Winter Pronunciation Camp Reflections Week 1

So we’re back at the time of year when everything in my life goes mental and I have to stop blogging for a while, as I’m involved with creating my own camp program and teaching it 5 days a week (actually I’m in the middle of teaching 9 days out of 10!) as well as dealing with impending MA deadlines (if anyone suggests doing a module on assessment, I recommend considering your friendship with them immediately). Expect that this winter I’m resolving not to just go quiet for six or seven weeks, but to try and blog about this pronunciation camp as I teach it.

These blog post are going to be somewhat hastily put together I’m afraid. I’ll try to do some more polished reflections after the camp has finished, but for now these will detail what I’m doing and how I’m felling about it. They’re actually based on my experimental audio reflections which I’ve been keeping daily, and are so far proving extremely helpful. Anyway, here goes week one…

Wednesday

This was a bit of a get to know you and introduce the course sort of day. I started off with my favourite name game, in which one person starts by introducing themselves and saying one thing about themselves, then each successive person must remember and introduce everyone else before they introduce themselves. While it’s not particularly exciting or innovative, it does involve maximum use of students names, and is a big part of the fact that at the end of week one I know everyone’s name already.

Then as a get to know you activity we wrote five answers about ourselves and mingled trying to guess what the question was (idea stolen from this excellent thread). It was interesting to see how different groups interpreted this – some were very keen on guessing the questions, others used it as a much more general basis for a conversation. I was happy either way, and it seemed to generate a lot of activity in every group. It also worked well for me to meet students on a one to one level, and is possibly leads to the development of more rapport, as the encounters are much more personal.

I then shared my four key goals for the course, which are:

  1. Students will learn how to improve their pronunciation?
  2. Students will increase their receptive and productive pronunciation power (!)
  3. Students will increase, an be able to measure increases in, their fluency.
  4. Students will be more aware of the learning process through reflective journalling.

Having explained these a little, we then moved onto a bit of reflection. I posed three questions to the students to talk about, then write a short journal entry for homework. These were about the importance of pronunciation, the students experience of and ideas for pronunciation teaching, and their thoughts on their own pronunciation.

One thing that arose during this, is the level of monitoring I should do during reflective conversations. I made sure that the students were aware that their reflections were their own, and there was no need to share them, so it felt a little off to try to monitor reflective conversations like this. I think from next time I’ll make a clear policy that I won’t monitor unless invited to.

Thursday

On Thursday I introduced students to one of my processes for the camp, what I called “The Learning Cycle”, but which is neither cyclic nor especially about learning. It might be better termed “the habit-changing process”. Anyway, it essentially uses the following four stages:

  • Discovery (of undesireable habits)
  • Correction (finding out how to do it right)
  • Goal directed, attention focused practice
  • Good habit formation

The idea is to raise habits out of unconscious production, change them, then reintegrate the new improved habit. Today’s calls focused on the discovery stage through a diagnostic test (designed by David Kim and published in the 1999 KOTESOL PAC Proceedings). Running a diagnostic test for many students simultaneously is tricky, but I came up with a way to do it. I gave the students 15 minutes to read the test sentences and record them on their phone. I gave them the sentences plain so there wasn’t too much second guessing. Then together we analysed them in class, with me providing both good and (hilariously to the students) bad models. I think this was actually a pretty good way to do it, as it allows many problems to be pointed out in a short space of time, and hopefully develops better listening skills and pronunciation awareness in general. However, the odd check I have done since shows students marking themselves very harshly, despite encouragement, so if you’re doing this keep an eye out for that.

Friday

Friday was perhaps the least satisfying day of the week, for reasons that I will outline. I’m trying to give students the tools to improve their pronunciation, so today turned into a bit of an information dump. I gave students British and Korean vowel quadrilaterals, plus my own consonant chart, and explained how to use them. Now, this would be incredibly useful to me, but the students just didn’t seem to “get it”. Having set some goals for improvement  for the test, I gave them the task of learning how to produce the sounds correctly using the materials I had just given them, and then building these into a set of common words that they could make into an Anki deck to do deliberate practice with (I also introduced howjsay and forvo to provide some models).

This was disappointingly badly done, and left me feeling like I hadn’t really conveyed my point (in truth I hadn’t really). The effort that’s required to change a feature of pronunciation, especially one that’s ingrained in a young adult, is significant, and I’m not sure that the students realize that it takes daily focus (in fact, on a show of hands most seemed to believe that having mastered a sound they would then produce it correctly each time). Anyway, my solution is going to be leaving it for a couple of days, but then conducting a proper practice session, carefully staged, with theories elaborated and Anki decks built during the class, and revision assigned for homework. This will likely be a new way of working for the students, so it’s important to model it carefully for them, rather than just expect them to do it straight off the bat. I’m hoping for better things next week.

Saturday [ 😦 ]

Due to the new year holiday we ended up with a make up class on the Saturday of this week. I suspected that students wouldn’t be particularly up for long lectures, intensive pronunciation focus or anything else resembling hard work (I also suspected the teacher wasn’t really up for this either) . I’d introduced my students to IPA in a homework assignment, but wanted to help them learn it. When I learned, the thing that helped me most was actually using the thing, so with this in mind I designed a scavenger hunt around the building (inside, it was -10C out) with all of the clues written in IPA. The clues also had to be earned by correctly pronouncing words like “epitome” (thanks Mike) having found the pronunciation in a dictionary.

Overall the event was a great success, and got rave reviews from the students. Honestly I saw it more as a bit of light relief after a hard week, but I’m sure the students did get a bit more familiar with the IPA. However, one incident did lead me to doubt the usefulness of teaching IPA. When I set the key words for the clues, one student immediately looked up the voice sample pronunciations on his phone. Smart enough, and it left me wondering whether IPA might be a little less useful these days than in days of yore.

The final thing I want to share was my opening activity for the day. Lifted from Nation and Macalister’s (2009) Language Curriculum Design, I started a fluency tracker for my students. Basically it’s just a graph of their fluencies in various areas. We started with reading fluency. I allowed each student to choose a graded reader, and set them 4 minutes of reading time. They then counted the lines that they had read. We’re going to test this regularly to see if they improve, and also look at writing and speaking fluency too. One thing that ER fans should note is that several students asked to borrow the books to read at home!

Alright, that’s this week’s rambling done I think. Any suggestions, comments and criticisms very much welcomed.

Cheers,

Alex

 

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13 responses to “Winter Pronunciation Camp Reflections Week 1

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  2. For someone in the middle of a camp, you sure wrote a great post. One thing that struck me (since I’m studying phonology at the moment) is your comment on the usefulness of IPA. I also “cheated” on some of my assignments involving IPA. I came to regret it later because I didn’t learn IPA and while it might be unnecessary to learn it for pronunciation (in my opinion, in this modern technical age), it could perhaps be useful for describing the difference between, say, your pronunciation and one of your student’s.
    I look forward to reading the next update.

    • Hey Anne,

      Thanks so much for your comment, and apologies for my disgracefully late reply.

      I should point out that I wasn’t saying IPA is useless, just less useful in this modern age. Your point about demonstrating difference is spot on. I’ve been using it a lot recently for exactly that, especially with the chunks I have been teaching.

      As for learning IPA, I think the trick is just to use it as much as possible. Once you have transcribed a few things back and forth it gets really easy. My students are pretty good at reading it now after only two weeks of fairly minimal practice.

      Alex

  3. What a great experience for your students (and for me). I think giving students a chance to really focus on pronunciation, and develop the skills to keep working on it is one of the ways we as teachers can help our students keep learning outside of the classroom. I’m not sure how to express it, but it seems to me that if you get students thinking about pronunciation, it’s one of those very very big “noticing” things. Suddenly they are aware of a hard /t/ here and a soft /d/ there and the sound and musicality of language comes to life.

    (Small confession, I’ve been using sounds to practice my IPA dictation, but I sometimes cheat. I’m not proud. But I’m kind of happy to know that Anne is kind of on my team.)

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  5. Hi Kevin,

    Thanks for the comments and apologies for the lateness of reply.

    Your post very nicely sums up my aims in this camp. from my experience pronunciation reform (if I can call it that) is a long and arduous task; one that can’t just be done over 5 weeks, so it seems to make sense to set students up for the long haul. As you say, there’s a strong focus on thinking, figuring it out for yourself and learning how to learn in the long term. If I can get somewhere close to achieving these goals I’ll be very happy.

    I’m also keen to see how the student evaluations come back for this camp, as I’m not so sure the concerns mentioned above go over with the students, who may well be after more of a quick fix of English over the winter, rather than an extended effort on their part. Anyway, expect more words on that when it happens.

    Alex

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  7. Really interesting post. Was wondering how you students are getting on with their reading fluency? It’s great that you are measuring things like this. There has been quite a bit of research done into how the brain reads and the role of ‘hearing’ in the reading process. I’m fascinated by what you’re doing here with your learners and the outcome that might have on their reading skills!!

  8. Hi Carolyn,

    Thanks so much for reading and commenting. It’s particularly useful as although I’ve read a lot about the connection between pronunciation and reading, it had completely slipped my mind here. Thanks for the reminder.

    I took a third reading fluency measurement today (we’ve done one a week) and everyone had improved quite a bit. Given that no teacher is doing much reading in their courses at the camp, perhaps you could attribute some of this to pronunciation? I’d perhaps put it down to increasing speaking fluency in general though, as that is coming on leaps and bounds. My students are reasonably high level, so I might put the question to them as to why they think they are improving so much.

    Alex

  9. Pingback: Winter Pronunciation Camp Reflection Week 3 (Part 2) | The Breathy Vowel

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