19 July 2012

Say it!

A student asks you a question about something that you have been discussing in class. Let's say it's about some species that you discuss fairly regularly; Arabidopsis, maybe.

The question is coming out fine, until the student tries to say, "Arabidopsis". And it comes out sounding more like, "A rabid dope fiend." (Would love to hear examples of mangled pronunciations in the comments.)

How many of you teachers recognize that behavior? They've heard you say it dozens, perhaps hundreds of times. Why do they stumble over the word when they try to say it themselves?

I think this is a nice example of how we tend to neglect the importance of the physicality of learning something. We don't expect to learn any physical movement very well by watching it. Who can juggle after watching someone else do it? Only someone with superpowers.

Like juggling, saying words out loud is a physical thing: a complex coordinated movement of muscles and bone. It's no wonder people have to practice pronunciation.

In your classes, when do students get the chance to say the tricky words out loud, to someone who can correct them? Particularly big introductory classes?

I'm at a teaching workshop this week. Just being in an environment where you're thinking about almost nothing else, ideas bubble up about what students do, even when these are not issues being discussed in the workshop.

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