In teaching communication skills, I’ve decided to experiment with Prezi as my presentation tool. I normally use Powerpoint to present Cialdini’s six principles of persuasion, but find that Prezi, which lets you zoom in and out, lets me put the task and reference material into one big picture. The template is one of the many very nice designs available. Prezi is free of charge if you don’t mind sharing your materials on line.
Today I wrote an open letter to my Masters of Public Management students on how to improve their visuals. It included these points:
To improve your design, especially your use of space on slides, select a theme that suits your purposes. Consider a clean color scheme with good contrast to suit the light conditions at the university. (I used a black gradient with white letters.) Then create a slide master, which stores information about the template (theme, a set of layouts, color scheme, fonts, placeholders for positioning). That creates harmonious slide variations on one theme, all saved in one master. When you make a new presentation, you build your slide deck by selecting from among the possible layouts, changing from slide to slide, and positioning your content in the given placeholders.
Use the graphic tools provided in your MS Office programs. Create visuals (graphic organizers, flowcharts…) using the tools in Powerpoint and Word called SmartArt. If you can’t find a chart that works for your purpose, tailor organizers using Diagrams and Tables. Save your own visuals and use them in your Prezis.
Use clipart provided by your program, if necessary, but reduce your use of clipart in your academic work. Replace those generic illustrations with authentic evidence (visualized calculations, documentation, photographs) to back up your assertions effectively.
If you need evocative photos for emotional impact or reference, use license-free photographs and document your sources to use them. I like eltpics, a searchable creative commons collection curated by English teachers around the world. https://www.flickr.com/photos/eltpics/tags/
Better use of text
I know that “Presentation Zen” author Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte advocate reducing text on slides. That works well for natural science presentations, which are best when you show just the evidence, and for marketing, which runs on emotions. However, in our international context, with so much potential for verbal misunderstanding, and in our academic tradition of analytical thinking, you do need some text! Include all relevant names, titles of works and conceptual keywords on your slide. Formulate your key thesis as a full sentence. Label your charts legibly, with 16 point lettering. Use the spaces suggested by your template to formulate a header for orientation, keep bullets points short (max. 6-7 lines x 6 words), or – better – label the containers you have created in your template to contrast or compare selected terms.
Present any quotes in full length and include the name of the author.
Your presentations are unique, and your teachers and peers respect and enjoy that variety. Use the ideas of Dan and Chip Heath in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die (2007) to assess yourself:
Is what you present
simple – have you found the core of the idea?
unexpected – do you grab people’s attention?
concrete – can it be grasped and remembered?
credible – do you speak with authority on this subject, are your methods are sound?
emotional – do you share your sense of humanity with your audience?
stories – do you take your audience on an interesting journey?
Richard Cauldwell: Phonology for Listening. Teaching the Stream of Speech. Speech in Action. Birmingham, UK 2013.
ISBN 0954344723, ISBN-13: 978-0954344726. Printed on demand by Amazon. €25.68
Richard Cauldwell makes a key point: Listening acquisition lags behind the acquisition of other skills, he says, because we treat listening skills as something learners will acquire through enough exposure, as if by osmosis. Instead of teaching listening, we simply test listening comprehension. Drawing on learner diaries, Cauldwell reports that, as a result, learners typically have two complaints:
- “Ying’s dilemma“: Ying from Sinagpore says she can’t catch the words she knows, as she doesn’t understand how their sound shapes change in the middle of sentences, squeezed together, especially in spontaneous speech.
- “Anna’s anger“: A student from Finland is angry at her teachers for underusing recordings. She wants them to go beyond comprehension practice to teach what Cauldwell calls “the realities of the stream of speech.” (p. 3)
Approaching the problem from the standard pronunciation syllabus doesn’t resolve the problem, Cauldwell says, because the “careful speech model” that underlies that syllabus treats language as “a correct, tidy, steady-speed, rule-governed phenomenon,” with a limited set of sounds and rules for sentence types and connected speech phenomena, “optimised for clear pronunciation.” (p. 4) So while it may be easy to use such a syllabus to teach, it doesn’t help learners acquire the listening skills they need. Cauldwell explains the challenge using three metaphors: Beyond the “greenhouse” of the classroom, and outside the “garden” of careful speech, the student of English needs to deal with the unruly “jungle” of spontaneous speech (p. 260). That’s the messy, real world that we need to prepare our students to handle.
Cauldwell’s solution is to take a comprehensive approach, “teaching learners to decode the sound substance of the stream of speech.” (p.1) He lays out a “window on speech framework”, a toolkit for contrasting the clearly pronounced “citation form” with the changed sound shapes in spontaneous speech. The framework is built around the speaker-defined speech unit, rather than the grammar-defined sentence unit, as it reflects “the moment-by-moment choices that speakers make as they communicate.” (p.5) Speech units are defined as multi-word rhythmic sections with prominent and non-prominent syllables, steps up and down in pitch, and tone glides (up, down and level). Cauldwell’s special focus is on the “squeeze zones” of non-prominent syllables contained in speech units, and he highlights the compression of whole word groups.
- Part 1 (Chapters 1-5) presents the “window on speech” framework, expanding on the work of David Brazil, Richard Bradford, Martin Hewings and others to introduce notation techniques to describe the precise sound effects of squeezing.
- Part 2 (Chapters 6-10) describes the sound substance of the stream of speech, including shifts in stress. This includes an interesting discussion on syllable timing, i.e. how speakers of an L1 such as French will retain syllable timing when they use English.
- Part 3 (Chapters 11-15) studies the range of factors influencing the stream of sound, including accents (i.e. Britain, Ireland, North America, and Global including English as a Lingua Franca), as well as how identity, emotion and attitude influence speech.
- Part 4 (Chapters 16-20) suggests learner activities for spontaneous speech listening, in both low-tech (teacher and peer listening, recordings) and high-tech (recordings and apps) contexts.
Overall, the exercises raise awareness for getting past the “decoding gap”. The key requirement is “letting go of the careful speech model”. While Cauldwell uses sample recordings throughout the book to raise awareness for the specific sound shapes, with careful listening/analyzing and preparing/performing tasks, Part 4 goes the extra step of explaining how to work with the material.
The activities pivot on what Cauldwell calls “savouring” and “handling short stretches of speech“. Such activities often involve drafting a transcript of the various versions of one and the same phrase. Notations bracket phrases in speech units between double lines to signify short breaks in the stream, capitalize the stressed syllables and underline the main stress. One of the exercises goes like this:
18.1 Stepping stones (mp3 sound files 18.01-4)
This pair work activity to explore a variety of ways a phrase can sound is modeled in four recordings using the phrase “It’s the second biggest city in my country, I think.”
- First, students or the teacher create a “greenhouse” version of the phrase, i.e. every word is spoken very clearly.
- Then they create a slightly messy “garden” version with stress being dictated by the speaker’s personal intended meaning.
- After that, pairs speak in unison to contrast the two different versions (then performing before the class). In the recoding, this sounds quite disjointed.
- Finally, students are presented a very messy “jungle” version with hesitation, stumbling, hedging (perhaps from the teacher, or from an authentic recording)
This is a rather general awareness-raising exercise that could be used to introduce the overall approach, and to practice noting down a phrase in its different sound shapes.
Other activities targeting more specific areas include:
- Practicing clusters of frequent forms
- Close listening following transcripts
- Soft focus listening to suggest “mondegreens” – phrases that are misinterpreted because they sound like something else – i.e. “occasionally” can sound like “ok jolly” (p. 285)
- Formulating multiple choice questions to include an answer that the learner would give based on mistakes in decoding the sound stream
- Taking phrases from the squeezed version to the clear version and back
- “Instant dictations” in which you stop recordings and have students write down the last 4 words they’ve heard, which are still fresh in mind and not yet processed for meaning
Finally, Cauldwell suggests using Audacity or another digital editor to record and study the wave shape of sounds, and Audio Notetaker to listen to, analyze and edit the chunks of a given piece of audio.
Overall, Phonology for Listening represents an original and enormously practical approach to teaching an essential language skill that needs attention, and is clearly in need of improvement among many of our students. Highly recommended.
In the Cornelsen coursebook I’m writing, and in my classes, I warn my students against turning their presentations into straight pitches. Robert McKee, the Hollywood scriptwriter, has pointed out that the audience doesn’t really engage with and is not convinced by a presentation that tries to sell only strong points. People aren’t dumb. They’ll instinctively know that the presenter is giving them only half of the story. Instead, McGee says, presenters should use the typical shape of stories for their talks, and take their audience through all of the highs and lows.
According to McKee, all stories follow a basic pattern: “Essentially, a story expresses how and why life changes. It begins with a situation in which life is relatively in balance.” But then an event occurs that introduces a complication. The plot thickens as the protagonist tries to restore balance, working with whatever means are available and taking action in the face of risks.
Now, that may be true for the basic pattern, but there are clearly variations. In this lecture, novelist Kurt Vonnegut (Slaughterhouse Five, Breakfast of Champions, God Bless You Mr Rosewater) presents three such variations along a line from B for Beginning to E for… Electricity.
Also see below one of the last interviews with Vonnegut. It showcases his full life and his signature phrase: “And so it goes.”
English for Artists should highlight different art forms, e.g. profiling artists expressing themselves in the various media. The Thrash Lab vlog and YouTube playlist include a profile of Saber, a graffiti artist who has branched out. In this profile he describes the work that made him a name, similarities to typography, and how he reacts to young people today who engage in the illegal art of graffiti.
manifest something through the creative process
maintain a level of inspiration
my artist name is
I’m based in… and have been painting for X years
I knew that art was what I wanted, and graffiti was the venue that I chose.
Picture diving headfirst into your signature and making it your number one mission
Typography is held at a high level of design
We are master typographers
I was willing to risk my life and freedom
Something made me go do it
We were one of the first to use housepaint
I just took it from there
26 gallons of bucket paint were used
It just so happened to be the biggest piece in the world – the biggest illegal piece ever painted.
It became a home plate for graffiti
It takes years and years to stumble into those processes
My paintings represent 22 years of intense art-making
“Art gets a bad rap because it’s considered something that’s elite, and something that only an elite person can understand, when that’s not true. ’cause every single kid in the world picked up a crayon once and had that little spark.”
“There’s two kids I meet in the world. And there’s the kid who says, ‘Hey Saber, I’m so happy to meet you, and take the Facebook photo’ and I’m nice and I do it all, and then they say ‘Yeah, I’m a’go bombing tonight’ And I go ‘na, you should go on a computer, you know, you should do graphic design, you should get into school, that’s what’s your path is.’ And then I meet the kid who says ‘Wassup Saber’ and I go, ok, I feel it in him, and I go, ‘You know what, go crush those freeways’, because you know what, that’s all he has, and the alternative is a lot worse.”
Videos on painting from life by The Art Students’ League of New York would be useful in an English course for Artists. Here I would focus on how an artist, Sharon Sprung, describes her process as she paints. Notice how difficult it is to multitask, producing both visually and verbally, and both commenting on the process and beginning a new action, This involves associative holistic and analytical faculties at the same time, and makes the artist sound slightly distracted.
On the receptive side, as you watch, you’re filling in what the artist shows but doesn’t explicitly say – or can’t express in words – which adds a completely different dimension of understanding. In these videos I find it’s almost impossible to listen without watching, or to watch without listening, to understand what is going on at any given moment.
No series of posts on English for artists would be complete without mentioning Rob Ross and his PBS TV series, The Joy of Painting (’83-’94). I’ve been fascinated watching the shapes emerge, and have laughed tears listening to the painter, all down-homey, talking about his little old messy brushes – but that’s ok – just sort of touching the canvas – see how easy it is? – that easy – have a good time deciding where those little rascals the trees or the snow are going to live – and build a happy little cloud – just have fun and drop it in – you can do it – relax – let it flow – and we don’t make mistakes, they’re just happy accidents – we’re not worried – we can do anything and we’re doing ok here – all kind of beautiful little things will happen…
Smiling? Yeah, me too. Wide open to parody, and very much to his credit, Rob Ross participated in a sweet mashup poking fun at him and his show.