I’m still deciding whether I want to pursue my current dissertation topic idea of investigating iconic gestures as a language learning strategy. My biggest concern is how to decide that the gestures are a learning strategy? How would that be measured? The current plan is to teach using gestures and assess by asking the student to translate into the target language using both the gesture and the word. But, is this sufficient to say that iconic gestures are a possible language learning strategy? I could certainly look at the relationship between the number of words/gestures recalled and the identified learning style, but again, does this answer my question?
Second, is it significant? I’m reminded of my high school debate class and the formulation of a standard debate case. We were taught that to make a succinct argument, we must show significance, harms, inherency, topicality, and solvency.
The significance, in this case, is the need for improved foreign language learning. But, harms? The only thing I could think of in this area is the apathy most students have toward learning foreign languages, the difficulty involved in learning non-germanic or non-latin languages, and the perception that foreign languages are not important to US students. (All of this is making me think that I should direct my dissertation study toward children/adolescents rather than adults, but that’s a subject for another blog!) Can I make a case to show that these harms are really that horrible? That could be subjective. The inherency also poses a problem. Inherency would say that something is not already being done. In truth, gestures are being used in foreign language classes. But, they’re being used within Total Physical Response (TPR) formats. There are multiple curricula that promote the use of TPR, but none (as far as I know) that look specifically at kinesthetic activities by themselves. While I can find research that shows that kinesthetic instruction is not as prevalent as auditory and visual instruction, I can find even more research that promotes the use of instruction toward all three learning strengths. So, I have to wonder if it’s just as harmful, or more harmful, to restrict my instruction to one learning style. Am I no better than those teachers who only use auditory and/or visual instruction? Topicality is the easiest area to address, in my mind. If I propose to investigate learning strategies or the relationship of a learning strategy to a learning style, my goal is to not stray. Solvency isn’t as important as the others. Whether I prove or disprove my hypothesis, the important piece is the quality of my research. In other words, if I hit the other components, I should be able to present a quality dissertation.
In March, I attend my final colloquium. It will be my last opportunity to receive feedback from my classmates and faculty members on my proposed dissertation topic. My mentor won’t be there, which is disappointing, but there will be faculty members there with whom I’ve spoken before, and I feel confident I will receive good feedback from them.