Thursday, December 10, 2015

The Mirroring Project

TamaraJonesBy Tamara Jones
ESL Instructor, Howard Community College
Columbia, Maryland

In a recent post, I wrote about The Mirroring Project I had my students do at the end of our high intermediate pronunciation class. Since that time, I received an email asking for more details about it, so I thought I would break it down a little and describe what we did, step by step.

The goal of the Mirroring Project is for students to apply all the pronunciation skills they had learned throughout the semester. In our upper level class, we focus on suprasegmentals, specifically word stress, focus, intonation, connected speech and speech rhythm, with a smattering of segmentals highlighted as necessary. So, when the students work on their Mirroring Projects, they try to bring together all those elements.

Because the Mirroring Project is a big undertaking, it has the potential to overwhelm both teachers and students unless it is scaffolded appropriately. I found it works best when started early. My students meet twice a week for 2 ½ hours, so we started about a month before class ended. I had them work on it a little bit each week and assigned some of the steps as homework so the project did not take up a great deal of class time.

Here is how I broke it down:

  1. I took about 15 minutes of class time to introduce the concept of a Mirroring Project. I explained that it was a project we would be working on a little bit at a time until the end of the semester. I also showed a couple of videos that I found online to demonstrate exactly what the end product would look like. First I played this original version of a Seinfeld clip in which Jerry and Elaine are trying to rent a car. Then, I played this student reenactment of the conversation. I pointed out the similarities between the videos, including the movements and clothing of the actors.
  2. Once the students understood what they would be working toward, I had them get into groups of 2, 3 or 4. Being the control freak I am, I normally like to put students into groups myself, but I found it worked a bit better when the students could choose who they would be working with. I warned them to choose their partners wisely because if they chose a flaky partner, they might wind up doing a lot of the work themselves. The only stipulation I placed on the groups was that they had to include at least two different L1s. I teach students from all over the world, and I’ve found that if there is a group of students who all speak the same L1, they will do just that, speak in their L1. It’s better to mix it up whenever possible, I think. Once they are in their groups, they need to share contact information with each other. For homework, they need to start to think about TV shows and movies they like and which contain characters that reflect the number and gender of the people in their group.
  3.  In our class, we have designated time in the computer lab once a week, usually about 30 minutes. So, when we meet in the lab the following class, I ask the students to get into their Mirroring Project groups. Then they have some time to share their video ideas and to find an appropriate clip. YouTube makes this so easy! Meanwhile, I circulate and help groups narrow down their ideas into a single video clip between 1 and 3 minutes, and I give the final stamp of approval to all of the clips. It’s really important that students choose their clips carefully. I’ve learned from experience that the original clips should not have too much action. (One group chose a scene from Star Wars in which Luke and Leia are being chased by storm troopers and they have to swing over a chasm. There was too little conversation and too much shooting (“Pew! Pew!”) to make a good video for this particular project. The clip should also contain accents and, for the most part, vocabulary your students are familiar with. This Spring, a couple of my students chose a scene from the Game of Thrones. The British accents were hard for them to deal with. Another group chose a scene from the first Harry Potter movie. There were a lot of made-up words that they struggled to pronounce correctly. So, moving forward, I would suggest students stick to conversation-heavy clips with North American accents and accessible vocabulary.
  4. After I have okayed their clip choices, I give the students time in the lab to either find the script online (the easier option) or transcribe it. I often have to help them do a google search for the script using the season and episode information available on the YouTube clip. The scripts that I usually find are the entire episode, so I copy it all and paste it into a word document and then search for a key word from the particular conversation they are going to use. If they need to transcribe the text, they can use the closed captions on YouTube, but they are often incorrect, so I advise them to use their knowledge of English to correct errors and I check what they’ve written.
  5. Now the pronunciation fun begins! For homework, I have the students mark their lines with the pronunciation features we’ve studied. They should identify the multiple syllable words and mark the stressed syllables, draw slashes to demarcate the thought group boundaries, write intonation arrows over the focus words in each thought group, and join connected speech with lines under the linked and blended words. It’s probably better to assign one pronunciation feature each night for homework, as I’ve found students get a bit overwhelmed by having to focus on them all at once. I answer specific questions and students get homework points when the pronunciation marks are done, but I don’t check each script against the original clip because, well, who’s got the time?
  6. Then, we use more lab time for the students to practice. They work to memorize their lines and mimic their character’s movements and gestures. They also need to, as closely as possible, mirror the speech patterns of their character. If their character says something quickly, pauses or repeats, they need to as well. During this part of the project, students also need to plan how they will dress for filming and what props they need to bring.
  7. The logistics of filming the groups is a bit difficult and that class is chaotic for me. I try to schedule the filming during the lab time. I randomly list the groups on the board and take the students, group by group, into the classroom while the others work on the computer. We try to film quickly and, because this isn’t Hollywood, and I am not particularly tech savvy, if students make a mistake, they have to start over. I use my digital camera to record them. Later that day, I put the URLs of the original clips and the recordings of the students on our class website.
  8. On the last day of the class, we dim the lights and the hilarity ensues. I play an original clip first and then the students’ version of it. We laugh at the clips and the forgotten lines and the overly dramatic acting. It is a great way to finish out the class!

I wanted to share the best mirroring project from the ones that my Pronunciation Improvement students filmed this fall. Ali and Aline reenacted a scene from The Mindy Project and I think they did a great job! Here is the original clip and here is their version: Ali and Aline. The students really seemed to enjoy working together and watching the videos at the end of the class.

So, have you ever done a project like this in your class? How did it work out? Do you have any hard-learned lessons to share?

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