Don Cherry’s videos – Questions

Don Cherry's videos - Questions

In April 2014 Don Cherry put up some more videos on his YouTube channel.

Ever since I saw his first videos, I’ve had the project of taking very short sequences (2-3 minutes) and accompanying them with questions to help teachers new to the Silent Way “see” what the teacher and the students are doing. So far, I’ve done just one: the 3 minute sequence “Put one there” vs “Put one here” about 11:00 – 14:00 in Silent Way: “Put another one there.” (2 of 4)

  1. What does the teacher do to help the students find the rhythm of the sentence?
  2. What does the student in the brown top do – and not do – that shows she doesn’t really understand the meaning of “there”?
  3. Why doesn’t Don let her take a rod?
  4. Does she seem embarrassed or frustrated when he stops her?
  5. How do we know the student in the striped top has no idea of the contrast in meaning between “here” and “there”?
  6. The student in the light-coloured clothes makes a gesture that shows she has understood pointing is important but has a slightly erroneous hypothesis. What does she do?
  7. She then says and points correctly “Put one here.” Why doesn’t Don accept it?
  8. She then points correctly and says “Put one there.” How does Don test she really knows what she’s doing and saying?
  9. Immediately after at 13:14, we hear the student in the brown top saying something in such a way that it shows she’s realised the meaning too. What is it? How does her body language indicate understanding?
  10. Why doesn’t Don continue working on the the rhythm of the sentence during this sequence?

There are many more questions that could be asked about these three minutes of class. Would you like to try?

Writing the questions made me see a lot that I hadn’t noticed at first viewing. I’m not a Silent Way beginner teacher but there’s always more to learn.

Teaching Pronunciation Differently – 1

Professor Higgns teaches Eliza phonetics

Professor Higgins explaining some of the finer points of English phonetics to Eliza.
(from My Fair Lady, 1964)

If you’re a language teacher you’ve probably already seen diagrams of the inside of the mouth showing the position of tongue and lips when certain sounds are produced.

I’ve looked at them with interest but much in the same way that I look at cross-sections of car engines or volcanoes.

On the  12th of January, at the beginning of their EVO course Teaching Pronunciation Differently, Piers Messum, Arizio Sweeting and Roslyn Young presented us (the participants) with such a diagram but with a very significant difference. (Read more…)

My pedagogical articles and exercises

Silent Way Articles

Subordinating teaching to learning…

… and also various ways of using Cuisenaire rods in language classes


Don Cherry 2009 Color Chart

Don Cherry 2009 Color Chart

One of Deborah Delin’s animations

John Pint – Finger correction

… and 4 online books

Roslyn Young and Piers Messum

Roslyn Young has written numerous articles on the Silent Way. You will find links to online versions of many of them on her site: Roslyn Young.

Piers Messum has also written many articles related to the Silent Way. You’ll find them on the Pronunciation Science downloads page.

Between them, Roslyn and Piers have written 4 books:

A Silent Way lesson on syllable stress

The teacher’s responsibility and the student’s responsibility

syllable stress
In The Common Sense of Teaching Foreign Languages, Caleb Gattegno suggested that the aim of good teaching is to make students independent, autonomous and responsible.” Elsewhere he claimed that the role of a teacher is to force awarenesses. These two statements are in no way contradictory. A sensitive teacher who does what is necessary for a student to have new insights does not remove or replace that student’s own responsibility for his/her learning.

Sometimes it can be useful to make it clear to a student that they need to mobilise their faculties themselves.

I was very much struck with this a few years ago when I was observing a colleague, Andi Biero, teach a “false beginner” class. The teacher was trying to focus a student’s attention in such a way that an element of the language that the student was unaware of would become apparent to her. I don’t now remember the exact order in which the teacher tried different ways of doing that, but otherwise what follows is pretty faithful to what I saw.

One of the students, Danielle, had said something in which she had put the stress in “today” on the first syllable.

1) The teacher indicated that there was a pronunciation problem.

First, the teacher just said, “Pronunciation” to indicate that there was something wrong with the pronunciation of this word. This produced no response.

2) The teacher made a gesture to indicate the stress.

The teacher made a gesture in the air with her hand to indicate the stress. Danielle looked blank.

3) The teacher tapped the word on the:

Caleb Gattegno - Silent Way US English Word charts

Caleb Gattegno – Silent Way US English Word charts 1977 © Educational Solutions Worldwide Inc.

Then the teacher pointed to the written word “today” (she was using the Silent Way word charts – it’s on bottom of Chart 10) and tapped lightly on “to” then forcefully on “day”. Danielle said the word again with the stress on the first syllable and also pronouncing it as “too”.

4) The teacher used the colour code on the chart to indicate the schwa pronunciation of the first syllable.

The teacher showed her (by covering up with a finger the khaki coloured “o” of ‘today” and by gesture virtually changing it to yellow, the colour for the schwa /ə/ or neutral e) that the vowel in “to” should be pronounced the same as the vowel in “the”. Danielle now said “TUHday” instead of “TOOday”.

5) The teacher tapped the rhythm on the student’s hand.

The teacher took Danielle’s hand and tapped the rhythm of the word in the palm of her hand. No result.

6) The teacher and then the student tapped the rhythm on the desk.

The teacher tapped out the rhythms “DAH di” and “di DAH” with her hand on the desk and asked Danielle to repeat each tapping. After a few attempts, Danielle was able to do this but still said “TOday”.

7) Some students tapped one of the two rhythms and others said which it was.

The teacher asked other students to tap out the above rhythms and had Danielle (and other students) say which was which. The class had fun doing this and Danielle became able to recognize the different rhythms but she couldn’t transfer this to “today”.

8) The teacher asked the student to put the stress on “to”.

The teacher asked Danielle to deliberately put the stress on “to” and then to put it on “day”. What Danielle produced was always the same.

9) The teacher wrote the work with the stressed syllable in capital letters.

The teacher wrote “TOday” and “toDAY” on the board and asked other students to say one of the two but without indicating in advance which one they were saying. Danielle (and other students) had to say which one she heard. This was obviously an enjoyable activity for the whole class and after some mistakes at first, Danielle managed to do this accurately. But she still said ” TOday”.

10) The teacher got the student to “walk” the stress.

The teacher asked Danielle to “walk” the word with her, stamping hard on the “day”. This had no result.

11) The teacher gave the student a shove between the shoulder blades on the stressed syllable

The teacher stood behind Danielle and when she (Danielle) said the word gave her a firm shove between the shoulder blades on the “day” syllable. She did this two or three times but with no result.

All this time, Danielle had co-operated with the teacher’s suggestions and remained relaxed.

12) The teacher made the “palms up” gesture.

Finally, the teacher calmly made the palms up gesture, looked at Danielle, and said gently in French (Danielle’s native language), “I’ve tried everything I know. Now, you are the only one who can do something.”

Danielle looked away from the teacher, paused, and said “toDAY”.

My conclusions

Language teachers observing a Silent Way class for the first time often feel that an inordinate amount of time can be spent on one small problem, “So what does it matter if she does have the stress wrong in today? She’ll be understood anyway?” The point of the above lesson was not principally to get Danielle to pronounce today correctly but, on one level, to help her to build up criteria for recognising and producing differences in stress – essential in English though of little significance in Danielle’s native language, French and, on another level, to gain awareness of her own actions and, therefore, control over them.

For various reasons, Danielle dropped out of this class but enrolled a few months later in a complete beginners class I happened to be teaching. She never once blocked in this way over pronunciation or anything else. Maybe during the experience described above, she had learnt more than just how to pronounce “today”.

© Glenys Hanson 2001-2015. Originally published on the Une Education Pour Demain website.

.Creative Commons License
“Working on syllable stress in a Silent Way class” by Glenys Hansonis licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.