting the concept. It is marginally haptic, in fact, using both movement and some tactile anchoring in the process (the feeling of the rubber band pressing differentially on the inside of the thumbs.) In teacher training I sometimes use that technique to visually illustrate what happens to stressed vowels or those occurring before voiced consonants, in general. There is no study that I am aware of, however, that demonstrates carry over of "rubber banding" to changes in spontaneous speech or even better memory for the specific stressed syllables in the words presented in class. I'd be surprised to find one in fact.

In part the reason for that, again well established in research on touch, is that the brain is not very good at remembering degrees of pressure of touch. Likewise, clapping hands on all syllables of a word or tapping on a desk but a bit harder on the stressed syllable should not, in principle, be all that effective. That observation was, in fact, one of the early motivations for developing the haptic pronunciation teaching system.  By contrast, isolated touch, usually at a different locations on the body, seems to work much better to create differentiated memory for stress assignment. (All haptic techniques are based on that assumption.)

I, myself, taught like the model in the research for decades, basically using primarily visual-kinesthetic modeling and some student body engagement to teach pronunciation. The problem was trying to train new teachers on how to do that effectively. For a while I tried turning trainees into (somewhat) flamboyant performers like myself. I gave up on that project about 15 years ago and began figuring out how to use gesture effectively even if you, yourself, are not all that comfortable with doing it, a functional . . . klutz.

The key to effective gesture work is ultimately that the learner's body must be brought to move both in response to the instructor's presentation and in independent practice, perhaps as homework.(Lessac's dictum: Train the body first!)  Great performers accomplish that naturally, at least in presenting the concepts. The haptic video teaching system is there for those who are near totally averse to drawing attention to their body up front, but, in general, managed gesture is very doable. There are a number of (competing) systems today that do that. See the new haptic pronunciation teaching certificate, if interested in the most "moving and touching" approach.

Nguyen, Mai-Han. (2016). A micro-analysis of embodiments and speech in the pronunciation instruction of one ESL teacher. Issues in Applied Linguistics. appling_ial_24274. Retrieved from: http://escholarship.org/uc/item/993425h1

Friday, October 7, 2016

Picture this! Affective use of smart phones in (pronunciation) teaching!

Tigger warning: The following post contains both fun and "happy talk" of various stripes!

Although the research on the effect (and affect) of classroom smartphone presence runs the gamut, from minus (BBC) to plus (Inside Higher Ed.), every new pronunciation textbook or system must be at least highly handheld-compatible or have its own app. Something apparently all studies to date missed, however, was to what extent using a handheld, especially taking and posting pictures, contributes to . . . HAPPINESS!

Chen, Mark and Ali, of University of California-Irvine have happily filled in that gap: Promoting Positive Affect through Smartphone Photography, linking happiness with use of selfies and shared photos. From the Science Daily summary:

Researchers collected nearly 2,900 mood measurements during the study and found that subjects in all three groups experienced increased positive moods. Some participants in the selfie group reported becoming more confident and comfortable with their smiling photos over time. The students taking photos of objects that made them happy became more reflective and appreciative. And those who took photos to make others happy became calmer and said that the connection to their friends and family helped relieve stress.

Without getting into the somewhat suspect methodology and conclusions of the research--which would obviously detract from the fun of drawing out the implications for pronunciation teaching (or any kind of teaching for that matter), let's just focus on a few of the more fascinating possibilities:

A. Selfie's promote confidence and comfort with one's own photos.
Teaching application: In addition to just added confidence, being more comfortable with "objectively" critiquing one's voice production, especially pronunciation would be for many learners exceedingly valuable. 
B. Photos of things that make one happy encourage reflectiveness and "appreciativeness".
Teaching application: Reflectiveness is now the "gold standard" for both learners and instructors. Just imagine the implications for instructor and course evaluations! In addition, some of the most interesting and productive work with smart phones has been with learners exchanging and discussing favorite photos where peer and self monitoring of language form and content is involved (See C, below, too.)
C. Photos to make others happy make one calmer and relieve stress.
Teaching application: Calm, stress-free working milieu is invaluable in pronunciation instruction but exceedingly difficult to maintain. The connection to the connectedness of the other members of the class is, of course, key. A good example of that is having students creating and talking about various kinds of photo collections, collages or web-applications that organize and display pictures with unlimited numbers of contributors.

Just doing this post made me feel, well . . . happier! There are, it seems, even more good (affective and pedagogical) reasons why students should be encouraged to use their smart phones in class! Get the picture?

University of California, Irvine. (2016, September 13). Study links selfies, happiness. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 5, 2016 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/09/160913173436.htm