Two Deep Pronunciation Resources

15186400768_446484e376The past year or so, I’ve been getting much more into pronunciation than I ever was before.

By personality, I’m very bookish and very drawn to the written word (if you couldn’t tell from this blog). I also enjoy analyzing how things work, so I get a kick out of grammar. Pronunciation kind of went under my radar.

But then two things happened thanks to really amazing colleagues:

  1. In conversation, one colleague name-dropped a few ESOL big-wigs she’d met at the big TESOL conference over the years. I only recognized one of the names. I unabashedly wrote down the other names (she kindly repeated them for me) and looked them up. One of those names was Judy Gilbert.
  2. Another colleague is running a special program focused on giving one-on-one pronunciation help to students. She told me all about why she started it and what it means to the students who attend, and then I couldn’t help but invite myself over to observe. It’s fascinating and has a huge impact.

Now I’m hooked on pronunciation.

So the following resources are for deep learning. They are not the ones that will be useful to you ten minutes before class starts. But I found them really eye-opening.

  • Teaching Pronunciation Using the Prosody Pyramid by Judy B Gilbert. This is a 50-page book, and it’s worth every single page. It completely convinced me that pronunciation is more closely tied to the other skills than I had realized and gave me a ton of activity ideas. It is posted in the TESOL resource center with no pay wall, so I assume it’s legitimately online for free.
  • The Color Vowel Chart by Karen Taylor and Shirley Thompson. This is a visual system of dealing with the 15 English vowel sounds. It’s a really powerful way to sort, communicate, and systematically teach and compare our vowel sounds. It is posted in the US State Department’s resource section, so I assume what I’m linking to is legitimately online for free.

Any similarly awesome resources to share with me? Please let me know in the comments, even if this post is already years old!

Photo Credit: Suzanne Nilsson on Flickr

You’re reading Two Deep Pronunciation Resources, originally posted at LearningToTeachEnglish.com.

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Update

Just checking in!

I’ll be teaching Level 2 in the mornings from next Wednesday through early June.  Yesterday we all received our paperwork, books, and materials for the semester.  Looking through my paperwork, I saw one student who was in Level 1 with me last semester in my Level 2 class!  I’m not sure who will be taking over my old class or how many of my former students will be returning to Level 1

In other news, I’ve applied  to be a non-degree-seeking student at one of the local universities to pursue a bit more coursework in ESL.  I should hear back any day now via snail mail.  My intention is to apply this semester to be a degree-seeking student starting in the Fall.

Volunteering in the Emergency Room continues.  I really like it.  I’m not sure I could do it much more than 3.5 hours per week though – it’s exhausting!

I just finished several great books, and one of them is very relevant to working with people new to America.  It’s called The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, written by Kao Kalia Yang.  The writing is stunning, musical in a good way.  There is no preaching about war and genocide and US foreign policy, nor is there any exoticism of a culture whose world view tends to differ greatly from the typical American world view.  Yang invites you to join her family in the jungles of Laos, the refugee camps of Thailand, and the low-income housing of St. Paul, and she tells you stories.  The book made me feel like an insider in a culture I hadn’t known much about, and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

I think that’s everything!  Can’t wait for teaching to begin next week!

Brains, Stress, and Behavior

Brain electrodes by laimagendelmundo on Flickr
Brain electrodes by laimagendelmundo on Flickr

The NY Times had an interesting brain science article written by Natalie Angier.  It basically said that chronically stressed-out people’s brains change: their habit-forming neurons multiply while their decision-making neurons languish.

The result of these changes is that stressed-out people rely on habits, and that these habits can become “ruts” and downright counterproductive behavior.  From the article:

“Behaviors become habitual faster in stressed animals than in the controls, and worse, the stressed animals can’t shift back to goal-directed behaviors when that would be the better approach,” Dr. Sousa said. “I call this a vicious circle.”

Angier also emphasizes the plasticity of the brain, noting that the brain returns to normal when the stressors are removed.

Some interesting groups of stressed-out people whose brain chemistry might be favoring habits over goal-driven behavior:

  • Refugees and immigrants
  • People struggling to pay bills (be they heat or private college tuition)
  • Overworked, under-supported teachers
  • Doctors

This has some pretty interesting ramifications.  What I see applying to my students (many of whom are refugees):

  • they need a safe, relaxed, predictable environment to help them think
  • many would respond well to repetitive exercises, vocabulary drills, etc.
  • teaching them basic survival habits will help them through future stressful situations

Also, this talk of stress and habits in relation to the brain begs the question of how this research fits in with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and addiction.  These conditions aren’t addressed in the article.

Interesting read!

EdWeb and Pondering

Today at a meeting, we were talking about EdWeb, a list of websites for Adult Basic Education (ABE) classroom use vetted and categorized by ABE teachers.

Someone asked if this was antiquated – what’s the point when you can just do a Google search and get a whole slew of different websites?

Someone else replied that the vetting was important because it assured quality.  The massive Google list includes a lot of junk.

I’ve had a lot of informal library training in my life, so I’ve been in the “vet it!” camp for as long as I can remember.  I have a theory, though, that the general public (meaning the “not-necessarily-indoctrinated-at-a-young-age-by-a-reference-librarian” public) might be joining this camp.

I think this for the exact reason the first person stated.  Pretty much anybody really can get a huge list of relevant websites with the ease of a Google search.  What’s harder to get is a categorized list of high quality website, and what’s even harder is knowing where to start.  So the perceived value of the all-inclusive list is decreasing while the perceived value of the Top 10 list is increasing.

Thoughts?

“The Art of Teaching Adults” – Overall

The Art of Teaching Adults from Worldcat.org
The Art of Teaching Adults from Worldcat.org

I spent about a week going through “The Art of Teaching Adults” by Peter Renner.

I picked it up because it was available at my local library and because the title was pretty spot-on with what I was looking for.  I was expecting a nice overview of the field, and I pretty much got one.  Renner defines “the field” a little differently than I do – he doesn’t relate anything specifically to English Language Learners, or even to remedial education in general, but his discussion was still useful to me.

As Jen mentions in two comments, Renner seems to go back and forth between “educational miopia” and “practical and helpful ideas.”  (Jen, I’m not 100% sure I know what you mean by ‘educational myopia’, but I’m about to go off on my own interpretation.  Feel free to hit the comments to add your two cents as it was intended.) I see him as myopic in two ways – in that he doesn’t really seem to say anything new or see beyond his time, and in that he’s looking closely to dissect but not necessarily at the big picture.  These limitations worked pretty well for me – I needed some reflection of the time and some small bites of methods and techniques. And Renner does a great job of citing some big-picture people his work is derived from.

RI - Newport: The Breakers Gateway by wallyg on Flickr
RI - Newport: The Breakers Gateway by wallyg on Flickr

In fact, I’d say that one of the chief values of this book for me was that it was a gateway. Renner introduced me to other authors’ work, noted his discussion pretty thoroughly, and I’ve been able to identify and include works on my syllabus that I want to peruse.  I’m considering making note of his whole bibliography for future reference – we’ll see.

You should know that I’m going to have frustrations with pretty much any book I read.  I’m picky.  One of my chief frustrations with this book was when I felt his content to page-space ratio was page-space-heavy.  At times I also found myself wondering about his editor – why was Renner allowed to write fluff (i.e. his discussion of Kolb’s learning style inventory), include “classic concepts” where they made no sense (i.e. an overview of underlying assumptions of adult education at the end of a chapter focused on overhead projector how-tos), and focus on silly content (i.e. when to throw out markers) while glossing over key content (i.e. how to plan an effective lesson)?  Aren’t editors there to help authors avoid these kinds of things?

Despite some frustrating moments, this book was valuable to me for its introduction to the field, its bibliography, and its concrete ideas for running an adult class.

“The Art of Teaching Adults” – Chapters 25-27

The last three chapters of the book!

Overhead Projector by Tango McEffrie on Flickr
Overhead Projector by Tango McEffrie on Flickr

Notes

Projecting Overhead: What Renner says about using overheads is largely transferable to quality digital slides.  In six points he manages to say that simple is best and to focus on readability.  He then lists a bunch of Dos and Don’ts, which emphasize the value of controlling the learners’ attention by only revealing a bit of information at once, not leaving old slides on the screen, leaving lights on to allow for note-taking, and minimizing distractions such as waving your arms.  He also emphasizes the importance of setting up the room so that everyone can see and spends a page listing diagrams.

He includes a “classic concept” at the end of this chapter that to me seems entirely incongruous but important: Knowles’s assumptions of adult learners:

  • adults are motivated by what they feel they need to know;
  • adults are more life-centered than subject-centered;
  • adults have many experiences, and these should be analyzed in their education;
  • adults want to engage in self-directed learning.

Seems a little ironic after a chapter of “how to transmit knowledge to learners via a one-way presentation.”  Or maybe the juxtaposition was intentional?

Flipping Charts: Renner encourages posting flip-charts as records of what was discussed, but only inasmuch as they help the class focus.  He spends four paragraphs talking about different qualities of paper and how to tear it, even describing and recommending the “matador tear.”  This struck me as a little odd, or a little desperate to fill space.  He recommends multiple easels or a blank wall, and specifically mentions that it’s nice to have a separate place for brainstorms and side-lists that aren’t the main focus.

Tools by Adactio on Flickr
Tools by Adactio on Flickr

He suggests bringing a screwdriver and pliers with you to presentations to remove pictures and nails from walls so you can hang flipchart paper.  I cannot even imagine feeling comfortable un-decorating a meeting space that’s not my own.

He diagrams how to set up a row of flip-chart paper along the wall with already-torn tape in a neat line above it for writing and posting ease.  He also diagrams how to tape the caps of four markers together, resulting in a “handy four-color dispenser,” which I thought was kinda clever.  Then he crosses the line into micromanaging by telling you when to cap and put down your pens, and goes so far as to recommend throwing out dry markers immediately.  I mean, sheesh.

His suggestion to use colors in such a way that learners can see them and to help organize text is also a bit obvious.  He encourages abbreviation and posting an abbreviation key, which I agree with but there’s no mention of potential difficulties for English Language Learners.  Encouraging presenters to remember to face the learners and to observe the sheets from a learner’s point of view were helpful pointers.

All in all, perhaps needlessly detailed.

Showing Films: Renner warns that old videos are more humorous than helpful, that they’re passive unidirectional tools, and that they have to have a purpose that relates to the topic.  He spends a page and a half emphasizing planning ahead and previewing material.  Then he reminds us to prepare the learners – give the film some context and tell the learners where you’ll be going with it, and then go somewhere with it both short-term and long-term.

He lists eight ways to go somewhere with films, including Q&A sessions, pitting the film against an article with a different viewpoint and comparing them, and creating “viewing teams” that address questions, clarity, disagreements, agreements, and application.  I can actually use those ideas.  Way to end strong, Renner!

My Overall Impressions

In writing notes on that second chapter, I kind of couldn’t believe he was still going.  I’m still astounded that he spent the same amount of space discussing paper and markers how-to than he did when discussing how to properly prepare for, screen, and follow up with an educational film.

I was also surprised that there was no wrap-up to the book.  It’s not one that’s necessarily intended to be read cover to cover, and each chapter was separate, but in a work that emphasizes discussion and debriefing, it was an abrupt ending.

More about the book overall in the next post.

“The Art of Teaching Adults” – Chapters 21-24

Octopus Journal by Mollycakes on Flickr
Octopus Journal by Mollycakes on Flickr

Notes and Commentary Together

Writing in Journals: It takes Renner six pages to convey about a half-page worth of information.  He suggests providing some class time for writing and sharing, providing some guiding questions, and periodically reading the journals as a teacher.  He provided case studies to give examples of how journals can be used.  A list would have sufficed.  Six pages.

Assessing the Course: These six pages were more justifiable, as the examples of different types of evaluation (i.e. first-day, mid-course, self-evaluation, daily, post-activity) actually deepened his initial explanation.  All examples were noticeably qualitative.  Some of the example questions felt obnoxiously leading (i.e. “How did you build group spirit?” and “What could you do to increase productivity?”), but just seeing all the different pieces of a course that can be evaluated was helpful.

Giving and Receiving Feedback: Renner’s most helpful suggested guidelines for giving feedback are to focus on observable behavior, to give feedback as soon as possible after the event, and to not give too much at once.  His guidelines for receiving it are to actually listen, to not worry about responding right then and there, to be sure you understand, and to stop the giver of feedback when they’re giving too much of it.  Seems pretty clear and reasonable.

Whats More Stupid: the Question or the Answer? by Ewan McIntosh on Flickr
What's More Stupid: the Question or the Answer? by Ewan McIntosh on Flickr

Designing Tests and Quizzes: Renner busts out two adult learning principles that I’m not remembering from earlier chapters:

  1. when learners know what they’re going to learn, they’ll learn better
  2. immediate and long-term reinforcement also helps

He relates this specifically to tests, but they seem like basic principles that could have been unifying themes in the book.

His test-writing tips can basically be summed up as: “Don’t be an idiot.”  I do appreciate his mentioning that true-false questions are set up to penalize students who can come up with exceptions to even seemingly-obvious statements.  True-false is pretty much the bane of my test-taking existence.  I also appreciate his little margin quotes of bizarre test questions.  I guess I’ll close with my favorite:

Write not more than two lines on The Career of Napoleon Buonaparte, or The Acquisition of our Indian Empire, or The Prime Ministers of England.

N.B. Do not on any account attempt to write on both sides of the paper at once.