Taking the Time to Mention an Important Project

UPDATE: We are proud to announce that the Living First Language Platform has been selected as one of the Solvers in the 2019 MIT: Solve Global Challenge for Early Childhood Development. See the post below for more information on the project and on MIT Solve.

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There hasn’t been a lot of activity on The Literacy Bug in these past few months. To be honest, it has been very quiet in 2019. This has been largely due to another important project that has occupied the person behind this site, Eric Brace.

Eric’s main occupation is as the Director of Programs for The Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation. As one aspect of this role, he is part of a team of people who have developed the Living First Languages Platform, which is a digital platform that allows Indigenous Speaker Groups to collect languages assets (e.g. phonemes, words, semantic categories, sentences and texts) so they can create their own language and literacy applications for teaching and learning purposes. This is quite important in the cases of minority and endangered languages where there is often limited materials available to best support the preservation and teaching of literacy in traditional languages. The main premise behind the Living First Languages Platform is best captured in the following video:

Whilst a lot has happened since the making of the video, it remains an accurate depiction of the aims and objectives of the project.

So … why are we writing this today. Well, we think the Living First Languages Platform may be of interest to those in The Literacy Bug network. And we are proud to say the project is a finalist in the MIT: Solve Global Challenge for Early Childhood Development, which will see Eric travelling to New York in late September (during UN General Assembly week) to pitch to a live audience to raise the profile of the project and to seek further support.

You can find out more detailed information about the project by visiting the detailed description at the following link: https://solve.mit.edu/challenges/early-childhood-development/solutions/9228

There are many other very worthy projects in this year’s MIT: Solve Global Challenge, so feel free to explore more about MIT: Solve and about the other finalists here:

We appreciate your time, and hope you don’t mind this less-than-usual update from The Literacy Bug, but we decided that it is something that many be of interest to sizeable portion of our audience. If this is of interest, then - as usual - please explore and enjoy!

Finding One’s Way About

Wittgenstein stated that every philosophical problem is founded on the phrase, “I don’t know my way about.” Consequently, philosophical activity is engaged in the unravelling of perceptual and epistemological conundrums, but I don’t want to occupy myself with such conundrums today.

Instead, I’d like to apply that same phrase - “I don’t know my way about” - to learning.

 All learning should begin with the humility and awareness to acknowledge an initial ineptitude (e.g. an inability to do something or see something or know something) along with the willingness for one to find his or her way about in some shape or form.

In other words, an individual may start out “blind” to certain “aspects” or “(meaningful) patterns” in a certain phenomenon but the individual comes to “notice these aspects or patterns” through carefully arranged activities and repeated practice … often guided by others who are more skilled, perceptive, and experienced in the phenomenon.

 In this case, “aspects” refers to “salient features” in some phenomenon, such as the features of language, or of an alphabet or even the rules of engagement in particular social situations. In the case of each phenomenon, an individual must learn to recognise and decipher these patterns. At the beginning, the learner may stumble along, but - through guided practice and experience - the learner navigates the phenomenon with increasing fluency and thoughtfulness.

“Understanding comes in degrees.”

Perhaps the following quote from Philosophical Grammar can go further to illustrate how our learning can lead us to read the world in ways which come to be increasingly more meaningful through practice.

"Does it make sense to point to a clump of trees and ask ‘do you understand what this clump of trees says?’ In normal circumstances, no; but couldn’t one express a sense by an arrangement of trees? Couldn’t it be a code?”

Couldn’t such a clump of trees reveal something about the local ecology to one who is trained to discern patterns in a particular way? The answer is clearly “yes”. There is nothing outlandish in Wittgenstein’s proposition.

Whilst the above example does shed some light on aspect seeing, it also allows me to make another point about learning. Let’s imagine that two individuals pass by the same forest on a regular basis. Even though both individuals may experience the forest regularly, it may be the case that only one of the two individuals has been initiated into the ways of seeing such that he or she notices something particularly meaningful in “a particular clump of trees.” In other words, one person has been initiated into a certain form of aspect seeing, whilst the other individual hasn’t, even though they may both have some experience with the same phenomenon.

 This has particular applications to literacy. As an obvious one, you may have two learners who both have experienced print but one of the two learners may have benefitted from better instruction in exploring the intricacies of the alphabetic principle than the other. Similarly, we may have two learners who have both experienced ample amounts of shared book reading, but only one of two learners has engaged in the types of sustained conversations around characters, setting, sequencing, and artistry that will benefit him or her later on (e.g. in school-based conversations).

 Ultimately, the learner is a novice and the teacher is the expert who attempts to draw the learner’s attention to significant elements in order to manipulate them and interact with a phenomenon with dexterity. We - as teachers - are initiating learners into ways of “finding one’s way about.” As a result, the teacher’s role is to make “unsurveyable wholes” surveyable, if I use the words of Hans Sluga (see definitions at the end of this blog entry).

I must acknowledge that there are intrapersonal, interpersonal and context factors that have a bearing how and what an individual learns. In other words, individuals will differ in their cognitive abilities, in the learning relationships that have they have formed and in the environments in which they live. All of this will impact what/how one processes.

 With that in mind, I’d like to end (or near the end) with another example raised by Wittgenstein. He asks us to imagine an alien learning the game of chess. In this example, he want us to ask ourselves, “can this alien intuit the rules and purpose of chess merely by observing the game being played? No explanations. No demonstration.” The answer would be “no”. If possibly “yes”, it would a painful, lengthy and error-ridden process of trial and error which could be alleviated by at least some stages of instruction and explanation, though, even this would be impacted by the lack of a common language between the alien and the chess players. Beyond the rules, the alien would also need to be brought into the whole purpose/context of the playing of chess and the playing of games in general, for that matter. Consequently, the whole process of initiating one into ways of seeing and doing is a lengthy process which grows over time through both skill acquisition and conception development.

That’s it for today, and I know that this is the first update to The Literacy Bug in quite some time, and it’s good to be back. I’ll leave you with a number of terms and definitions below that explore elements of “aspect seeing” and “finding one’s way about”. Thanks for your time. I’d be interested to know your thought. How would you apply the ideas above? What relevance (if any) do they have for you? In the meantime, please explore and enjoy!


RELEVANT TERMS & DEFINITIONS


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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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?”

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?"

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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"

The Power to Depict: A Further Discussion

There is a running theme to which I keep returning when I consider the power of literacy: its power to depict.

It is this ability to “paint” or “represent” with written language that can exemplify our desire to record an event or a scene, whether real or imagined. It is also a good illustration of the simple view of literacy, as well as its possible limitations.

Let’s imagine the following common scenario: a learner is presented with a series of pictures that can quite easily form the basis of a narrative. In this scenario, we challenge the learner to carefully draft a descriptive text (which may easily become a narrative text). This becomes a scenario in which the learner can demonstrate his or her skills. The learner may be provided with the opportunity to orally rehearse what could be said about each image. That said, the learner will eventually be required to coordinate language and writing skills to carefully lay down one written sentence after another after another (either independently or with support through joint construction).

When you write you lay out a line of words. The line of words is a miner’s pick, a wordcarver’s gouge, a surgeon’s probe. You wield it and it digs a path you follow.
— (Fish, 2011, p. 3)

All that is necessary for the production of the text is made available to the learner. Both the stimulus and the language required to describe the stimulus are concrete and accessible. At its most basic, the learner is required to merely describe - through the vehicles of vocabulary and sentence structure - what is seen and - possibly - imagined in each image. This is all captured in the functional elements of grammatical sentences, which allow me to express things like:

  • the who’s and what’s;

  • actions;

  • location;

  • time;

  • position;

  • sights and sounds

  • causes and effects;

  • and so on.

There are subjects or objects or actions or descriptives ..., and as such they combine into a statement about the world, that is, into a meaning that one can contemplate, admire, reject or refine.
— (Fish, 2011, p. 2)

Sure … a more competent learner will embellish the text with deeper imagination as well as narrative flourishes, cohesion and dialogue that bring the text alive, but these features aren’t necessary for the core task of demonstrating the simple view of literacy, which suggests that a learner is developing control over (a) oral language skills along with (b) the code-based skills necessary to represent and recognise language in print. Throughout it all, the learner is also developing (c) the attention, patience, motor mechanics, working memory, time management, impulse control and work ethic to coordinate these two skills in the execution of a text.

If basic skills aren’t enough to produce a “good” description or narrative, what would be required for a quality narrative to arise? A quality narrative would arise from an individual who has had ample opportunities to experience, understand, practice and share in the art of narrative.

Entering into such a practice involves the individual’s “willingness to engage with such activities in a particular way, thus changing ‘mere’ activities into practices where standards of excellence do matter.
— (Smeyers and Burbles, 2010, p. 196)

This additional experience underscores a potential limitation in the simple view of literacy that has been recently outlined by Dr David Francis and colleagues in “Extending the Simple View of Reading to Account for Variation Within Readers and Across Texts: The Complete View of Reading (CVRi)”. That is, the simple view of literacy focuses on individual-centric (or intra-individual) aspects of literacy, such as (a) the extent of an individual’s language skills and (b) the extent of an individual’s decoding skills. Even though these skills are learned in a social context, they are measured by reference to individual-centric criteria, such as phonemic awareness skills, vocabulary size, or mean length of sentence. However, a more complete view of literacy would take into account the interactions between individuals, texts, authors, audiences and subject matter. The more complete view of literacy would take into consideration (a) the extent to which an individual has been brought into different forms of communicating, knowing and thinking and (b) the extent to which an individual has been brought into particular ways of reading, perspective taking and processing information (Snow, 2018).

In short, one can complete the descriptive task that I asked you to imagine to an extent that would demonstrate competency in the elements of the simple view of literacy; however, the resultant text may not be “good” at all. It may be satisfactory but not necessarily good. According to the simple view of literacy, it is enough for an individual to demonstrate satisfactory control of grammar, vocabulary and spelling. Through the lens of a more complete view of literacy, this satisfactory skill is necessary but not sufficient to meet the standards of literacy acquisition. The more complete view of literacy would ask us to question whether the learner is developing the comprehension and communication skills necessary to be deemed literate according to contemporary standards.

Please note that the above is not to be taken as a criticism of the simple view of literacy. Instead, it is meant to show how the simple view of literacy and a more complete one can complement each other. If we started the conversation with the complete view of literacy, we would run the risk of obscuring those necessary early skills that must be developed if any higher order literacy practices are to take shape. In fact, the difference between the simple and more complete views of literacy could be described as the difference between one’s command of surface features as opposed to further control of deeper, more multi-faceted processes that underpin composition and comprehension.

If I am permitted the opportunity to reference Wittgenstein once again, we could draw a division between expressing “sense” and “meaning” (Wittgenstein, 2001). For me to express “sense”, I paint a picture in words, but there is no guarantee that this picture will be meaningful to anyone. It may simply be a picture, as in “See Spot run”. Whilst a “sense” is captured in a picture depicted in a sentence, either the author or the audience must process that picture in some way in order to attach meaning to it. The following sentences express a “sense”, but also the deep potential for many meanings (reactions and association) to arise. What meaning(s) does this picture express to you?

Old Man and Old Woman sat in the forest. Pinprop sat at their feet. They were in a clearing. They listened to footsteps running in their direction, and to a siren wailing in the distance. After a while, the footsteps receded.
— (Okri, 2009, p. 5)

References

Fish, S. (2011). How to write a sentence: and how to read one. New York: HaperCollins Publishers.

Francis, D., Kulesz, P. A., & Benoit, J. S. (2018). Extending the Simple View of Reading to Account for Variation Within Readers and Across Texts: The Complete View of Reading (CVRi). In Remedial and Special Education, Vol. 39(5) 274–288.

Okri, B. (2009). Tales of freedom. London: Rider.

Smeyers, P., & Burbles, N. (2010). Education as initiation into practices. In M. Peters, N. Burbles, & P. Smeyers (Eds.), Showing and doing: Wittgenstein as a pedagogical philosopher (pp. 183 – 198). London: Paradigm Publishers.

Snow, C. (2018). Simple and Not-So-Simple Views of Reading. In Remedial and Special Education, Vol. 39(5) 313–316.

Wittgenstein, L. (2001). Tractatus logico-philosophicus. London: Routledge.

Applying Our Understanding to Real-World Case Studies

It is with the greatest of pleasures that we share our latest presentation - Applying Our Understanding to Real-World Case Studies.

This presentation is the culmination of recent work, and it is an important next step in putting one’s growing knowledge of literacy development to use. We may know certain things intellectually - such as the stages of literacy development or the components of literacy - but the true test lies in putting this knowledge into practice.

For the purposes of this presentation, viewers will be asked to reflect upon the needs and circumstances of individual learners, and to use this information as the basis of instructional planning.

We all know that literacy instruction cannot be a one-size-fits-all solution. For best practice, we need to know where a learner is placed along the literacy journey, so we can provide those experiences that will help the learner continue along in his or her journey.

We must see the enormous potential for profound growth in each learner, and we must commit ourselves to providing learners with the right type and amount of sustained practice to make literacy acquisition a reality.

Ultimately, what is it that we want? We want learners to be able explore, learn and express - fluently and intelligently. We want learners to be able to take control of the script, so they are able use literacy actively and critically for a range of purposes.

Without further ado, we invite you to explore the presentation above. Within the presentation, you will meet Maria, Jonathan, Dakota and David. In the future, we plan to introduce you to a whole cast of others with a focus on providing further opportunities for you to critically reflect and respond to the needs and circumstances of a diverse range of learners.

Please explore the video and download the related slides, which can be found above and on YouTube at https://youtu.be/u7eP9nBFG-U. The presentation slides can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/2-Apply-Case-Studies. We highly recommend that you download the slides, since they contain the case studies as well as suggested activities.

I wish I could be delivering this presentation in a face-to-face seminar to The Literacy Bug audience. I’d be very curious to know the personal perspectives that you’d bring to the content and the case studies. In the abscence of this opportunity, I encourage you to email your ideas to us at ebrace@theliteracybug.com, or leave a comment below or on YouTube. Please explore and enjoy!


To recap, the following are links to the other presentations in the series:

An Overview of Literacy Development
YouTube Video: https://youtu.be/yMGU7UIJ4RU
Slideshttp://bit.ly/2-Overview-Literacy-v2

Planning and Monitoring for Effective Instruction
YouTube Video: https://youtu.be/cZrtB8dTZEg
Slideshttp://bit.ly/2-Planning-Monitoring-2

Teaching According to the Stages of Development
YouTube Video: https://youtu.be/D7vUhqVXLWg
Slideshttp://bit.ly/2-Teaching-Routines-Stages-2

Additional Resources for the Planning and Monitoring for Effective Instruction
YouTube Video: https://youtu.be/R71j5_kegzk
Slideshttp://bit.ly/2-Planning-Monitoring-Resources-2

Mastering the Alphabetic Principle
YouTube Video: https://youtu.be/dA4nt3rxTYM
Slideshttp://bit.ly/Mastering-the-Code

Analysing Spoken Words
YouTube Video: https://youtu.be/8DVPbK0HSyY
Blog Entryhttps://www.theliteracybug.com/journal/2018/9/3/analysing-spoken-words-a-new-activity

Words Sorts
YouTube Video: https://youtu.be/HCvYgHk6ODc
Blog Entryhttps://www.theliteracybug.com/journal/2018/9/3/word-sorts

Sentence: Types, Features and Structures
Slideshttp://bit.ly/2-The-Sentence

Updated Versions of Presentation Slides

Here at The Literacy Bug, we have been tidying up some of our presentation slides. We thought it would be an opportune time share them with you.

First of all, you may or may not know that we have a few video presentations on our YouTube Channel. These presentations can also be found here.

When reviewing these presentations, it was inevitable that we’d find ways to refine and improve them. In this case, we’ve attempted to trim down excess materials for a clearer expression of the main ideas (or, at least, that is what we hope is the case).

Below are links to pdfs of the updated slides. Please note: we have only updated the slides. We haven’t re-recorded the video presentations. At some time in the future, we may get around to re-recording some of the lectures so that they are more succinct and to the point.

In the meantime, we encourage you to download and explore the updated materials below.

Updated Slides from the Main Presentations:

Updated Slides for Guidance on Supporting Decoding and Encoding:

Updated Slides on Sentence Structure:

We hope you find the updated materials useful. Please enjoy and explore!

Being brought into the many uses of language

When language-games change, then there is a change of concepts, and with the concepts the meanings of words change. (On Certainty, #65)

In the previous blog post, I mentioned that Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus was his flawed masterpiece. And I went on to write that “it is flawed only in the sense that our human language consists of a greater variety of propositions than merely descriptive sentences. We tell jokes. We ask questions. We talk about abstract things. We create rules and so on.”

I’d like to spend this post focusing on Wittgenstein’s attempt to rectify these flaws in his later work, particularly in the Philosophical Investigations. Even more specifically, I’d like to write about his language games concept, since it sheds light on the diversity of language practices learners are asked to adopt over time. 

Even before I do that, I’d like to justify my reason for pursuing this rabbit hole. Whilst Wittgenstein is not contemporary literacy research, The Literacy Bug was set up to explore ideas as much as it was set up to share evidence-based practices. Here, I’d like to continue exploring how we use oral and print language to help us render and - even - organise our experience of and interactions with the world. 

So here we go … let’s revisit the last blog post again. In it, I wrote, 

“If we take a moment to consider descriptive sentences, there is an elegant and meditative quality to the acts of writing and reading. In the acts of writing and reading, we are builders. We are builders of experiences. We are speculators on cause and effect.”

Let’s call this a language game. It is one language game amongst many in our daily lives. Let us define a language game as a particular use of language implicitly governed by certain rules and accepted (by a language community) as serving a certain function or purpose. Certain learners - such as certain children - are raised in an environment in which there is a particular value placed on particular uses of language, such as - say - describing (painting in words) a scene - real or imagined - in exacting detail for consideration. And there will be other contexts - such as in school - that this use of language will be rewarded, reinforced and extended. In this community, there is certain training and praise for this skill, but there are also repercussions if a learner becomes careless or inattentive in this language game, or form of discourse. As suggested by Garver, 

"It is ... possible to instruct people in the use of the language. Such instruction involves correction and drill that aims at some (unspecified) level of competence. It is no doubt pursued more doggedly and more dogmatically in some cultures than others." (Garver, 1996, pg 165)

A learner must become both skilled in this language game - of descriptions, in this case - but also motivated to do so in the appropriate circumstances, as suggested by Stanley Cavell, “the pupil must want to go on alone in taking language to the world." (Cavell, 2005, pg 115) And so, the learner is initiated into a particular use of language that the learner will turn to when the time is right. Upon initiation, a certain practice has been established. As stated in our essay Establishing Practices, the features of a practice are as follows:

  • “At the very least, a practice is something people do, not just once, but on a regular basis. But it is more than just a disposition to behave in a certain way; the identity of a practice depends on not only on what people do, but also on the significance of those actions and the surroundings in which they occur." (Stern, 2004, p. 166)
  • In a practice, what becomes necessary is the individual's "willingness to engage with such activities in a particular way, thus changing ‘mere’ activities into practices where standards of excellence do matter.” (Smeyers and Burbles, 2010 pg 196)
  • “Our deliberations seem to be entirely personal and self determined - yet they obviously derive from previous conversations with others, in which their voices and perspectives are represented in one’s own internal deliberations. Often this dynamic is what we call ‘conscience.’” — (Burbles and Smears, 2010, pg 180)
  • Therefore, “every instance of the use [or participation in a practice] … is the culmination of a process of socialisation.” (Phillips, 1979, pg 126).

That all might seem quite long-winded for a relatively simple point: children learn to describe (as one use of language) and children come to develop other uses of languages as well. As teachers, we want our learners to become skilled in many uses of  language (describing, recounting, explaining, comparing, narrating, critiquing, etc). This is true, but I think Wittgenstein refers to something more important here. He is interested in how we turn to particular uses of language to solve problems in daily lives. This requires both skill and the ability to recognise the circumstances in which to deploy a particular language game and why. James Paul Gee explains these two levels as two levels of discourse

“I will use ‘discourse’ [with a lower case "d"] for connected stretches of language that makes sense, like conversations, stories, reports, arguments, essays and so forth. So, ‘discourse’ [the spoken or written text] is part of the ‘Discourse’ – ‘Discourse’ [with a capital “D”] is always more than just language.[The] Discourses are ways of being in the world, or forms of life which integrate words [integrate little “d” discourse], acts, values, beliefs, attitudes and social identities as well as gestures, glances, body positions and relationships.” (Gee, 1996, p 127)

For instance, we’d want to encourage learners to “stop, consider, describe” when faced with a problem that requires one to outline and examine all the various factors and variables in a scenario, and we’d need to consider how language is used to navigate such a way of thinking AND a way of working with others. Teaching includes providing the scaffolding which supports the turns/sequences in the game. And like any game, we want learners to play this game many times so they are able to discover the nuances in the game and to generalise the rules from the game.

Figure 1:   Source:  Florida Centre for Reading Research

Figure 1: Source: Florida Centre for Reading Research

Figure 1 is an example of a paper-based scaffold that makes explicit the cognitive architecture - or schema - of a particular way of analysing a text. This way of analysis would be an example of a language game. The scaffolding (or guidance) that a teacher provides can also consist of particular activities, axioms, mnemonics, reminders, hints, routines and encouragement, which are essential to ensuring successful completion of the task. Ultimately, all of this modelling and guidance teaches the learners to go on in a particular manner, which involves a whole raft of moves, turns, checkpoints and further points for deliberation.

Then, am I defining “order” and “rule” by means of “regularity”? ... I shall teach him … by means of examples and by practice. -- And when I do this I do not communicate less to him than I know myself. In the course of this teaching I shall shew him … get him to continue a … pattern when told to do so. -- And also to continue progressions. And so … I do it, he does it after me; and I influence him by expressions of agreement, rejection, expectation, encouragement. I let him go his way, or hold him back; and so on. (Philosophical Investigations, #280)

So, being initiated into such a practice - therefore - involves the internalising of - what we might call - deliberative talk. For instance, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein models this aspect by presenting the inner monologue of a character who is building something:

Every now and then there is the problem “Should I use this bit?” — The bit is rejected, another is tried. Bits are tentatively put together, then dismantled; he looks for one that fits etc, etc.. So I sometimes make him say “No, that bit is too long, perhaps another’s fit better.” — Or “What am I to do now?” — “Got it!” — Or “That’s not bad” etc. … (Wittgenstein, Zettel #100)

 

Diversity of language games

Consider all the language games which serve to mediate daily lives ... from “morning news” to planning meetings to personal reflection to prayer to meditative poetry to following instructions and much, much more. Learning these games involves the ability to focus attention, participate in the game, and demonstrate an appreciation of how such engagement is purposeful in some way.

Throughout students’ academic, social and moral careers, they must navigate and negotiate through many different and even conflicting discourses (or ways of using language) in order to participate and advance in multiple contexts, school only being but one of them. Navigating through discourses involves anything from understanding the forms and functions of significant linguistic practices, to being sensitive to the conventions of speaking in particular contexts, to critically assessing the assumptions and outcomes of language practices in society.  

Guiding students through these subtle areas of language development is complex, and involves more than the teaching of specific language features (phonology, grammars, vocabularies, and structures). It involves initiating students into a growing repertoire of ways of using language to perform different roles with language, whether in constructing knowledge, imaginative recreation, construing activity, or actively impacting the world and the people around them.  The very nature of this process of initiation becomes the concern of how literacies (ways of reading, interacting and being through language and communication) are transmitted, formed and engaged in within pedagogical relations amongst people, whether it be between mother-child, teacher-student, co-worker-co-worker, elder-youth, author-reader, institutions-individuals, etc (Bernstein, 2000).

 

One more thing …

There is something that Wittgenstein raises that often isn’t included in the educational literature: he asks us to explore what happens when a complex *language game* is adopted which is - in fact - destructive. Let’s consider either racist discourse or defeatist discourse, which are both language games that can become habitual and exert a powerful shaping force on how one navigates the world. Racist discourse doesn’t necessarily require further explanation, but defeatist discourse may. In defeatist discourse, a person may learn to self-sabotage any hopes of success by entrenched habits of doubt. Wittgenstein would tell us that philosophy seeks to free ourselves from the “bewitchment” of language by revealing the bewitching patterns of language use and proposing alternatives (e.g. showing the fly the way out of the bottle). However it is not so easy, since it requires the learner to take the brave step of trying to alter the “ruts” of language.  

If we switch to an educational example, a learner may not be asking the right questions or sequence of questions that an expert would when trying to get the most out of a topic. Consequently, the learner may be failing to make any forward momentum in an area of learning. At some point, though, the learner encounters a teacher who guides him or her in asking “the right questions” which come to “reshape the nature of the investigation” and the potential for learning. This new language game or revision of an old language game opens up the possibility for discovery.


Bringing things closer to a close

How - then - does all this relate to literacy, you may ask? Well, it relates to the central issues of comprehension and composition. Even if one has learned the “basics”, such as decoding and grammatical competence, there are many higher order linguistic issues to attend to if one is going to read and write for the diverse purposes in life.

As James Paul Gee more simply reminds us, “We have to worry about what texts students have read and how they have read them, not just about how much they have read and how many books they do or do not own (though, of course, these are important matters).” (Gee, 2003, pg 30-31) 

Because, 

“After all, we never just read "in general", rather, we always read or write something in some way. We don't read or write newspapers, legal tracts, essays in literary criticism, poetry, or rap songs, and so on and so forth through a nearly endless list, in the same way. Each of these domains has its own rules and requirements.” (Gee, 2003, pg 28)

As Wittgenstein would also,

PI 156: The use of this word [to read] in the ordinary circumstances of our life is of course extremely familiar to us. But the part the word plays in our life, and therewith the language-game in which we employ it, would be difficult to describe even in rough outline. A person, let us say an Englishman, has received at school or at home one of the kinds of education usual among us, and in the course of it has learned to read [basically] his native language. Later he reads books, letters, newspapers and other things. 

 

In closing

On that note, I’d like to end. This essay has been written in the spirit of the original definition of the French "essai" - coined by Michel de Montaigne - which means to try/attempt/trial ... to seek new ways to explore and/or articulate relevant issues. I hope this digression is of some benefit/use. On behalf of *The Literacy Bug* and until next time, please enjoy and explore!


References

Bernstein, B. (2000). Pedagogy, symbolic control and identity: theory, research, critique. Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.

Burbles, N., & Smears, P. (2010). The practice of ethics and moral education. In M. Peters, N. Burbles, & P. Smears (Eds.), Showing and doing: Wittgenstein as a pedagogical philosopher (pp. 169 – 182). London: Paradigm Publishers.

Cavell, S. (2005). Philosophy the day after tomorrow. In Philosophy the day after tomorrow (pp. 111 – 131). Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Garver, N. (1996). Philosophy as grammar. In H. Sluga, H. and D. Stern (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to Wittgenstein. (pp. 139 - 170) Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Gee, J (1999). An introduction to discourse analysis: theory and method. London: Routledge.

Gee, J. P. (2003). Opportunity to learn: a language-based perspective on assessment. In Assessment in Education: Principles, Policy and Practice, Vol 10, No. 1, pp 27 - 46.

Phillips, D. (1977) Wittgenstein and scientific knowledge.  London: MacMillan Press.

Smeyers, P., & Burbles, N. (2010). Education as initiation into practices. In M. Peters, N. Burbles, & P. Smeyers (Eds.), Showing and doing: Wittgenstein as a pedagogical philosopher (pp. 183 – 198). London: Paradigm Publishers.

Stern, D. (2004). Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations: an introduction. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Wittgenstein, L. (2001a). Tractates Logico-Philosophicus. Translated by D.F. Pears and B.F. McGuinness. London: Routledge.

Wittgenstein, L. (2001b). Philosophical Investigations. 3rd Edition. Translated by G.E.M. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. 

Wittgenstein, L. (1967). Zettel. (G. E. M. Anscombe & G. H. von Wright, Eds.). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Wittgenstein, L. (1969). On Certainty. Edited by G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright. Translated by D. Paul and G.E.M. Anscombe. New York: Harper Torchbooks.

The Power to Depict

Once again I feel the desire to return to the inspiration for The Literacy Bug: the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein

By this stage, it lies in the distant past that this website was once known as Wittgenstein on Learning, but despite the passage of time Wittgenstein’s influence remains ever present.

The man was preoccupied by how we are able to express anything whatsoever through language. And in his flawed masterpiece Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, Wittgenstein presents us with a conceptualisation of language which encourages us to be amazed by our ability to transfer pictures of the world through our utterances. From this perspective, a function of language is to express propositions of the world to one another. That is, language is powerful because we can use it to propose states of affairs to one another through a system of sounds (to which we attach shared meaning). By propositions, we can take it to mean “sentences on the world”. 

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Through the lens of the Tractatus, each proposition (or sentence) paints a picture of a state of affairs, and that state of affairs is open to consideration and contemplation (as long as the speaker and the listener share some form of language). In other words, language permits people to generate, communicate and examine possible states of affairs, whether real or fictitious ... declarative or speculative ... true or false. I can convey and receive pictures through language, and there is no necessity that I am able to experience these pictures directly for me to understand them and draw meaning from them. 

The Tractatus is flawed only in the sense that our human language consists of a greater variety of propositions than merely descriptive sentences. We tell jokes. We ask questions. We talk about abstract things. We create rules and so on. Even these paragraphs - the ones you are currently reading - are valuable in that they present a picture of abstractions - languages, propositions, sentences - that may influence your future perception of “how certain things work”. In Wittgenstein’s own words from a later work,

"This picture has a double function: it informs others, as pictures or words inform -- but for one who gives the information it is a representation (or piece of information?) of another kind." (Philosophical Investigations, 280)

If we take a moment to consider descriptive sentences, there is an elegant and meditative quality to the acts of writing and reading. In the acts of writing and reading, we are builders. We are builders of experiences. We are speculators on cause and effect. We are builders of how our concepts are meant to fit together. In writing, we may chisel out an unfolding picture as we lay sentence after sentence onto the page with the aim of describing how something occurred or how something works. We must have the patience, motivation and care to find this recording process beneficial and - in fact - important to how we live our lives. That is, we must find some value in recording an observation for ourselves and others to return to. In reading, we must find some benefit in encountering and constructing a mental image of a state of affairs as we come to navigate texts. Some texts may be more accessible, whilst other texts may be “harder to crack” because they are more difficult for a particular reader to generate pictures from them.

Implied in all of this is a substratum to language: our ability to experience, perceive, notice, visualise, critique and represent aspects of the world or possible words. And whilst we have all read mechanically (focusing merely on decoding) at least once in our lives, we have also had to reread a section of text to get a proper image of what we failed to grasp in the first place. And if I am to demonstrate my comprehension, I’d be compelled to represent my understanding in some way (either in words, images or schematics). And we share these representations with others to determine whether our understanding of a text is shared by others. Have we extracted the right image?

So … amidst The Literacy Bug’s recent focus on the alphabetic principle, I feel it is important to splash a bit of paint on the purpose of our reading and writing, since the acquisition of literacy is a means to an end - not an end in itself. We want learners to become dexterous with the written word so they can discover, debate, and develop knowledge of the world, of themselves within it, and of people around them. And the learners should be deeply motivated to do so, and it is our role as teachers - in whatever capacity we serve - to foster this compulsion to examine, express and explore. This sentiment is elegantly captured by Mr. Stanley Cavell,

"The pupil must want to go on alone in taking language to the world, and that what is said must be worth saying [and writing], have a point (warning, informing, amusing, promising, questioning, chastising, counting, insisting, beseeching, and so on) … If it is part of teaching to undertake to validate these measures of interest, then it would be quite as if teaching must, as it were, undertake to show a reason for speaking [writing and reading] at all." (Cavell, 2005, pg 115)

So … please imagine, explore and enjoy! The path to discovery involves many patient moments of illumination.


References

Cavell, S. (2005). Philosophy the day after tomorrow. In Philosophy the day after tomorrow (pp. 111 – 131). Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press.

Wittgenstein, L. (2001a). Philosophical Investigations (3rd ed.). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Wittgenstein, L. (2001b). Tractatus logico-philosophicus. London: Routledge.

Eight New Resources Available on The Literacy Bug

In this entry, we are proud to present a range of resources that have been in development for quite some time.

These include:

Please note that the “Elements” Checklist includes information on each of the above (phonemes, graphemes, morphemes, etc), as well as additional notes on reading multisyllabic words and vocabulary development.

All together, the resources are designed to provide reference materials that help one better understand the elements that contribute to word and sentence construction in English. They do NOT describe the activities that a learner can engage in to master these elements, though. As a result, these resources are not particularly helpful on their own, but they can be helpful when planning and reflecting upon the linguistic features that leaners need to master over time.

So ... please explore and enjoy! And remember, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Even if a learner is making progress with mastering the structural aspects of literacy - such as learning to decode words, spell words and write grammatical sentences - there is still a lot of work involved in making meaning from and with the printed word.

Words Sorts

It is with great pleasure that we share another Activity Presentation. This time we explore Word Sorts.

Word Sorts is a simple way to encourage learners to develop an understanding of the predictable patterns when reading and spelling English words. In short, each word sort activity requires learners to examine a set of words, and to sort (or categorise) these words into common patterns whilst identifying exceptions to the rule. This brief activity is designed to be done daily (or regularly) as learners "study" different sets of pronunciation and spelling patterns. In doing so, learners explore how to blend and segment various consonant and vowel sounds in simple to more complex words.

By guiding learners from simple to complex structures, teachers can help learners make logical sense of word reading and writing in English. The Word Sorts (or Word Studies) can easily be organised in such a way that the resulting program is consistent with an evidence-based phonics sequence. Over time, students come to master the patterns of English phonology,  orthography, and morphology, so they are equipped with the skills to rapidly and accurately read both known and unfamiliar words.

Rather than prolong the introduction, it is best to allow the video to speak for itself. The following video presentation provides a demonstration of this activity along with some essential points and resources. Grab your popcorn, because it is a bit of a long one. (NB: The video can also be found on YouTube at https://youtu.be/HCvYgHk6ODc.)

Ultimately, we want children to decode with confidence and notice the patterns within printed words. As Mark Seidenberg observes, “for a beginning reader, every word is a unique pattern. Major statistical patterns emerge as the child encounters a larger sample of words, and later, finer-grained dependencies.” (Seidenberg, 2017, 92)  “Readers become orthographic experts by absorbing lots of data  … The path to orthographic expertise begins with practice practice practice but leads to more more more.” (Seidenberg, 2017, 108).

After you watch the video, we encourage you to download resources that are mentioned in the presentation:

You can also access the Word Sort - Activity Cards, which have been organised into key developmental stages.

We encourage you to check out the book Words Their Way by Donald Bear and colleagues. It's a highly regarded educational resource with a thorough discussion of activities, developmental expectation and assessment tools.

  • Bear, S., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (2014). Words their way: word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction (5th edition). Essex: Pearson.

Also, please visit our Mastering the Code presentation, including the presentation slides. This presentation and its associated slides provide background research that will help you better understand the purpose of the activity.

We hope the activity is a valuable addition to your practice. We welcome your feedback and ideas, so please stay in touch.

Thank you for your time. Please explore and enjoy!

 

References

Bear, S., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (2014). Words their way: word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction (5th edition). Essex: Pearson.

Seidenberg, M. (2017). Language at the speed of sight: how we read, why so many can’t, and what can be done about it. New York: Basic Books.

Analysing Spoken Words - A New Activity

It is with great pleasure that we add a new type of resource to The Literacy Bug: Activities.

And the first cab off the rank is Analysing Spoken Words. The following video presentation provides a demonstration of this first activity along with some essential points. (NB: The video can also be found on YouTub e at https://youtu.be/8DVPbK0HSyY.)

Ultimately, we want children to notice the patterns within their oral language (e.g. in their words), so they are equipped with the fundamental skills upon which they can build more formal literacy (e.g. sound-letter correspondences).

As Mark Seidenberg attests, “spoken words [need] to be treated as consisting of component parts, [which is a skill that] we now consider [as] an ordinary, teachable aspect of learning to read: phonological awareness. (Seidenberg, 2017, p. 63)

After you watch the video, we encourage you to download the following resources, which are mentioned in the presentation:

If you would like further background, please visit our Mastering the Code presentation, including the presentation slides. This presentation and its associated slides provide background research that will help you better understand the purpose of the activity.

To wrap up our thoughts, over time children need to develop the ability to:

  • Learn rich language;
  • Hear/isolate words within sentences (or the speech stream);
  • Focus attention on words;
  • Detect/isolate syllables within words;
  • Detect/isolate sounds within syllables/words;
  • Begin to recognise the possible sounds within their language(s);
  • Correlate their developing understanding of sounds with their emerging knowledge of sound-letter combinations;
  • Focus on the meaning of words; and
  • Focus on the use of words in rich, meaningful sentences.

We hope the activity is a valuable addition to your practice. We welcome your feedback and ideas, so please stay in touch.

… And please note ... the activity can be done partially or in full, depending on the age and ability of the learners. … And it can be incorporated into many aspects of daily practices, whether this is around book reading, in the sand pit or with general word play. These and other bits of advice are discussed in the above video and associated resources.

Thank you for your time. Please explore and enjoy!

 

Reference

Seidenberg, M. (2017). Language at the speed of sight: how we read, why so many can’t, and what can be done about it. New York: Basic Books.

Mastering the Alphabetic Code

Today, we share "Mastering the Alphabetic Code" which is available below as well as on YouTube at https://youtu.be/dA4nt3rxTYM

This video is a presentation that outlines the key elements involved in learning to “master the alphabetic code”, such as phonemic awareness, phonemic knowledge, letter-sound correspondence, orthographic patterns, morphological patterns and automatic word recognition and construction skills.

It emphasises the need for teachers to develop scaffolded activities that provide learners with the skills to succeed.

The presentation slides can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/Mastering-the-Code. We highly recommend that you download the slides, since they contain many resources mentioned in the video. Please be patient during download. It's a large file, at least in PDF terms (20MB).

Please explore and enjoy! And send us a message if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

Keeping the eye on the prize

Photo by BrianAJackson/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by BrianAJackson/iStock / Getty Images

There is a niggling concern that I always have when I become too preoccupied with "the basics" of literacy, including components like phonemic awareness and phonics. Sure, these skills are essential, and it’s relatively simple to measure progress in such areas, but I can't help but think, "this isn't the hardest part about literacy, though. We still need to integrate this knowledge into more complex and more ambiguous acts of communication."

I have witnessed many learners who develop such basics, but who still go on to struggle with reading and writing. At the risk of sounding unfair, they often struggle with the patience, stamina, concentration, guidance or even time to become a strong(er) reader/writer - all of which comes through opportunities to manipulate the script.

It reminds me of this little picture that Wittgenstein once painted of someone who had learned to deliberate over a task, “every now and then there is the problem 'Should I use this bit?' — The bit is rejected, another is tried. Bits are tentatively put together, then dismantled; he looks for one that fits etc.. So I sometimes make him say 'No, that bit is too long, perhaps another one fits better.' — Or 'What am I to do now?' — 'Got it!' — Or 'That’s not bad”' etc. ..." In particular, the act of writing resembles this inner dialogue. It's not a straightforward linear task.

At the culmination of this passage, Wittgenstein rightly states, "thinking gives [the learner] the possibility of perfecting his methods." Learning to read and write effectively is a bit like this inner dialogue. Actual reading and writing involves quite intricate acts of problem solving. The learner needs plenty of practice chewing over texts and creating them, particularly after they have gained momentum with the basics.

Wittgenstein presents us with an similar image of teaching that seems to suggest how one initiates another into ways of working, “if a person has not yet got the concepts, I shall teach him … by means of examples and by practice. -- And when I do this I do not communicate less to him than I know myself. In the course of this teaching I shall show him … get him to continue an ornamental pattern uniformly when told to do so. -- And also to continue progressions. And so, for example: I do it, he does it after me; and I influence him by expressions of agreement, rejection, expectation, encouragement. I let him go his way, or hold him back; and so on. Imagine witnessing such teaching. None of the words would be explained by means of themselves; [they makes sense in the context of the practice ... of apprenticeship].” (Philosophical Investigations, #280)

Consequently, this places experience at the forefront of learning. In other words, the learner requires the practical experience to integrate component skills into meaningful, literate act(ivitie)s. In doing so, the learner becomes adept at manipulating the script, and the mentor teacher provides the learner with opportunities to exert this knowledge in engaging ways. Therefore, “the teacher’s role is to help the child by arranging tasks and activities in such a way that [advanced tasks] are more easily accessible.” (Verhoeven and Snow, 2001, pg 4-5)

This gradual initiation relates to something I mention in the recent grammar/sentence presentation. That is, the rules of grammar do not tell me why one sentence should precede or follow another, nor do they tell me anything about what should be the content of my ideas. They may help me formulate and re-formulate a sentence with greater ease - and this is of value - but this in itself does not dictate the logic or content of my communication. Often the sequence of my sentences is guided by convention, and convention is shaped by the expectations of my audience. And I must have had enough experience with this audience to have a sensible understanding of my idea and how to express this idea.

As Ray Monk (1999) would say, “the reason computers have no understanding of the sentences they process is not that they lack sufficient neuronal complexity, but that they are not, and cannot be, participants in the culture to which the sentences belong. A sentence does not acquire meaning through the correlation, one to one, of its words with objects in the world; it acquires meaning through the use that is made of it in the communal life of human beings."

A similar sentiment led Newton Garver (1996) to express the following comment.

“If Wittgenstein and Saussure agree in using ‘grammar’ descriptively, they disagree about ... other matters. One is that Wittgenstein’s grammar has to do with uses of language (discourse conditions and discourse continuation) rather than forms and their combinations (morphology and syntax) ...

"Considering uses rather than forms is a deep rather than a superficial departure from classical linguistic methodology ... Studying uses of language makes context prominent, whereas the study of forms lends itself naturally to analysis.” (Garver, 1996, pg 151)

Maybe I am stating the obvious. Perhaps, I am not making a strong point here. But I write this against the backdrop of the proposal to introduce the Year 1 Phonics Check here in Australia. Whilst I have no objection of teachers getting good data on what their students can and cannot decode, we should always keep our eyes on the prize, which involves the integration of this knowledge into meaningful acts of reading and writing. I often ask, “how can I create opportunities for learners to integrate their skills into meaning making? How do I support and motivate them to take risks and challenge themselves?” We should always offer students opportunities to “use their expanding knowledge of language and their growing powers of influence to figure out [how to read and write] texts.” (Wolf, pp 131)

There you go. I’ve had my say. It’s not a critique of anything. Just an observation.

 

References

Garver, N. (1996). Philosophy as grammar. In H. Sluga & D. Stern (Eds.), The Cambridge companion to Wittgenstein (pp. 139–170). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Monk, R. (1999, July 29). Wittgenstein’s Forgotten Lesson. Propsect Magazine. Retrieved from http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/ray-monk-wittgenstein/#.Uo_n_pHqvGY

Verhoeven, L. and Snow, C. (2001). Literacy and motivation: bridging cognitive and sociocultural viewpoints. In Verhoeven, L. and Snow, C. (Eds.), Literacy and motivation: reading engagement in individuals and groups (pp. 1- 22). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers

Wittgenstein, L. (2001). Philosophical Investigations (3rd ed.). Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Wolf, M. (2008). Proust and the squid: the story and science of the reading brain. Cambridge: Icon Books.