A-B   I   C   I   D-F   I   G-K

L-O   I   P-R   I   S   I   T-Z

Or by the key topics: on literacy, language, perception, practices & knowledge

(or suggest a new term to be added

Concepts lead us to make investigations; are the expression of our interest, and direct our interest. (Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations #570)

A - B


ACTIVITIES - An activity is an action that one engages in, whether it is dancing, reading a book, doing math, speaking to a grandparent on the phone, etc. The difference between an activity and a practice is significant. Whilst an activity may be engaged in once or infrequently in a casual manner, a practice is something that one engages in regularly and to which an individual and/or group attaches a particular significance.

ACTIVITY SYSTEMS - An activity system describes the interaction between people and resources with certain intended outcomes. An activity system involves the integration of

  • instruments (various tools and technologies),
  • rules (norms of use), and
  • division of labor (the differential expertise of different actors in the system).

Various other relationships in the model capture the diverse ways in which:

  • subjects (actors),
  • the object (goal) of the activity system, and
  • the community (various types of actors in the system)

interrelate with each other and with the instruments, rules, and division of labor to achieve particular outcomes.

AFFECTIVE FILTER - Learning a new language is affected by the learner's emotions and motivation. Learners will perform better if they have high motivation and are learning in environments where they are/feel supported. Learners are more likely to take risks and will more fully process the language if they are in supportive environments. If you increase stress factors, then language learning and performance will deteriorate. This deterioration is known as the affective filter. The best learning occurs in environments where there is high motivation with high challenge AND high support.

AFFORDANCES & EFFECTIVITIES - As defined by Gee (2008), "the term 'affordance' (coined by Gibson 1977, 1979) is used to describe the perceived action possibilities posed by objects or features in the environment ... Any environment in which an individual finds him or herself is filled with affordances." (p. 81)  In other words, an affordance contains the possibility of a successful practice, but it does not ensure success. "Even when an affordance is recognized, however, a human actor must also have the capacity to transform the affordance into an actual and effective action. Effectivities are the set of capacities for action that the individual has for transforming affordances into action. An effectivity means that a person can take advantage of what is offered by the objects or features in the environment." (p. 81)

AGREEMENT - Our language, our behaviours, our manners and our activities are founded in many ways of either explicit or tacit agreements. It is enough to say that a language or a practice or a style (e.g. of cooking) arises out of a certain common form of life held by a community who agree on standards of meaning and action. One is brought into a language. One is brought into a practice. Meaning can shift and change because the way people live shifts and changes over space and time. Debates over art, religion, ethics and  morality will be (and should be) an ongoing practice, because "reaching agreement" is an activity (not a state). There are ethical and practical consequences if one capitulates to any course of action or choice of knowledge. 

ALLINGTON'S SIX "T's" FOR EFFECTIVE LITERACY INSTRUCTION: Richard Allington (2002) captures this well when he describes the six T’s of effective literacy instruction:

  1. Substantial time allocated to real practice in reading and writing;
  2. Availability of texts that are engaging and suitable for learners;
  3. Teaching that is of the utmost quality, which is adaptive and which scaffolds the development of key skills and understandings;
  4. Teachers who facilitate rich "talk" (conversations) that allow learners to solidify and expand on ideas;
  5. Tasks that are deep, authentic, and purposeful; and
  6. Assessments (or "testing") that provide real information about a learner’s progress toward complete, comprehensive literacy (Allington, 2002)
  • Allington, R. L. (2002). What I’ve Learned about Effective Reading Instruction from a Decade of Studying Exemplary Elementary Classroom Teachers. The Phi Delta Kappan, 83(10), 740–747.

APPRENTICESHIP - Refers to the first of four stages of skill development and/or practice adoption. The other three steps are guided participation, participatory appropriation and performance. During the apprenticeship phase, the learner is introduced into a practice. The whole skill or practice is modelled for the learner so that the learner has a clear indication of the practice, its delivery and the context and conditions under which it is performed. Often, the mentor and the apprentice jointly engage in activities for collaborative and modelled completion.

ASPECTS - Refers to salient features in the environment. By themselves, they are neutral facts or occurrences in the world. However, within a system of knowledge or in a certain way of seeing and/or acting, the aspects obtain a particular significance. Consider - for instance - the words on this page to one who is familiar with literacy in the English language. Or to a construction site under the watchful eye of an experienced engineer or a foreman. Both individuals would notice aspects that the novice would be unable to discern.

ASPECT BLINDNESS - Refers to the inability to discern or detect aspects. Arises as a result of two possible circumstances. First, an individual does not see (or notice) aspects as meaningful or does not turns one's attention to certain aspects in one's environment. The person has not been brought into discerning and interpreting the aspects in a particular way. On the other hand, one may be blind to certain aspects in the environment since the individual has become substantially familiar with the aspects being in the surrounding environment that these features are taken for granted and are not treated or considered as novel.

ASPECT SEEING - (also known as noticing/seeing aspects) To see and interpret aspects (or phenomena) as meaningful, or as imbued with meaning. To discern aspects (or patterns) in a whole and to organise how these aspects fit into a system.

BEETLE IN A BOX - (it is arguably Wittgenstein's most famous thought experiment about language.) Wittgenstein asks the reader to imagine people sitting around a table who each has a beetle in his/her box. which each individual is holding. Then, the people are all told that each box holds a beetle. Subsequently, the group is asked, "do you know what is in each other's box?" The group responds without hesitation, "of course, you just told us there is a beetle in each box." The unanswered reply would go something like this, "how can you know? You haven't looked into the boxes." So, what's the point?

Well, one doesn't necessarily need to 'look inside someone head" to know what he or she is thinking when he or she speaks. To understand a thought, it is important to share a common language and - perhaps - certain concepts and values in common. It is important to share certain experiences and associations with our words. Language enables people to converse about beetles, about pain, about God, about Hamlet and such without necessarily having the exact same mental images or constructs. People swap ideas and manipulate what thoughts lie in the box of the head through their discourse. In this picture, meaning is generated and is circulated between people (with an impact on the individual) rather than percolating from within.

BELIEFS - Wittgenstein reminds his readers that the verb "to believe" is subject to verb tense. What we believe now is not what we will always believe. And what we assert with the utmost confidence, we ignore the equally plausible phrase "I once believed". The educator should likewise hold faith in the future tense ... that knowledge is transformative and that we will believe things that were once opaque.

BOOTSTRAPPING - Bootstrapping occurs when an individual becomes aware of the patterns and rules governing a phenomenon, such as in language or in a practice. The learner develops an appreciation of and a template for meaningful/permittable combinations or actions. By becoming aware of allowable patterns, one can direct one's attention more efficiently since one is better able to anticipate what to expect or how to act. For instance, the first encounter of a new social situation may give one trepidation. However, regular practice allows one to accumulate the experience to be more confident in what to expect and how to act (to play the game). On the other hand, the experience may also limit creativity since one may develop a familiarity that limits (bootstraps) one's ability to imagine other possible ways of seeing or acting. In relation to language, experience teaches one the patterns of spelling, grammar, and discourse.  Therefore, one becomes more efficient at predicting or discriminating correct form and use.

BOURGEOISE THINKING - Wittgenstein derided thinkers who could not see that their thoughts only solved the issue for a particular community at a particular time on a particular problem, whilst ignoring the broader (philosophical) implications of their ideas. He characterised this as "bourgeoise thinking". In 1931 Wittgenstein had characterised the logician Frank Ramsey as a “bourgeois thinker”, "[Ramsey] thought with the aim of clearing up the affairs of some particular community....The idea that this state might not be the only possible one in part disquieted him and in part bored him. He wanted to get down, as quickly as possible to reflecting on the foundations—of this state. This was what he was good at and what really interested him; whereas real philosophical reflection disturbed him until he put its result (if it had one) to one side and declared it trivial."



CALCULUS - Before Wittgenstein conceived of language as "language games", he conceived of it as a calculus. In other words, he presented a picture in which the language user assesses the situation before him or her, then calculates the scenario, and selects the right language to achieve a given goal. To decipher the meaning, one would need to assess both the statement itself and other possible statements that could have been made. By doing so, one would be able to understand the intention of statements based on choices made and the alternatives that were avoided. Conceptualising language as a calculus would pave the way for Wittgenstein's use of language games as a unifying features of his later philosophy.

CAUSE AND EFFECT - In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein held that one could identify facts. One could also identify that two facts occurred in close proximity. In nature, there may be Event A and Event B. However, the human agent would like to say that Event A caused (or led onto) Event B. Human agents seek to isolate cause and effect, even in cases where a particular model for causation is only one possible arrangement of the facts. 

CERTAINTY - We hold as certain "the sun will rise tomorrow" or "people are inherently good."  In such cases, certainty is not a matter of absolute, empirical certainty. Instead, certainty is derived by particular experiences which have led one to expect a course of events. An individual comes to "accept many things." The difference between certainty and doubt is more a matter of temperament than fact.

(NOTICING A) CHANGE OF ASPECT - An aspect is a salient feature that has a meaning within a system or way of seeing. What if there are multiple ways of seeing (or interpreting) that aspect (or set of aspects)? What if one suddenly finds a new interpretation as valid? Is one willing to change, and will this change his or her view of the whole system or state of affairs? On the other hand, what happens when the external signs (or aspects) change upon which a certain way of seeing rested? Do we accommodate the changes into a way of seeing? Or is there a need to change one's outlook? For instance, what occurs when one finds he or she can no longer trust someone? Is it possible to regain that trust? What would need to occur?

COGNITIVE APPRENTICESHIP - A cognitive apprenticeship brings people into different ways of thinking, problem solving and processing. Cognitive apprenticeship is a model of instruction that works to make thinking visible. The practices of problem solving, reading comprehension, and writing are not at all obvious- they are not necessarily observable to the student. In apprenticeship, the processes of the activities are made visible as the processes of thinking are modelled, jointly constructed and guided.

COGNITIVE MODEL OF READING - The Cognitive Model of Reading (represented in the image to the right from McKenna & Stahl, 2009) provides a similar division between constrained skills and unconstrained skills. The uppermost layer includes skills related to print-based skills, such as phonemic awareness, print awareness, decoding knowledge, sight word knowledge, and fluency in context. When all works well, this leads to automatic word recognition, which is necessary but not sufficient for reading achievement. The middle layer includes parallel development of (content) knowledges, such as vocabulary development, grammatical knowledge, background (or domain) knowledge and knowledge of the way different texts/discourses are structured. These skills allow one to “take part in the conversation.” The final (bottom) layer includes the strategic reading knowledge that a learner develops through practice. Over time, readers become adept at summarising, extracting main ideas, interpreting, challenging perspectives and more. In short, core skills, plentiful practice/experience, and rich knowledge contribute to successful reading achievement. 

  • McKenna, M. C., & Stahl, K. A. D. (2009). Assessment for reading instruction (ebook) (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford Press.

COMING INTO LANGUAGE - When we learn a language, we are brought into or initiated into the language. The language unfolds, so to speak. This is what I mean by "coming into language". I am referring to the process through which one is brought into a language by others through common lived experience.

COMMUNITIES OF PRACTICE - A group of people who engages in a practice (who are the custodians of a practice or a set of practices). This can be a community of doctors, of chess players, of historians, of readers and writers, etc. The community is the custodian of the practices as well as the customs, culture and identities inherent in that community. A community is usually evolving as new members, practices and settings gives rise to a dynamic space.

COMMUNITY PLANE - Any learning occurs on the personal, interpersonal and community planes. All three planes interact. How an individual or groups thinks, acts, sees and deliberates (the personal plane) is impacted by the broader institutional, community and political spheres. Forces outside of the individual and of the group can determine which practices are fostered/encouraged or which ones are marginalised. The community or institutional plane involves shared history, languages, rules, values, beliefs, and identities.This is sometimes addressed in studies of entire schools, districts, professions, neighbourhoods, tribes, or cultures, and the ways that these “common sociocultural inheritances” interact with other levels of development. If a particular practice is reinforced on the community and cultural stage - such as success in sport - then this will have an impact upon other levels of engagement.

COMPONENT MODEL OF READING ACHIEVEMENT - The Component Model of Reading Achievement (Aaron et al., 2008) identifies three categories of factors which come to impact reading success. These three categories are cognitive factors, psychological factors and ecological factors. Cognitive factors include "innate factors" which refer to the individual's cognitive capacity to read effectively. Cognitive factors include working memory, pattern recognition, memory transfer and retrieval, executive functioning and more. Psychological factors include attributes that impact one's inclination to read. Therefore, it includes factors such as motivation, identity, self-concept, self-efficacy, resilience, grit, interest and purpose. Lastly, reading achievement is influenced by ecological or environmental factors. These include the number of books in the home (including age-appropriate books), the education level of parents and/or caregivers, the values placed on reading in the community, and the quality of the schools/teaching that one has access to. Of all the factors, the ecological factors have the greatest influence on reading achievement, and they come to shape psychological factors as well (Chui, et al., 2012).

  • Aaron, P. G., Joshi, R. M., Gooden, R., & Bentum, K. E. (2008). Diagnosis and treatment of reading disabilities based on the component model of reading. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 41(1), 67–84.
  • Chiu, M. M., McBride-Chang, C., & Lin, D. (2012). Ecological, psychological, and cognitive components of reading difficulties: testing the component model of reading in fourth graders across 38 countries. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 45(5), 391–405. doi:10.1177/0022219411431241

COMPONENTS OF A MESSAGE - Any message is found to have a field (a content), a mode (a form) and a tenor (an audience).  Even the cry "Help!" would satisfy all three elements. It has a term with a content in the form of an imperative exclamation for an audience who is to either to read the exclamation seriously (if a bear is on attack) or with irony (if instead a little baby is the attacker).

Gee (2003) provides the following example:

  • Hornworms sure vary a lot in how well they grow. 
  • Hornworm growth displays a significant amount of variation. 

Both convey the same field (content) but their modes are impacted by the intended audience and - consequently - the tenor of the utterance.

CONCEPTS - Concepts can be represented by words like peace, freedom, sustainability, equity and more. They gravitate our attention to certain values or expectations. Concepts become central to public and communal discussions. It is interesting to explore how certain concepts become central to our discourse whereas other concepts fade into the margins. For Vygotsky, "[concepts] are those means that direct our mental operations, control their course, and channel them toward the solution to the problem confronting us' For Wittgenstein, "Concepts lead us to make investigations; are the expression of our interest, and direct our interest."

CONTINUOUSLY SEEING AS - Refers to the penultimate stage of the learning process (if we take critical reflection as the final stage). At this stage, one does not struggle to notice aspects or to interpret observations. At this stage, the individual has acquired a way of seeing or of interpreting that becomes automatic. To "continually see as" is to commit to or to acquire a certain way of seeing, whether we are referring to perceiving language, to moral practices, to aesthetic judgement or to spiritual beliefs. In all such cases, a certain way of seeing has been incorporated into one's world picture.

CONSTRAINED SKILLS THEORY - Constrained skill theory states that literacy development involves the development of two types of skills: constrained skills and unconstrained skills. Constrained skills relate to structural skills like phonemic awareness, alphabetic knowledge, spelling, syntactical knowledge and fluency. These skills are also referred to as print-based or decoding skills. The aim of instruction is to achieve 'mastery' of these skills. These skills are necessary, though not sufficient, for full literacy. They are best taught intensively and systematically. Unconstrained skills, on the other hand, refers to growth in vocabulary, comprehension, composition and critical thinking skills. These skills are developed across one's lifetime, and they require explicit, strategic  instruction; meaningful routines; and opportunities to practice in authentic circumstances. As a result, in the early years, instruction must be both structured and creative.

The diagram to the right seeks to represent this relationship schematically. The inner circle represents the core constrained skills from which all other literacy emanates. The petals of the flower represent the diversity of knowledge and textual domains which are fostered through experience and habitus. 

  • Paris, S. G. (2005). Reinterpreting the development of reading skills. Reading Research Quarterly, 40(2), 184–202. doi:10.1598/RRQ.40.2.3

CONVENTIONS - Conventions are a type of rules that govern practices. Conventions arise out of common practices in which expectations are developed amongst participant as to how actions should be carried out. In many cases, conventions are rules that are implicit and are difficult to articulate, but which can be modeled and acquired tacitly.

CRITICAL THINKING - To think critically is to open ideas to critique. This involves reassessing the ideas by exploring their implication, their premise, and their suitability and accuracy. Whilst a thinker may first attempt to understand the ideas themselves, the critical thinker re-examines this understanding by asking whether it is the best possible explanation (or rendering); whether any bias, shortcuts, or assumptions can be detected; and what other explanations or possibilities exist.

CULTURE - Stanley Cavell claimed that Wittgenstein was a philosopher of culture. That is, Cacell asserts that Wittgenstein claims that our knowledge, our practices and our values are derived from the interactions of a community. There is considerable evidence to suggest that this is the case. In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein stipulates that meaning is derived from the form of life to which our language and practices occur. In addition, On Certainty emphasises how one's knowledge and world pictures are arrived at through one's "upbringing".

CTELL'S 12 PRINCIPLES OF EFFECTIVE LITERACY INSTRUCTION - CTELL (Case Technologies to Enhance Literacy Learning) [2004] provides a list of the twelve principles of effective literacy learning that complement those included in the essential pillars for literacy development (above). CTELL's list  include the following

  1. Connecting literacy instruction with the linguistic, cultural, home backgrounds of the learner:
  2. Developing emergent literacy skills, behaviours and attitudes;
  3. Phonemic awareness instruction;
  4. Decoding instruction;
  5. Comprehension instruction;
  6. Independent reading;
  7. Fluency instruction;
  8. Integrating reading and writing activities to enhance the learning of both;
  9. Encouraging enthusiasm for reading and writing;
  10. Using technology wisely with early literacy development;
  11. Assessing early and providing appropriate instructional intervention; and
  12. Developing teachers’ knowledge, analytical skills and abilities to orchestrate the many facets of language, literacy and learning.
  • Henry, L. A., Castek, J., Roberts, L., Coiro, J., & Leu, D. J. (2004). Case technologies to enhance literacy learning: A new model for early literacy teacher preparation. Knowledge Quest, 33(2), 26-29.

D - F


DESCRIPTIONS - To describe is to lay out the details of a case clearly and thoroughly and without comment, embellishment or judgement. To explain is to provide comments on observations, to provide reasons for why something occurred, and to lay judgements on events. For Wittgenstein, “I believe the attempt to explain is certainly wrong, because one must only correctly piece together what one knows, without adding anything.” (Wittgenstein, from Remarks on Fraser’s Golden Bough)

DISCOURSE - Discourse refers to the exchange of ideas through an interchange between speakers. A discourse analysis involves an analysis of the types of exchanges, their conventions, the roles taken by the speakers involved, and the dominant themes which direct and control the conversations. Discourse can refer to a single instance (such as a conversation) and it can refer to collective conversations that are taking place over time. One can tell quite a bit about people by observing (a) what they tend to speak about, (b) how they speak, and (c) the roles taken by participants through the activities of speaking. In the field of Systemic Functional Linguistics, any message is considered to have (i) content, (ii) a form, and (iii) participants, also known as field, mode and tenor. 

In relation to discourse, James Paul Gee emphasised that any message contains two dimensions. The little "d" discourse is the language itself, whether it is oral or print or digital. However, for any text to be understood, one needs to know the context, the culture and conversation of which the text is part. Therefore, one must also be able to read the big "D" discourse, or know and interpret conventions of context and culture so as to engage in the discursive and associated non-discursive activity.

ELABORATED AND RESTRICTED CODES - In his work on linguistics and sociology, Basil Bernstein suggests a rough model to distinguish between what he refers to as an "elaborated code" and a "restricted code". In this case, “code” refers to the language that is used by an individual or a group. In the case of an elaborated code, the speaker will select from a relatively extensive range of alternatives. Propositions express a specific meaning based on the choices made by the speaker and those choices which are omitted or avoided. We imagine a language that is rich with interchangeable parts, specific terminology and a consciousness of the consequences of word choice. 

In the case of a restricted code the number of choices is often severely limited, and the speakers tends to navigate through a narrow, often cliched language base. Language is often less technical and it relies upon common phrases used regularly by the social group. The speaker may lack the language choices that would enable him or her to express exactly what is being felt, thought and/or experienced. Consequently, the individual may resort to language and attitudes that are typical within the group. In some cases, it can argued that the user is not critically aware of subtle significance of their language choices, and they can also be evasive if called upon to elaborate or explain themselves further. 

On a psychological level the codes may be distinguished by the extent to which each facilitates (elaborated code) or inhibits (restricted code) one’s ability to explicitly verbalise individual thoughts, feelings and responses. It is often the case that a restricted code has the capacity to become elaborated; however, it is often seen as inferior in formal educational contexts and is therefore not opened up to critical examination and extension. 

ELEMENTS OF LANGUAGE - Language consists of the following elements that - once integrated - reveal the logic and meaning of our utterances:

  • phonology (the sound system and how sounds are combined to form words);
  • orthography (conventions of the written [spelling] system used to represent speech);
  • vocabulary (the vast accumulation of words used to express our world and our concepts);
  • morphology (the components within words that express further meaning, such as prefixes, suffixes, and cognates);
  • syntax (the forms and rules upon words are arranged to make meaningful sentences);
  • discourse (how sentences are uttered in sequences within an utterance and between utterances to express ideas, intentions and/or purposes); and
  • pragmatics (the interpretation of extra-linguistic features in one's physical and social environment that influences how one speaks/writes/reads)

ENTROPY - Entropy is formally defined as "the lack of order or predictability; gradual decline into disorder." Any system must have energy placed into it so that the system is maintained or preserved. If the practices of a cultural system are not reinforced, then the system and the form of life to which that system is attached will suffer and decay. According to the concept of entropy, the natural state of any system is decay unless efforts are made to maintain it.

EXPECTATIONS - In Zettel, Wittgenstein spends a significant portion of time on the concept "expectation". That is, he explores how our interpretations of events are influenced by our past encounters, which influence how we respond to what will or will not occur at present and in the future. For instance, we may anticipate that someone will walk through a door at a given time every day since our experience has informed us that this will likely occur. We "lean" to certain events taking place, even though we need to be prepared for the unexpected. "Expectation is a preparatory behaviour." (PG 93) Expectations are part of practices. We expect something to acquire because it is part of the practice and it is meaningful within that practice. There is the need to critically examine one’s expectations, though, since one’s expectations reveal something about one’s beliefs about the world and about people.

EXPERIENCE - Wittgenstein's writing is replete with language games and practices and aspect seeing and rule following. If we read between the lines, we see how knowledge and practices ate acquired through experience. We come to our ethical judgements, our aesthetic appreciation, our tastes and manners through an active engagement with our experiences and our practices. "“Correcter prognoses will generally issue from the judgements of those with better knowledge of mankind.Can one learn this knowledge? Yes; some can. Not, however, by taking a course in it, but through ‘experience’" (PI, Pt II) Quite a few of the nuanced features of language in use and practices in context are shaped through shared experiences with others.

EXPERIMENTATION - In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein states that a proposition is constructed as if by experiment. In other words, one proposing a state of affairs as if trying it one for size. As if asking, “what if this were the case?” This sentiment resonates throughout Wittgenstein's philosophy. There is a speculative quality to his writing, which - in turn - encourages his readers to wonder, "what if we describe it this way? Does that make sense? How does that render the subject? What response does it engender?"

EXPERTISE - In cognitive theory, the construct of expertise has been the principle one used to account for the acquisition of regular and skilled performance, or, if you will, habits of mind that distinguish particular pursuits or knowledge domains. Expertise comes a long and motivated experience in a domain, an experience that produces a large and complex knowledge base that one uses in the course of activity.

EXPLANATIONS - To explain is to provide reasons for why something has occurred. It involves the thinker drawing conclusions and applying assessments and/or judgements on a state of affairs. Any assessment is made within a frame of reference to provide the reasons. Different frames of reference could be applied, which would result in different explanations of a state of affairs. Wittgenstein cautioned his readers from mistaking the distinction between description and commentary, “I believe the attempt to explain is certainly wrong, because one must only correctly piece together what one knows, without adding anything.” (Wittgenstein, from Remarks on Fraser’s Golden Bough)

FACTS - In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein states how the world is made up a all possible facts. A fact is something that exists and that can be observed. "God is love" is not a fact, whereas, "Mr Phillip stood on the corner of George St and King St at 3:30pm on 25 March 2012" could be.

FAMILY RESEMBLANCES - This is one of Wittgenstein's most significant observations about language. It states that a concept - such as beauty or truth - represents a family of criss-crossing traits but no essential qualities that all beautiful or truthful things must hold in common. This applies to the vast range of words, such as “plants” or “games” or “social justice” or “mathematics”. For instance, a sunset is beautiful as well as a gothic cathedral. What does a sunset or a cathedral hold in common? Also, can we live in a world in which some truths are factual truths and others are aspirational. It is true (factually) that the sun rose yesterday and it is true (aspirationally) that everyone deserves their human right to be respected.

What is the point, then? Well, in the past philosophers battled to reach THE essential definition of truth or of beauty or of morality or of education. For Wittgenstein, this pursuit inevitably leads to dilemmas, since there will be cases that do not fit the definition that are unfairly marginalised in the interests of creating a neat definition. Instead of seeking an essential definition of our words and concepts, philosophers should describe all the varied manifestations of the concept in actual use. The philosopher can lay these cases openly and plainly to see. Only then can one attempt to understand the nature of the concept even if we are not able to formulate that definition in words.

FORMS OF LIFE - Our claims, our knowledge, our beliefs and our practices all make sense in a form of life. The language we speak, the activities we engage in, the knowledge we encounter, the stories we tell all arise in our practical engagement with a way of living. In this sense, the bedrock justification of any action is found in how they sustain a form of living. Additionally, if one is not part of a form of living (amongst others), then it may be difficult to ascertain how certain beliefs and practices arise and are relevant. One would not have access to the form of life of which the beliefs and practices are part.  

In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein introduces this notion through the "languages of builders". In this scenario, Wittgenstein implores us to see how the language used by those people develops as a means to solve particular problems in that form of life. "Here the term ‘language game’ is meant to bring into prominence the fact the speaking of language is part of an activity, or a form of life" (Wittgenstein quoted in Phillips, 1977, pp 29 - 31)

FOUR ROLES/RESOURCES OF A READER - Peter Freebody and Alan Luke (1990) summarised reading into four skills: decoding, meaning making, using and analysing/critiquing. In other words, an effective reader can decode the text he or she is reading, understand it (make meaning from it), know how it may be of use and be conscious of how it expresses meaning and how to challenge meanings expressed therein.

  • Freebody, P., & Luke, A. (1990). Literacies programs: Debates and demands in cultural context. Prospect: An Australian Journal of TESOL, 5(3), 7 – 16.

FLY OUT OF THE BOTTLE - Another famous metaphor from Wittgenstein's writing. Wittgenstein implores his readers to seek out alternative explanations for phenomenon that trouble us. He contends that people are often like flies trapped in a bottle. The natural tendency is to keep flying straight ahead into the glass by using the same technique without realising that it is not moving one forward. It only takes a shift of gaze to realise that there may be another way out of a problem. For instance, a philosopher may endure late nights to seek the essential definition of beauty, when it would be a lot more productive to provide a catalogue of that which is beautiful to illuminate rather than confine the concept.

G - K


GAMES - Wittgenstein's writing makes regular reference to practices, rules and games. Games - in particular - imply certain formal and tacit rules governing an activity engaged in by one or more persons, usually with the aim of reaching a goal state. When applied to culture, it suggests that individuals are regularly initiated into practices (games) and that each new instance of the game will require one to face new challenges and fresh interpretations of the rules.

GENERALISATIONS - Wittgenstein feared that the scientific vision of his time was prone to make sweeping generalisation, which would include generalisations about aspects of the mind, language and culture. He contended that philosophy should not pursue general doctrines or theories to explain topics of language, knowledge and the mind. Instead, it should be a method to unravel and understand specific cases.

(TO) GO ON - To go on following a rule or acting on a belief requires a significant amount of stage setting. Any rule requires interpretation to be followed. To follow a rule, one must have access to what "following a rule" might look like. To "go on" following a rule regularly and/or habitually is the product of initiation and much shaping of behaviour. This applies equally to the learning of mathematically rules to the adoption of ethical practices.

GRAMMAR - When Wittgenstein refers to grammar it is not always in the traditional notion of the term. In some cases, grammar refers to the rules that govern language which determine whether an expression makes sense. In the words of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “Wittgenstein adopts the term ‘grammar’ in his quest to describe the workings of this public, socially governed language, using it in a somewhat idiosyncratic manner. Grammar, usually taken to consist of the rules of correct syntactic and semantic usage, becomes, in Wittgenstein's hands, the wider—and more elusive—network of rules which determine what linguistic move is allowed as making sense, and what isn't.” -- http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/wittgenstein/#Pri

GUIDED CONSTRUCTION - After joint construction, it is important that the teacher provides the learner with the opportunity to engage in the practice more independently. However, the learner may not be ready for full independence. The teacher can "scaffold" how one would go about the practice by setting reminders of the stages of the process. This scaffolding might be a series of prompts, key questions, guiding diagrams, pertinent examples and more.

GUIDED PARTICIPATION - Refers to the second of four stages of skill development and/or practice adoption. The first stage is the apprenticeship stage and the third stage is the participatory appropriation stage. And the fourth stage is performance. In guided participation, the learner is brought through the steps or stages of the skill and/or practice. The learner is provided with scaffolded activities and opportunities to demonstrate the practice and/or skill. The learner will have benefited from holistic exposure, observation and joint construction during the apprenticeship stage of development.

HABITUS - This is a concept used by the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who cites Wittgenstein as a key contributor to his thinking. Habitus refers to the lived conditions (or context) that serve as the foundation for certain practices, knowledge, tastes and values. It most closely aligns with Wittgenstein's use of the "form of life" concept. Bourdieu would argue that whilst habitus is key to understanding a practice or a way of thinking, it is often poorly analysed or entirely ignored when people consider social, cultural or learning event.

HIERARCHIES - In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein states, "Hierarchies are and must be independent of reality." By saying this, he is asserting that humankind imposes orders and structures on the world, whereas empirical reality "just is". Events occur. It is humankind that establishes models, systems, flow charts as means to conceptualise and act within the world. Hierarchies, hanging diagrams and flow charts are all representations of states of affairs which place phenomena in systems for reflection and conceptualisation.

ILL-STRUCTURED TASKS - An ill-structured task is not an unusual task (at all). It refers to any task in which the first step involves identifying the task itself and how to proceed with it. For instance, one may be asked to write a letter to one's local mayor. Even if an individual has written letters before (and political ones as well), this does not mean that the person will not need to interpret, deliberate, plan and execute this task. It is not merely a matter of moving mechanically through the task. At each stage the person must assess progress against the original intention and reassess time and other available (and not-so-available) resources. Most reading and writing tasks are ill-structured task since no two reading or writing tasks are ever the same, thereby requiring all readers and writers to be initiated into the practices of deliberation, monitoring and reflection.

INCLINATION - To be inclined to act or think in a particular way. Or rather, to have the urge, compulsion or tendency to act, respond, or interpret in an acquired manner. This phenomenon arises through habit, habitus, routine or learning and can be assumed into one's way of seeing, behaving or thinking. This can be acquired through one’s apprenticeship in context with others in a form of life or world picture, which can also be open to critique or challenge.

INDEPENDENT CONSTRUCTION - After guided construction, it is hoped that the learner can continue performing the practice (and evolving the practice) through independent construction (or practice), which would include reflection on how one is going and what changes or learnings occur along the way. PLEASE NOTE: any practice is open to decay. Even if a learner has achieved independence, it is important that the teacher reinforces and rewards effective practice and assists the learner to apply the practice in new contexts and with new content.

INFORMATION ENTROPY - refers to the  decay of information and understanding unless that information is processed, conceptualised, synthesised and maintained. In an information society - like our modern, internet age - too much information can lead to a fragmentation of deep understanding. Therefore, whilst information may proliferate but deep understanding may lose cohesion unless maintained.

INTENTIONS - To intend something requires both a purpose and a concept of the expected or possible outcome of the action. In social practices, intention usually involves both parties being aware of the rules of discourse and the consequences of certain discourse. How is it that she knows to pick up the phone and hand me it to me when I call out "Phone, please!"? How is it that one knows the intention of a prayer upon hearing it and bowing one's head in a congregation? How is it that one knows that a person intends no offence when he stands much too closely? Reading and acting upon intention requires a certain level of familiarity with how to read the signs of a certain practice. It is also easy to misread an intention or to miss an intention altogether.

INTERMEDIATE CASES - This can also referred to as alternative cases.  In cases where one is making a judgement, it is best to consider alternative (or intermediate) cases to explain the overall case. By seeking alternative explanations, one is better able to assess the validity of the first hunch as well as preempt the possibility of multiple valid explanations or the over-reliance on assumed, dominant perspectives. We must ask ourselves, “what would another explanation look like?”

INTERPERSONAL PLANE - Any learning occurs on the personal, interpersonal and community planes. All three planes interact. How one thinks, acts, sees and deliberates (the personal plane) is impacted by previous interpersonal interactions with others (such as parents, community members, friends, etc). The interpersonal or social plane includes communication, role performances, dialogue, cooperation, conflict, assistance, and assessment. In educational research, this is often addressed in studies of teaching/learning interactions between teachers and students or parents and children. Vygotsky (1978) would remind us  'Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people..., and then inside people... All higher [mental] functions originate as actual relations between human individuals' (p.57) 

INTERPRETATIONS - We interpret gestures. We interpret looks. We interpret tones of voice. We interpret an animal's demeanour. We interpret poetry. We interpret a piece of music. We try to "get at" the intention and meaning by drawing judgements based upon what appears to be the case. We observe, but meaning-making occurs when one is moved by an observation to conclude. And certain conclusions (or interpretations) are drawn so quickly that one fails to remember that it may be only one possible interpretation of the signs. "But it is also possible that the hostile glance and the words later prove to have been pretence, … so that he really does guess at a possible interpretation. -- But then the main thing he guesses at is a context." (PI 652)

JOINT ATTENTION AND INTENTION - Tomasello (2003) holds that the concepts of joint attention and joint intentional activity are pivotal for language learning and language engagement. In this model, participants in a language event are jointly attending to a phenomenon (e.g. a sunset) and are using language to share observations, interpretations and/or intentions under joint attention. There is an assumption in this exchange that the participants share an intention (or a focus) on the value of the phenomenon and the significance of the phenomenon. In the case of children, it is apparent that both the child and the adult may not share the same intent when investigating the phenomenon. It is through both linguistic and extra-linguistic elements (e.g. hand motions, demonstrations, etc) that either the child or the adult seeks to express his or her intent, focus and requirements. 

As Halliday (1993) finds, children start to use non-linguistic, non-symbolic gestures to express intent (or wanting something). Over time, the child is brought into language, and the child comes to express those intentions (and subtleties of intention) through language. As Wittgenstein (2001) observed, "One thinks that learning a language consists of giving names to objects. Viz, to human beings, to shapes , to colours, to pains, to moods, to numbers, etc. To repeat -- naming is something like attaching a label to a thing. One can say that this is preparatory to the use of a word. But what is it a preparation for?" (PI 26)

JOINT CONSTRUCTION - After a skill is modelled, it is important that the teacher and the student jointly construct or complete the task. The provides the teacher with an additional opportunity to model, guide and support the learner's practices, deliberations and choices. 

JUDGEMENTS - A judgement is a response (a reaction). "What determines our judgements, our concepts and reactions, is not what one man is doing now, an individual action, but the whole hurly-burly of human actions, the background against which we see any action." One assesses and reacts to the world. The world moves one. At times, it is difficult to tell the difference between observing the world and making judgements from those observations. Wittgenstein wrote the following in response to reading a particularly patronising account of an Indigenous culture’s form of life, “I believe the attempt to explain (draw judgements) is certainly wrong, because one must only correctly piece together what one knows, without adding anything.” (Wittgenstein, from Remarks on Fraser’s Golden Bough)

 KNOWLEDGE - When Wittgenstein refers to knowledge, he is referring to both the content of knowledge and the system in which knowledge is arranged. Wittgenstein regularly employs visual metaphors to illustrate how knowledge is constructive act. "Our knowledge forms an enormous system. And only within this system has a particular bit the value we give it." (OC 410). He further makes this clear by stating "A thinker is very much like a draughtsman whose aim it is to represent all the interrelations between things. " and in his quoting of a portion of a Longfellow poem: In the elder days of art / Builders wrought with greatest care / Each minute and unseen part, /For the gods are everywhere. Wittgenstein emphasises that the thinker plays an active role in the way that knowledge is rendered.

L - O


LADDERS - In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein claims that the reader has used the book to climb a ladder to survey more clearly the topic of logic. Once climbed, he recommends that the ladder is discarded. In many ways, Wittgenstein presents an image of what good teaching should achieve; it should provide the learner with a vantage point to notice the patterns in a topic that - once revealed - can be acted upon. The metaphor also presents an image whereby learning is scaffolded and whereby the learner is gradually initiated into a vantage point or way of seeing through a gradual presentation of intermediate cases (e.g. if we look at this case in this way, then ...). Burbles and Peters argue that this is an educational observation, "We want to emphasise that this should be regarded as an educational argument: that it is exploring the question of how understandings and ways of seeing are changed."  (Burbles and Peters, 2010, pg 69 - 70). 

LANGUAGE - Wittgenstein presents three dominant images of language. In the Tractatus, he presents language as a system that is akin to how a linguist would describe language. There are nouns, verbs, adjectives, conjunction and more. He presents how the grammar of a sentence clearly presents a picture when all its pieces fall into the right place. By the time of the Blue and Brown Books, Wittgenstein conceives language as a calculus. The language user calculates the situation of language use and chooses the right language to achieve a purpose. The individual learns the rules (or the grammar) to make these choices. In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein now conceives of language as language games. The game users go back and forth - to and fro - using conventions of language in particular contexts in the frame of discourse practices to achieve purposes. Every game has a history.

LANGUAGE GAMES - As a general rule, a language game is an instance of language exchange. To understand and analyse the exchange, one must look at the language used as well as the roles that the participants are taking in the activity, which is taking place in a form of life. We are curious as to how different moves (uses of language) are used and responded to in the midst of the activity. For instance, Wittgenstein presents a scenario between a builder and an apprentice in which the builder calls out for different materials and the apprentice learns to identify the materials and also knows that he must bring the materials to the builder when they are called out in a particular way in the particular situation. So, to be more exact, the exchange is part of a practice, which means one learns the conventions, context, purpose, terms and form of the language game. 

Consider the telling of a joke or the reciting of a prayer or the performance of a play. Also, look at how certain language games (or practices) become unacceptable (such as sexist and racist banter) or obsolete (such as the mannerism of 18th century English polite discourse). In addition, language games are played out to negotiate and navigate the meaning and relevance of concepts, such as the right to free speech, or the role of religion in a secular society. These  debates are ongoing practices, which have evolved to reflect different "teams", each attempting to achieve intended or unintended outcomes.

LANGUAGE LEARNING - Learning new elements of language can be seen to involve three core stages: intake, uptake and embodiment. Through sustained, scaffolded practices one develops a repertoire of practices, vocabularies, concepts, forms and contexts that are trialed, incorporated and owned.

LANGUAGE/LITERACY AS SOCIAL PRACTICE - This concept is an extension of Wittgenstein's Language Games premise. That is, language and literacy are tools used within culture to achieve certain ends. As social practices, language and literacy consist of a repertoire of genres in context. They include events, practices, spaces and material artefacts. In other words, every instance of language use is an event that is part of a particular practice that often is practiced in a set of social spaces in which certain material resources are used in purposeful activity. For instance, the event of reading a nighttime book with a child is a distinct practice that exhibits each of the above features and is based on a culture of book reading that is valued by the participants. Similarly, military orders delivered to a platoon in training would also require the learning of conventions in joint, purposeful activity that used non-discursive materials for non-discursive ends. We learn language and literacy not as ends in themselves but as vehicles in our forms of living.

LIMITS OF LANGUAGE - In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein optimistically writes that "man possesses the ability to construct languages capable of expressing every sense." He soon retracts this statement. Wittgenstein hold that there is only a narrow band of descriptive language that can communicate its content clearly and unambiguously. Otherwise, one regularly encounters the limitation of language to properly account for such things as personal experience, the concept of God, the sense of beauty, the aroma of coffee and much, much more. On one hand, one must embrace the limitation that there will be certain experiences that can only be sensed, absorbed, and exhibited (but not truly expressible). One may go to great length to simulate or represent the sense, albeit indirectly. On the other hand, there are concepts and language games that can only be understood by those in a community of practice, such as religious discourse amongst practitioners. Outsiders would not have the experiences to make sense of what is heard and/or read.

MATHEMATICS - Wittgenstein held that mathematics is an elaborate invention that evolves to meet the challenges of new times and applications. Similarly, he describes it as a system that one uses to characterise the world and as a system that children are brought into so as to be able to navigate systems utilised by different societies. Consequently, Wittgenstein does not agree with the view that mathematics can reveal fundamental and essential truth in nature. Instead, mathematics (and science) develop systems which can coincide with or illuminate patterns in nature. It is useful to see mathematics as a language, particularly in the Tractarian sense. Its equations and visual representations are propositions that represent real or possible states of affairs which demands thinkers to be able to interpret and project.

MATHEMATICAL PROPOSITIONS - In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein held that mathematical proposition were pseudo-propositions (as opposed to propositions of logic). The later Wittgenstein would characterise mathematical propositions as rules in the game of mathematics. Mathematical proposition define the way that mathematics should be played in order to achieve its aims amongst a community of practice.

MEANING-BLINDNESS - Refers to the condition whereby an individual is unable to find meaning in something (e.g. a word or an event) because (a) the person takes the observation for granted, thereby failing to appreciate any significance (does not direct one's attention) or (b) the person has not had the right experiences to be able to see the significance of the word, event, etc.

METHODS - There is the old saying, "it is the journey, not the destination, that matters." This could be a motto for Wittgenstein's view of philosophy. Wittgenstein held that philosophy should be considered as a series of methods to seek clarification. Philosophy is not a set of doctrines. Philosophy is not a subject matter.  It is a practice (or a set of practice. Philosophy is a technique (or the pursuit of techniques). It is the way of doing philosophy that shows insight of how one sought clarity at a particular time. One is applying methods of thought so as to achieve clear views.

MINDFULNESS - is the practice often attributed to meditation which involves a deepening awareness of experience. In mindfulness, one seeks to develop the peace of mind in the present moment, to become aware of the attributes of one's form of life, to understand "what is the case" with clarity, and to find solace in a more holistic and multifaceted perspective on experience. To be mindful is to achieve a clear view

MODELS - In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein makes regular reference to the way propositions present states of affairs, which become models for reflection. It is - as if - the written (or remembered) proposition is able to hold an event suspended in time for review, reflection and reconstruction. Wittgenstein was struck by the significance of this by a simple court case in which the scene of an accident was reconstructed through a scale model of the scene of the accident. In this case, the various parties represented the accident in the way that they remembered events. Wittgenstein would come to hold that language is one such modelling system that can be used by individuals in dialogue to render experience or possible events.

MODELLING - During an apprenticeship, it is important that the teacher models-demonstrates-explains the process of completing a task. This is particularly important where the expert is making certain unseen choices that cannot be intuited from observation alone. In apprenticeship, it is important that the learner observes how the whole process works before looking at particular subskills.

MOTIVATION - Motivation is strictly defined as "the general desire of someone to do something"; however, there are many different ways to achieve a motivated state. Someone may be motivated because certain actions receive praise. Or someone may be motivated because "a cool boy or girl" will be there. Or someone may be motivated by the pleasure and satisfaction of doing the activity once before. Others will be motivated because of the pride they received in the past; the practice has become part of the individual identity and self-worth. All of these factors combine to impact the extent to which one is motivated to engage in the practices. Nevertheless, other factors will determine whether that motivation is maintained (e.g motivation can diminish is goals are not realised, progress not perceived, relationships fracture, etc.).

NETS - In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein described physics as one net that could be used to describe physical phenomena. In this case, Wittgenstein describes a "net" as a particular framework of thinking that provides a scaffold for our observations. Similarly, Marxism would be seen as a net through which to analyse socio-political relationships. The net describes the world but is not of the world. As Locke once noted, "Ideas do more than record. They don't leave the world as it is, nor are they intended to."

NOTICING ASPECTS - To notice salient features when one is making observations. This requires more than merely seeing. This requires the ability to distinguish features and to see features as significant. For instance, an air traffic controller comes to be able to assess and interpret the instruments before him or her.

OSTENSIVE DEFINITIONS - To define a term by pointing to it or to examples of it. This is a chair. This is a brick. This is too much. This is not enough. This is an altar. These are examples of gothic architecture. To learn a language involves the initial ostensive demonstration of key terms. It also involves the elaboration and the application of the words we use. Wittgenstein is quick to remind us that we encounter phrases like "Fetch the chair" as opposed to "This is a chair". We encounter much of our language in context, and draw meaning there as well.

P - R


PARTICIPATORY APPROPRIATION - Refers to the third of four stages of skill development and/or practice adoption. The first two stages are the apprenticeship stage and the guided participation stage. The final stage is performance. In participatory appropriation, the learner has developed the skill and/or practice AND the learner has come to incorporate the ability into one's activities. The individual can now 'participate' in the practice and independently appropriate, extend and add to that which has been learned.

PERFORMANCE - Refers to the final stage of the four stages of skill development and/or practice adoption. The other three stages are apprenticeship, guided participation, and participatory appropriation. To perform is to exhibit a skill or practice without doubt or hesitation or meta-analysis. To perform is to act and see in a particular manner and to embody a practice and a mode of analysis. Rather than seek alternative systems through which to think and act, the individual accepts a system and performs within that system.

PERSPICUOUS REPRESENTATION - Wittgenstein implores his reader to seek a "clear view" of phenomena. In a perspicuous representation, one lays out all the fact(or)s in clear view to assess what is the case. The process also involves the seeking of connections to draw out how the system works. The goal is to gain control over phenomena that may otherwise appear tangled, restless and problematic.

PERSONAL PLANE - Any learning occurs on the personal, interpersonal and community planes. All three planes interact. How one thinks, acts, sees and deliberates (the personal plane) is impacted by previous interpersonal interactions with others (such as parents, community members, friends, etc). The personal plane involves individual cognition, emotion, behaviour, values, and beliefs. In educational research, this might correspond to studies of individual student or teacher actions, psychological characteristics, or competence. Vygotsky (1978) would remind us 'Every function in the child's cultural development appears twice: first on the social level, and later, on the individual level; first, between people..., and then inside people... All higher [mental] functions originate as actual relations between human individuals' (p.57)

PICTURE THEORY - What is known as "the picture theory" lies at the core of the Tractatus. In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein held that a proposition that made sense would generate a picture of a state of affairs. Thereby, in language, people could navigate different events or facts by exchanging propositions (or pictures). As a consequence, one assesses the truth of a proposition by appealing to whether the event pictured did or did not occur. 

In terms of logic, Wittgenstein challenged the notion that one could determine truth in any way from following the logic of propositions alone. Instead, one could only assess the states of affairs that a proposition referred to. Most significantly, Wittgenstein presents this wonderful image of the function of language; it allows people to exchange thoughts and images with one another, therefore enabling humankind to communicate, share and build together.

PILLARS OF LITERACY DEVELOPMENT - The oft-cited NICHCD Report (2000) identifies five "pillars" which are essential for reading development. These five pillars can be further divided into two sections: print-based skills and meaning-making skills. The category of print-based skills includes the development of phonemic awareness, alphabetic knowledge (letter-sound correspondence) and fluency. The category of meaning-making skills includes the development of vocabulary and comprehension skills.

It is important to recognise additional "pillars", which were not included in the original report. We must add writing development, including syntactical development, as a sixth pillar (Gee, 2003). August and Shanahan (2006) also emphasise that oral language development is an essential pillar for English language learners. And Hierbert and Alexander (Cervetti & Hiebert, forthcoming; Alexander, 2005) remind us that content and strategic knowledges must develop in tandem with literacy skills.

  • Alexander, P. A. (2005). The Path to Competence: A Lifespan Developmental Perspective on Reading. Journal of Literacy Research, 37(4), 413–436.
  • August, D., & Shanahan, T. (2006). Executive Summary: Developing Literacy in Second-Language Learners. In D. August & T. Shanahan (Eds.), Developing Literacy in Second-Language Learners: Report of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.
  • Cervetti, G. N. & Hierbert, E. H. (forthcoming). The Sixth Pillar of Reading Instruction: Knowledge Development. In The Reading Teacher. 
  • Gee, J. P. (2003). Opportunity to Learn: A language-based perspective on assessment. Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy & Practice, 10(1), 27–46. doi:10.1080/09695940301696
  • National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction (NIH Publication No. 00-4769). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

POINTING (OSTENSIVE TEACHING) - In the Philosophical Investigations, Wittgenstein makes a case that the most rudimentary step of language learning involves the act of labelling. We point to items (or actions) and say "this is a chair" or "this is a block" or "this is an apple" or "this is (the act of) jumping". Language learning must move swiftly beyond this pointing (or ostensive teaching). Learners must speak about apple, do things with block, etc. As a result, one must acknowledge that language is a referential system in its most rudimentary conceptualisation.

POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY - When one studies politics, one studies how the various interests and communities are managed by leadership and the society as a whole. Hans Sluga (2011) argues that Wittgenstein's philosophy can shed light on power and politics, even if this was not addresses directly by Wittgenstein himself. Wittgenstein's later philosophy is replete with language games, forms of life, practices, world pictures, beliefs systems, knowledge systems and the like. However, not all practices or forms of life or practices or beliefs are treated equally or given equal status within any given society. Sluga examines how certain groups are dominant and marginalised (politically and economically), which - in turn - impacts upon our analysis of forms of life, practices, beliefs, etc. Power and politics, therefore, impacts considerably on one's freedom to hold true to cultural ideals.

POSSIBLE WORLDS - In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein indicates that a proposition can present a picture of a possible state of affairs. Whether or not the picture is true or false requires an additional step of assessment. This leaves the fact that one can paint vivid pictures of possible states of affairs, therefore creating vivid possible worlds that evoke rich worlds. This gives credence to the way that fiction can be educational by simulating possibilities that evoke readers to encounter rich, complex dilemmas that inform real, lived experiences.

PRACTICAL HOLISM “is the view that [any theory of language] can only be meaningful in specific contexts and against a background of shared practices’. ... Background practices, equipment, locations, and broader horizons ... are part and parcel of our ability to engage in conversation and find our way about.” (Stern, 2004, pg 163 - 164)

In practical holism, there is a view that understanding occurs through sustained practical engagement with language learning in context, whereas theoretical holism holds that theoretical (or pre-existing) understanding is independent of context and proceeds learning. Therefore, practical holism holds that understanding is achieved gradually _through_ practical activity, rather existing prior to learning through - for instance - inherited mental proclivity. Practical holism presents a more iterative image of learning.

This is consistent with Hans Sluga's (2011) observation that language development is based on practice. (see Theoretical Holism definition for more)

PRACTICES - A practice is an activity that one does regularly in the course of a form of life where certain standards of excellence exist and which involves a community of practitioners. Practices arise out of the lived necessity of a form of life and through the creative capacity of a culture. One must look to the cultural context of a practice to appreciate its role and its significance. For instance, Wittgenstein at different stages of his career asks the reader to see how religious, mathematical, economic and further practices arise out of the needs of communities and cultures to address and explain aspects of lived experience. 

Wittgenstein holds that our culture is not "based on knowledge but on practice.” (Sluga, 2011, pg 107) Consequently, there is something unjust if one passes judgement on a practice (or a system of beliefs) without appealing to the culture of which it is part.

PRIVATE LANGUAGE - A private language would be one which was created and understood by one person only. It is a language that one person would use, and that person would be able to develop terms that captured how he or she felt or thought (and which did not rely upon public discourse). Contrary to popular belief, Wittgenstein did not claim that a private language was impossible. Instead, Wittgenstein argued that a private language would make little sense and be of limited use. Language is fundamentally social and public. And whilst we may "talk to ourselves", we use the social, public language that we learned from others to help guide our thoughts. Fundamentally, advocates of private language would argue that there are some concept that only “I” understand, such as “MY” pain, “MY” thoughts, etc. 

Wittgenstein would point out that we learn to talk about my pain and my thoughts after first being introduced to the concepts of pain and thoughts in our lived experiences with others. So even these arguably private experiences and sensations are shaped by the education we have received through others in our form of life. Wittgenstein would support a language that arises amongst a small group, as an excellent example of how language is a public tool to shape and share ideas amongst people, sometimes across space and time.

PROJECTIONS - Wittgenstein stated that proposition were in need of projection. In this sense, projection refers to the ability to derive meaning from a statement. Wittgenstein uses the visual metaphor of a film projector, which reads the film and magnifies that film into a rich, vivid picture. Thereby, a statement is  only meaningful once it has been projected/interpreted. Consequently, one cannot guarantee that one will be understood, since being understood relies on the sharing of a common language, a grammar and certain conventions of meaning-making.

PROPOSITIONS - One could state that a proposition is a declarative sentence, but this would not capture the tone or the purpose of a proposition. A proposition is a clear proposal of a state of affairs, which places the reader/listener in a position to assess the significance and/or validity of the pronouncement. For instance, “Nurture - not nature - plays the greatest role in an individual’s development” is proposition that awaits assessment, consideration and verification.

QUESTIONS - Wittgenstein writes, "If a question can be put into words, then it can also be answered in words. The riddle does not exist." (TLC, 6.5) For Wittgenstein, one can only ask a question when one can imagine what a proper answer would look like. If one cannot imagine the answer to a question, how would one know when the question has been properly phrased and answered?

READING THE SCORE - By itself, the written language is meaningless. One needs to be able to literally read the "score" to be able to extract any meaning from the printed word. It is perhaps the most practical turn in Wittgenstein’s early philosophy and the practical nod to the topic of literacy in his discussion of language. It is almost as if Wittgenstein paused during his theory of language, and thought, “any discussion of language must account for acquisition and development.” Acquisition and development are not easy feats. Most importantly, the facs that propositions must be read means that thoughts require thinkers. Propositions lie dormant unless there are people who have the ability to extract and consider the meaning of statements preserved in language.

REFLECTIVE PRACTICE - Throughout a practice, it is important to encourage reflective practice, or thinking about one's own practices, choices and deliberation. Critical reflection encourages thought about how one goes about the practice and about the relevance and meaning of the practice itself. It is vital that the learner becomes a reflective practitioner as one becomes more independent.

REPRESENTING - We do not merely record experiences and events when we speak or write or paint. We make choices that serve to represent events in a particular way. The representation is an interpretation or rendering of events, which can provide an insight into the way that one perceives or reacts to phenomena. A particular representation can serve to corrupt events or experience yet a representation can also give peace. There is often a way to represent events in multiple ways which can lead to quite different reactions.

ROUGH GROUND - In his later philosophy, Wittgenstein urges his readers to get to "the rough ground" of our language and cultural practices. Philosophers (and all thinkers) can be tempted to theorise in a vacuum, so to speak. In other words, philosophers can be prone to theorise about our language, our minds, our behaviours and our practices without actually referring to language in context, minds in context, and so on. Thinkers should ground ideas in the rough, messy ground of lived context. “Don’t think! Look!”

RULES - Wittgenstein makes regular reference to practices, games, and systems. Rules, rule following and rule interpretation are central features to each of the concepts. There are explicit and implicit rules to social manners, to mathematics, to cooking, to professionalism, to ethical decisions and more. Consider something like the Ten Commandments as rules. Rules develop over time. They gives structure to an activity. People are brought into rules. 

Rules are challenged and develop. Some rules are considered sacrosanct. They cannot be broken. Other rules systems are meant to be challenged, renewed and redefined, such as the rules of art. One will encounter situations where past rules do not suffice, and new debates must occur to extend or introduce rules. In short, philosophy should be an activity that allows one to untangle the rules of a practice in given circumstances (rather than answer questions once and for all).

RULE FOLLOWING - Any practice operates off of certain rules that do develop over time. Sometimes the rules are explicit (such as the rules of chess). At other times, rules are implicit and acquired through experience and practice. Rules do not follow themselves. People follow rules. To follow a rule - implicitly or explicitly - requires (a) a familiarity with the rule and the practice of which it is part, (b) familiarity with examples of what it means to successfully follow / interpret a rule and participate in the practice, and (c) some appreciation of the value of correctly following the rule. The rule itself does not say how it should be followed. Many rules can be interpreted in ways not necessarily as intended. One is brought into the following of a rule through practice.  



SCAFFOLDING  - We come to learn methods of activity and systems of knowledge. These methods and systems become reinforced as they are shaped through our interactions with the notion of learning presented to us in a circle of influence. Deep grooves are set in our thinking and our behaviour. In this sense, education proceeded first as a form of training in ways of doing and seeing, which become prototypes for our thinking and decision in future events. Our methods, our experiences, our expectations, our schemas are initially scaffolded for us in the learning process. In turn, these habits, beliefs, rituals and methods become the scaffolding for our engagement with the world in the future. When one is brought into knowledge, one should be brought into content and method at the same time.

SEEING AN ASPECT - Wittgenstein refers to two ways of seeing. The first being "I see x", which refers to the physical act of seeing something. The second being "I see x as (meaning) something". For instance, the written script may appear as either assorted lines on a page or meaningful language with significance. In addition, one may notice a tree in a particular position next to a house. An individual may also see it as fitting into a series of consequences, and so imagine it as possibly falling onto the house. A further example would relate to an artwork's ability to conjure associations with - let's say - peace or freedom. The viewer would need to be able to notice one or more salient features that would move one to interpret or react in a particular way.

SEEING AS - Refers to a later stage of perception when an individual regularly sees and/or interprets salient features in a particular way. In other words, a certain way of seeing and interpreting becomes fluent, automatic and/or familiar. It is striking that the individual may be aware and fascinated by the impact the new way of seeing is having on one's life, even if the transformation is gradual. The transformation can be more rapid in a case - for instance - of religious conversion where the newfound religious perspective can give sense, order or meaning to what previously seemed senseless. This can be qualitatively different from one who has adopted a perspective gradually over time and for whom the view is more normative and less transformational.

SEEING CONNECTIONS - Wittgenstein emphasises that a thinker must piece together elements of experience or of knowledge so as to gain a command of how a system works. In Philosophical Grammar, Wittgenstein writes, "A puzzle picture. What does it amount to to say that after the solution the picture means something to us, whereas it meant nothing before?" And Ray Monk (2005) observes, “An Ubersicht produces the ‘understanding which consists in “seeing connections’” (p 66). In this case, building knowledge and engaging in practices requires an individual to see how the knowledge fits together and how a practice is connected with a form of living.

SEMIOTIC DOMAINS - A semiotic domain is an area of knowledge, such as basketball, gardening, cooking, physics, hunting, bush tucker, etc. A semiotic domain includes knowledge, concepts, language, contexts, etc. Throughout one's life, one is brought into a range of semiotic domains in learning interactively with others.

SENSE AND NONSENSE - In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein distinguishes between "sensical" and "nonsensical" propositions. A sensical proposition is a descriptive, declarative proposition, such as "Mr Green was in the room at 4:35pm". It an example of a "sensible" statement, since it presents an unambiguous picture that could be verified by the senses. On the other hand "God is great" is nonsense, as it is not open to the senses to determine. Its meaning relies on a more complex network of concepts, conceptual practices and ways of believing and imagining. Similarly, "unicorns trot on the fresh soil of Narnia" is also nonsensical. Although it may present a picture, this picture relies on particular cultural and intertextual references.

SHANAHAN'S KEY COMPONENTS FOR LITERACY LEARNING - Timothy Shanahan (2011) argues that effective learning is impacted by the following factors (in order of priority):

  • amount of practice/teaching;
  • the content of the instruction;
  • the quality of the instruction;
  • the motivation of the learner; and
  • alignment and support.

In other words, learners benefit from practice and lots of it. They also benefit from the right learning (content) at the right time. This is aided when their teacher is a great teacher. The teacher is creative, organised, inspiring and challenging. If the learners are interested, motivated, knowledgeable and committed, then this provides an excellent platform for learning. Lastly, any further features of learning (e.g. technology) must align with and support the learning. Technology in itself will not lead to enhanced learning.

  • Shanahan, T. (2008). Literacy across the lifespan: what works? Community Literacy Journal, 3(1), 3–20.

SHOWN, NOT SAID - In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein indicates that which cannot be "said … shows itself" or also "what can be shown cannot be said." Wittgenstein emphasises that there is the inexplicable that can - nevertheless - still be understood. The very nature of such concepts as morality, beauty and integrity can be understood but not adequately captured in words. It is here that Wittgenstein wants the reader to see one of the limits to language. According to the Tractatus, language works best when it is used to convey information and when it is used to describe "the case." Consequently, language becomes strained when it tries to capture notions, such as "God", "peace" and "righteousness", whose meaning manifest itself through experience and through demonstration. That is why there are things that cannot be said, but which show themselves or which can only be shown.

SIGNIFICANCE - There is an importance difference between participating in a practice and participating with an understanding of the significance of a practice. For instance, one can participate in the actions associated with prayer, but not attach to it the level of significance (or meaningfulness) that others - followers - would do. In addition, one could participate in the physical practices of yoga with adhering to the spiritual undertones of the exercise. Or one might write a poem, but not necessarily appreciate the practice of poetry as a potentially meditative and/or reflective tool. Therefore, one may be brought into the activity of a practice relatively quickly, though it may take time for one to understand the full significance of the practice with a form of life.

SIMPLE MODEL OF READING - The simple model of reading/literacy development consists of two main components: the development of oral language skills (linguistic comprehension) and print-based (decoding) skills (Gough & Tunmer, 1986). The model is meant to be overtly simplistic. Its main purpose is to recognise/isolate two facts. First, robust oral language development lies at the heart of literacy development, since literacy is codified oral language comprehension. Second, explicit instruction and meaningful practice with print must compliment one's development of oral communication, since we may "be wired for sound but not for print." 

Over time, the language of books will come to impact one oral discourse; however, in the early years, oral language growth is the horse which pulls the cart of literacy. However, this trend changes over time, as the language of books extends everyday discourse.

  • Gough, P.B., & Tunmer, W.E. (1986). Decoding, reading and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 6–10.

SITUATED LEARNING - When we learn, we learn interactively with others to use such learning to approach and/or solve problems. Therefore, learning is not some abstract activity or content. Instead, there is a context in which learners are situated, and the context/culture provides a justification/rationale for learning. Learning is situated. The learner embodies the learning in its application.

SOLIPSISM - Refers to the belief that one can only know what is inside his or her mind (and not others). It can be said that Wittgenstein flatly rejects that this is the case. In fact, language is an amazing example of how we can explore the mind of the other through the insights expressed through propositions, narrative and the like, which are expressed in a common language. In addition, an intricate language of emotions and sensation places the individual's sensations open for discussion and influence from public discourse. If solipsism were the case, then it denies the capacity for empathy, compassion and collective dreaming. There are significant risks in doubting humankind's ability to share insights about one another, and these risks are as troubling as the risks of skepticism.

 SRAFFA’S GESTURE - Wittgenstein’s early philosophy became undone in a quick remark from the Italian economist Piero Sraffa. Wittgenstein previously claimed that all meaning could be deciphered by appealing to the grammatical structure of an expression. However, Sraffa made a hand motion under his chin, which is a sign of contempt in Italy, and asked, "what is the grammatical form of this?" Wittgenstein was flummoxed. He couldn't appeal at all to structure for its meaning. He had to appeal to its use (or its practice) within a form of life. This was the moment when Wittgenstein proclaimed that meaning is use and "words are deeds" and that one must attend to context as well as form to understand the logic and nature of language.

STAGE SETTING - Stage setting refers to all the preliminary activities that prepare one to make meaning or to establish a practice. For instance, Wittgenstein is quick to remind his audience that a substantial amount of preliminary experiences must be in place for one to acquire language, or make sense of algebra, or to become a mechanic. We must ask ourselves, "what are the prerequisite experiences, expectations, role models and understandings that will lay down the tracks on which the learning will occur?" And "do we have the resources, models and opportunities to carry on with the learning so it becomes practiced and relevant and useful?"

STATES OF AFFAIRS - Wittgenstein insists that propositions describe states of affairs. Or, propositions arrange words in syntax, which refer to the world, and which come to represent how things are or could be, or which could be asserted. In this case, a state of affairs is a proposition or a series of proposition which come to indicate how "things stand" in a given case. "What is the state of affairs?"

STREAM OF LIVING - Refers to the great “hurly burly” of life. It is a term for the collective actions in life (or a form of life). It is impossible to notice all salient details or moments in a stream of life. At times, we use language without deep consideration in the stream of life. We just speak. Or we make decisions according to conventions within the stream of life without realising that we may be following rules (or habits). At times, it is not possible to rationally consider each action or thought in a stream of life. Sometimes one's beliefs, knowledge, and/or skills only become manifest when one is performing or reacting (out of habit or upbringing) in that great adventure called living. It also gives greater reason to develop the skills of critical reflection, since it is necessary to reflect on decisions in the stream of life that were made implicitly and habitually. It is important to reflect upon the stream of life in order to change and/or alter practices.

STRUCTURING STRUCTURES WHICH STRUCTURE STRUCTURE - Refers to those aspects within one's environment that gives shape to practices, influences what practices one is part of, and comes to sustain practices. The concept is closely related to Bourdieu's concept of habitus, and it refers to the background to practices and knowledge which is often taken for granted or assumed. For instance, an actor must be aware that the ability to attain a career in acting is built on the premise that a culture values the concept of acting and drama, and the culture can allow/afford for members of its community to embody the role of actors. It can be the case that one feels entitled to a form of living without admitting that this form of life is reliant on certain capital, practices, methods of production and division of labour to be in place for the practice to be sustained.

SURVEYABLE REPRESENTATIONS - A surveyable representation involves an attempt to develop a way of looking at a set of phenomena that allows an individual and /or community to make sense of and - in many cases - to manipulate particular phenomena. Similarly, a system (of culture, of language, of life) may be substantially complex, which would require one to develop a method of analysis, a way of thinking, or a manner of living that would make the 'unsuveyable whole' increasingly 'surveyable'. Consider - for instance - the principles of a religion, or the rules of grammar, or a Marxist explanation of socio-political relationships. Each are ways of representing phenomena. It is important to remember that the representation is a way of perceiving the phenomena, rather than being the only possible description (or rendering) of the phenomena.

SYSTEMS - “Our knowledge forms an enormous system. And only within this system has a particular bit the value we give it.” (OC, 410) Wittgenstein appeals to systems of thought, systems of propositions, systems of belief and more. He implores his reader to imagine knowledge and beliefs as interlocking cogs in a machine or as threads of intricate tapestry. As such, no single cog or thread can reveal the significance of the whole system.

T - Z


TACIT KNOWLEDGE - as defined by Gerrans (2005) is "knowledge not consciously possessed by the agent or able to be articulated by her in propositional form but which nevertheless regulates her activities. Bourdieu’s account of the concept draws from a philosophical tradition whose 20th century inspiration is Martin Heidegger, which treats tacit knowledge as practical ability or skill, acquired through habituation ... [It is a] conception of knowledge [that] is, in effect, a dispositional one, which identifies knowledge with the socially acquired capacities, propensities or tendencies of an agent to act appropriately in given circumstances." (p. 54)

THEORETICAL HOLISM holds that all understanding is a matter of interpreting, in the sense of applying a familiar theory, a ‘home language’ to an unfamiliar one, the ‘target language’. ... On this approach, a theory of language is prior to practical language skills." (Stern, 2004, pg 163 - 164) This is akin to Chomsky's Universal Grammar as well as Second Language Learning, since it holds that new language experiences are mapped onto an existing language architecture or understanding [whether congenital or acquired], which also comes to shape (or bootstrap) current and future forms. In this image, new learning makes manifest generic forms that are a priori. 

In contrast, practical holism - otherwise known a 'usage-based approach' - holds that there is no need for a pre-existing architecture to shape language learning. Instead, practical language use in joint intentional activity with others gives shapes to the exact language forms (or language games) that an individual will develop in his or her lifetime. (see Practical Holism definition for more)

THERAPY - Wittgenstein thought that philosophy could be a form of therapy. He wrote, “there is not a philosophical method, though there are indeed methods, like different therapies. (PI, 133). He wanted philosophy to provide a medicine bag to treat diseases of thought. For instance, he would like his readers to seek alternative explanations so as not to become attached to a restrictive vision. He also encouraged his readers to explore new similes or metaphors to re-render a concept. He asked his readers to give up seeking essential definitions of concepts like truth or righteousness, and instead collect the various instances that would illustrate - though not limit - the concept. He felt that philosophy should strive to clarify one's thinking in order to dispel problems, and that a thinker should have a diverse toolkit of methods to be used to clarify and illuminate. A thinker should be able to say "I'm stuck. That said, if I render it in another way, I can see an explanation or an arrangement that bears greater fruit. I can move ahead now."

TRADITIONAL APPRENTICESHIP - In a traditional apprenticeship, the learning is often a physical, tangible activity, such as watching a parent sow, plant, and harvest crops and help as they are able; or assisting a tradesman as he crafts a cabinet; or piecing together garments under the supervision of a more experienced tailor. In contrast, a cognitive apprenticeship involves something far less tangible: bring people into different ways of thinking. 

TRUTH TABLES - Truth tables appear in the Tractatus (as shown below). A truth table is a ledger of each  element in a proposition or of a series of propositions. The aim is to take a reasoned approach as to the validity of each claim. One takes each proposition in a case and identifies whether (a) the statement is true or false, (b) the statement's negation is true or false, and (c) the statement is always true in all cases, thereby making it a tautology.  Earlier in the Tractatus, Wittgenstein indicates that a proposition (or a series of propositions) can make sense and generate rich and vivid pictures. Even though the proposition can be visualised, it can also be substantially false. It is at this stage that Wittgenstein emphasised that propositions raise possible states of affairs. A thinker must assess each element of the proposition or series of propositions in order to be satisfied of its validity.

UNSURVEYABLE WHOLES - It is Hans Sluga (2011) - not Wittgenstein - who uses this term, though it is consistent with Wittgenstein's philosophy. Sluga emphasises that phenomena - such as language, the environment, history - are by nature complicated, immense and unsurveyable. Humankind, nevertheless, develops systems of analysis, fields of knowledge, and ways of seeing that act as tools to make sense and to "survey" or organise what would otherwise be unsurveyable. William Gaddis provides an illustration of this in his novel JR. A history teacher stops a Year 7 lesson to inform his class that history is a lot more complex than the neat historical narratives seem to indicate. He stresses that generations of historians work to preserve order in history so that events do not eventuate as tangled and insignificant.

WAYS OF SEEING - Wittgenstein uses two metaphorical examples to illustrates how perceptions are subject to the way that an individual arranges experiences into meaningful patterns. The most famous metaphor applies to the rabbit-duck image. From one perspective, the drawing appears as a duck. From another perspective it is rabbit. Regardless of the interpretation, the actual image does not change. The only thing that changes is how one comes to see it. The second metaphor applies to the image of a cube. One arrangement presents the cube as jutting out of the page and at the reader. The other sees the cube recede into the depths of the page. To be able to see both images, one needs to shift one's gaze and reconceptualise that which is under investigation. However, one who is aspect blind may be unaware or resistant to any alternative manner of arranging and interpreting the facts of the case. One who continuously sees in a certain manner may be unaware of other possibilities. One must - then - ask, “how does one come into a certain way of seeing?”

WORLD - The Tractatus begins with the statement, "The world is all that is the case." One can argue that it states a positivist belief; that (a) the world exists, (b) it exists independent of our will, (c) it is under our investigations and (d) we use our language (and our mathematics) to explore its facts.

WORLD PICTURES - In the later philosophy of Wittgenstein, we see a transition from a focus on the world as an objective entity to the focus on world pictures as personal and cultural constructs. Our world picture (how we see and imagine events) includes our explorations, our attention, our sense of causation and our way of living, thinking and anticipating. Our world picture is not the world; rather it is a rendering of the world that makes sense to us. For instance, how would the religious world picture differ from that of the atheist?

YARDSTICKS (STANDARDS) - Experience and examples both teach us what the standards of excellence, decorum, or sustainability should be. They inform us what is too much and not enough. They allows us to become atuned to artistry. One comes to understand how to assess and compare through experience, reflection and some familiarity with what the ideal is. Standards (yardsticks) are specific to groups, and conflicts can arise when differing groups clash over values, expectations and conventions. As Wittgenstein writes, "the only way for us to guard our assertions against distortions - or avoid vacuity in our assertions, is to have a clear view in our reflections of what the ideal is, namely an object of comparison - a yardstick, as it were." (C&V)

ZETTEL - A German word meaning collection of bits of papers or collection of short remarks and/or axioms.