The Sentence: Features, Types and Structures

After the previous update, you'd definitely be correct to believe that the last video presentation was the final in a series. And it was. Yet, today, we share a new print presentation that stands on its own. Today, we share "The Sentence: Features, Types and Structures" and the slides for the presentation are available from http://bit.ly/2-The-Sentence

This most recent presentation is - in fact - an older presentation that we chose to revisit and update. The topic - grammar - may not spark excitement in the general audience, yet for me it is something of a secret passion. 

As a follower of linguistic philosophy, I am fascinated by the logical structure of the sentence. It is fascinating to know that a sentence is able to convey any meaning at all. I am fascinated that a sentence can be a "statement about the world ...  that one can contemplate, admire, reject or refine.” (Fish, 2011, p. 2)

As a writer, I appreciate balance and economy. I appreciate it when a sentence is able to deliver its message with style and grace.

As a teacher of English language learners, I know that teachers need to provide plenty of practice for their students to scan and understand a variety of sentences. This requires gradually helping learners handle sentences of increasing complexity in structure and content.

We welcome you to this presentation. One day it may become a video presentation, but for now it is a print one. As mentioned above, the slides are available for download at http://bit.ly/2-The-Sentence. We highly recommend that you download the slides, since the slides serve as a mini-textbook on the topic. When downloading, please be patient. It's a large file, at least in PDF terms (15MBs).

I must acknowledge something before I finish, though. This presentation does not address Halliday's functional grammar. Whilst we have become very familiar of this work since drafting the original presentation, we refrained from incorporating functional grammar into the updated version. We'll leave any exposition of Halliday's work to another day.

Please explore and enjoy! We hope we have done the topic justice. If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please do not hesitate to send us a message.

 

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

Resources for Planning and Monitoring for Effective Literacy Teaching and Learning

After the previous update, you'd be correct to believe that the last video presentation was the final in a series. Even I was convinced of this. Alas, there is one more ... I swear ... or believe.

Today, we share "Resources for Planning and Monitoring for Effective Literacy Teaching and Learning" which is available below as well as on YouTube at https://youtu.be/6bOc4gVTVas

The video is a presentation that summarises a range of resources that can help teachers better plan and monitor for effective literacy teaching and learning. In many ways, it's simply an extension of the previous presentations (listed below).

The presentation slides can be downloaded at http://bit.ly/2-Planning-Monitoring-Resources. 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).

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

An Overview of Literacy Development
Video: https://youtu.be/zG0X6S6Ii44
Slideshttp://bit.ly/2-Literacy-Overview

Planning and Monitoring for Effective Instruction
Video: https://youtu.be/GFtdTd1Bdqc
Slideshttp://bit.ly/2-Planning-Monitoring

Teaching According to the Stages of Development
Video: https://youtu.be/o9_cXQ-Q9c8
Slideshttp://bit.ly/2-Teaching-Routines-Stages

Last but not least, below is the podcast episode in which we talk about the latest presentation.

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

Teaching According to the Stages of Literacy Development

Today, we have added yet another new presentation to The Literacy Bug's YouTube channel. The presentation is entitled Teaching According to the Stages of Literacy Developmentand it can be found below or at the following link: https://youtu.be/o9_cXQ-Q9c.

Like its predecessors,  Teaching According to the Stages of Literacy Development clocks in at just about one hour long. So grab your popcorn, sit back, watch/listen and enjoy. The presentation slides are available, so download them here.

This presentation explores the changing nature of literacy across the various stages of literacy development. In so doing, we discuss how instruction must change as learners consolidate core skills and prepare for new skills and expectations. Teaching routines for the various stages of literacy development are also discussed. Please explore and enjoy!. 

To be exact, the presentation sets out to meet the following objectives:

  • to emphasise the developmental nature of literacy;

  • to emphasise how literacy instruction and learning changes across the lifespan, particularly as certain skills are consolidated and new skills and expectations arise;

  • to outline literacy as both a cognitive and social achievement that involves both the mastery of skills and the exploration of content; and

  • to outline the various texts and routines that are applicable to Chall’s Stages of Literacy Development.

(If you are new to The Literacy Bug, feel free to visit our popular page on the Stages of Literacy Development.)

Let us know what you think. It's another longer presentation. We hope to produce some shorter ones in the future.

Below is the audio from the presentation. Whilst it includes references to the visuals, the audio may well make sense on its own. If you would prefer to listen, feel free to play online or download for offline use. Also, it might help to download the slides, and you can follow along as you listen.

We hope the presentation is useful and thought-provoking. Please explore and enjoy!

New presentation available - How to plan and monitor effective teaching and learning

Today, we have added a new presentation to The Literacy Bug's YouTube channel. The presentation is entitled How to plan and monitor effective teaching and learning, and it can be found at the following link: https://youtu.be/GFtdTd1Bdqc.

Like its predecessor,  How to plan and monitor effective teaching and learning clocks in at just about one hour long. So grab your popcorn, sit back, watch/listen and enjoy. The presentation slides are available for download here.

Please note that the presentation does NOT explore what to teach or how to teach in detail. Instead, the presentation provides advice on general planning, monitoring and reflection principles. To be exact, the presentation sets out to meet the following objectives:

  • to encourage informed, intentional, evidence-based teaching, which takes into consideration the learners’ currents skills, knowledge and intentions;

  • to emphasise the importance of gradual, progressive, sequenced practice that allows learners to become proficient, confident and knowledgable;

  • to reinforce how instruction may need to include both “intensive” and “extensive” activities; and

  • to reinforce why it is important to reflect regularly on teaching and learning activities.

Let us know what you think. It's another longer presentation. We hope to produce some shorter ones in the future.

Below is the audio from the presentation. Whilst it includes references to the visuals, the audio may well make sense on its own. If you would prefer to listen, feel free to play online or download for offline use.

We hope the presentation is useful and thought-provoking. Please explore and enjoy!

An Overview of Literacy Development Now on YouTube

Today, a new string is added to the bow of The Literacy Bug ... we are now on YouTube. We've added our first video presentation to the public domain, which you can find below and at the following link: https://youtu.be/zG0X6S6Ii44.

The presentation is entitled An Overview of Literacy Development, and it clocks in at one hour long. So grab your popcorn, sit back, watch/listen and enjoy. The presentation slides are available for download here.

In the presentation, there is discussion of the many components of literacy development, the stages of literacy development, and the dual-demands of "code-based" and "meaning-based" practices. To be exact, the presentation sets out to meet the following objectives:

  • To explore the components of literacy development (e.g. oral language development, phonemic awareness, etc);
  • To explore the stages of literacy development (i.e. the gradual, cumulative nature of literacy development);
  • To understand the difference between code-based skills and meaning-based skills;
  • To understand the four levels of processing texts / reading text; and
  • To appreciate how learners are active participants as the makers of meaning, the constructors of knowledge and members of communities.

Let us know what you think. It's an experiment, and we plan for more presentations in the future.

Below is the audio from the presentation. Whilst it includes references to the visuals, the audio may well make sense on its own. If you would prefer to listen, feel free to play online or download for offline use.

Welcome to this new step in the journey. We hope the presentation is useful and thought-provoking. Please explore and enjoy!

Coming Soon ... Teaching Routines

Literacy can be seen as dependent on instruction, with the corollary that quality of instruction is key. This view emphasizes the developmental nature of literacy — the passage of children through successive stages of literacy, in each of which the reading and writing tasks change qualitatively and the role of the instructor has to change accordingly.
— (Chall, 1996 as referenced in Snow, 2004)

Regular visitors to The Literacy Bug will be very familiar with the above quote. We refer to it just as much as we refer to another of Catherine Snow's observations, "[in] a developmental theory, literacy is not a single skill that simply gets better [with age] ... Being literate is very different for the skilled first grader, fourth grader, high school student, and adult, and the effects of school experiences can be quite different at different points in a child’s development.” (Catherine Snow, et al, 1991, pg 9) In the spirit of these two observations, we plan to add a new section to The Literacy Bug. The section will be entitled Teaching Routines, and it will include advice on the types of teaching activities which suit each of the various stages of literacy development

As a teaser, the following diagram attempts to isolate lesson cycles that reflect aspects of the different stages of development. As these cycles currently stand, they are skeletal and oversimplified; however, they will be fleshed out in the new, yet-to-be-drafted section. Over the coming two to three months, we hope to establish the Teaching Routines section as a valuable addition to the website.  Until then, please explore and enjoy!

References

Chall, J. S. (1996). Stages of reading development (2nd ed.). Fort Worth: Harcourt Brace Jovanovic College Publishers.

Snow, C. (2004). What counts as literacy in early childhood? In K. McCartney & D. Phillips (Eds.), Handbook of early child development. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.

Snow, C. E., Barnes, W. S., Chandler, J., Goodman, I. F., & Hemphill, L. (1991). Unfulfilled expectations: home and school influences on literacy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 

Scaffolding deep reading: a personal recollection

I have an entrenched memory of something I experienced in the eighth or ninth grade. One of my friends was taking part in a weekly book club in the library at our school. This weekly book club (or story club, to be more accurate) was being organised by one of our favourite teachers. She was relaxed and casual but asked her students to think deeply about social and civic issues. It’s important to note that my friend was not the best reader, and I was what you would probably call a reluctant reader. I liked the concept of reading, but I often found it an endurance sport. However, since I knew everyone in the group, I thought it was a good way to spend one lunch per week. Have I forgotten to mention that it was a group of five boys discussing stories and none of us were what you would classify as a “strong reader”?

Now, bear in mind, we were all able to read the short stories (i.e. decode and accurately comprehend what we were reading). And the short stories were written in such a manner that we were presented with a controlled amount of challenging vocabulary and other language features. Therefore, we were able to problem solve and discuss new meanings and expressions without becoming frustrated or bogged down. It also helped that these stories were not overly long, and each one clearly probed a moral, social or civic issue, particularly through the confrontation of often adolescent characters. I distinctly remember counting the numbers of pages of each story, though, such was my aversion to reading material that was too long and tedious

I distinctly remember “THE BOOK”. It was a brown paperback book that was divided up into stories of 10 to 15 pages in length (perhaps classics). It may have had the logo “GREAT BOOKS” on the front. Initially, I thought that I was mistaken about the title of the series until a Google search supported my memory. The Great Books foundation (http://www.greatbooks.org) provides books that are meant “to advance social and civic engagement and help people of all ages think critically about their own lives and the world we share.” The book club may or may not have used the Great Books material, but it definitely was designed to provoke deep discussions about justice, fairness, and individuality, whilst providing a platform for weaker readers to practice deep reading and discussion skills.

In the end, it meant that there were five adolescent boys sitting around a table once a week at lunch who all had a shared understanding of the situation that was presented in the story. We all came prepared. We read the weekly story in advance, because it was embarrassing to let the group down. We didn’t debate what occurred in the story. Instead, we debated our interpretations of the situation(s). And that meant that we interpreted macro features, such as how a character acted and whether such actions were fair. It also meant that we interpreted micro features, such as the choice of words and other details which provided information - occasionally ambiguous - on how a character might have been feeling or how the character might have been motivated to act in a certain way. 

These weekly discussions - at times heated - inducted me into deep reading, perspective taking, and evidence-based argumentation. I often had to disagree with a friend, and still respect him as a friend outside of the weekly meetings, even though we were discussing significant issues of moral, social and civic behaviour. I also needed to be in a position to listen and alter my viewpoint of a character or event if someone in the group presented evidence that I initially overlooked and had not appreciated.

Sourced from Olson, C. B., & Land, R. (2007). A cognitive strategies approach to reading and writing instruction for English language learners in secondary school. Research in the Teaching of English, 41(3), 269–303. 

You see — here you have a group of students who had all learned to read proficiently (i.e. decode and understand), but who had yet to learn how to read meaningfully and critically. The teacher provided us with a space where we could learn to read more insightfully, discriminatingly and deliberately, which reminds me now of a quote from Ludwig Wittgenstein, “seeing an aspect and imagining are subject to the will” (PI, Part II, xi). We had to learn to work hard as we read. In other words, one doesn’t comprehend merely because he or she can read. One must put effort into navigating the details of a text to find one’s way about. One has to *deliberate*, and the routines of deliberation are based on experience, practice and guidance in how to engage deeply. One has to ask questions, “where do I begin?”, “what does this mean?”, “am I right?”, “do I agree?”, “do I have the right picture?”, “is anything unclear?”, “do I need to read this again?”, “what am I thinking and feeling?” (See accompanying figure from Olson & Land [2007] for other common ‘mental moves’) This can all be exhausting if one hasn’t had the chance to take a breath and find the time to practice, interpret and discuss increasingly complex information. 

Whilst this next bit may be off topic, I am often struck when I have failed to properly read a bank form or government form. I might only pick up my errors either on a second/third reading or with the help of another person. Imagine the person who struggles to read and who struggles to hold attention on key details. It can be mentally exhausting and stressful to navigate complex material if one is struggling and concurrently lacks confidence and guidance. Everyday documents can be technical jungles if one lacks confidence/experience in navigating multifaceted material. 

The following passage from Wittgenstein illustrates why it is important that all teaching includes explicit guidance in how we regulate our thinking. This includes teaching that fosters the types of dialogue that govern our activities. As Vygotsky (1978) observed, "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) In my case, the group discussion with my peers came to shape my internal deliberations as I learned to read deeply on my own.

Let us imagine someone doing work that involves comparison, trial, choice. Say he is constructing an appliance out of various bits of stuff with a given set of tools. 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.. I can now imagine that this while procedure is filmed. The worker perhaps also produces sound-effects like “hm” or “ha!” As it were sounds of hesitation, sudden finding, decision, satisfaction, dissatisfaction. But does not utter a single word. Those sound-effects may be included in the film. I have the film shewn me, and now I invent a soliloquy for the worker, things that fit his manner of work, its rhythm, his play of expression, his gestures and spontaneous noises; they correspond to all this. 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. (Zettel, #100)

The lunchtime book club was an important part of my growth as a reader. I would still count the pages of the next chapter of my book. I would still often consider reading an endurance sport. However, I became aware of the times when I was “just going through the motions” of reading and when I was reading with my full attention. I also grew to appreciate how important it is to discuss what we read and also discuss what we write. This would became apparent in my later years of high school when I joined a weekly poetry circle at a local bookshop. That - though - is a story for another time.

 

References

The Great Books Foundation - http://www.greatbooks.org

Olson, C. B., & Land, R. (2007). A cognitive strategies approach to reading and writing instruction for English language learners in secondary school. Research in the Teaching of English, 41(3), 269–303. 

Vygotsky, L. (1978) Mind in society: the development of higher psychological processes. M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, and E. Souberman (Eds.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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

_____________  (1967) Zettel. Edited by G.E.M. Anscombe and G.H. von Wright. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Protecting Indigenous languages as vibrant, literate cultures

Article 13 of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples states that:

Indigenous peoples have the right to revitalise, use, develop and transmit to future generations their histories, languages, oral traditions, philosophies, writing systems and literatures.”

Often there is a strong focus on preserving the oral nature of traditional, Indigenous languages, and - yet - there is a tendency to overlook the equivalent urgency to protect, capture and foster literacy and literature in the languages of some of the world's oldest cultures.

Today, I am writing with a call to action from The Literacy Bug community. The organisation for which I work - the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation - is one of ten finalists in the Google Impact Challenge. Whilst all ten finalists receive much-needed funding to carry forward their projects, four of the finalist are awarded a grand prize of $750,000 each. One of the grand prize winners is selected via a public vote, which is where you can assist.

I am asking like-minded individuals to vote for the ALNF's Living First Language project. It doesn't matter where you are in the world. If you share a passion for linguistic diversity, literacy and social justice, then please cast your vote in the Google Impact Challenge. Visit the following link to vote:  https://impactchallenge.withgoogle.com/australia2016/charity/alnf. I also ask you to circulate the link to relevant friends and colleagues, whether via email, Facebook, Twitter or other social media.

I have been fortunate to have had significant experience working in and with Indigenous communities in Australia in the areas of Indigenous language and literacy. I regularly hear elders speak of the profound significance that Indigenous languages play in culture, identity, well-being and spirituality. Equally, elders want their children and grandchildren to be literate in their traditional language(s) and English.  As an organisation, the ALNF is committed to Twin Language literacy learning when working in remote Australian communities, and we feel that the Google Impact Challenge grant will provide the means to complete development of a flexible, digital platform that Speaker Groups can use to record, collate, develop, teach and share their languages.

Unfortunately, Australian Indigenous languages are in peril. The 2014 National Indigenous Languages Survey reports that all Australian traditional languages are at risk of declining or in a state of decline. National Geographic notes that traditional languages in Australia are declining at one of the highest rates anywhere in the world. The impact is not merely around language, though. There are known positive impacts on educational, employment, health, and mental health outcomes in communities where language status is strong. In addition, the ALNF is well aware that strong early language and literacy learning in one’s Mother Tongue provides a pivotal bridge for formal (English) literacy in school, which is why the ALNF has developed paper-based and digital resources in collaboration with Speaker Groups, which they use to teach their children to read and write in local Indigenous language(s). 

The Google Impact Challenge grand prize will enable the ALNF to find accessible ways to incorporate emerging technologies - such as natural language processing and machine learning - to enhance the resources that have already been developed as well as the tools that we can only dream of. Ultimately, Speaker Group communities deserve access to innovative, accessible tools, which allow them to read, write, record, develop, teach and share their languages as living, literate languages within local communities and beyond. It is a challenge that the ALNF is willing to accept.

I hope you don't mind this direct call to action. It is rare for me to allow my personal/professional self to show itself in The Literacy Bug. That said, I think it is important to do so in this case. Please do not hesitate to contact me if you would like further information, have any questions or have great ideas to support the campaign.

And ... please don't forget to vote: https://impactchallenge.withgoogle.com/australia2016/charity/alnf

Celebrating our third anniversary!

Can you believe it? We are approaching the third anniversary since the original launch of Wittgenstein on Learning, which has since morphed into The Literacy Bug. For the curious, check out the initial announcement way back on 24 September 2013.

The initial website consisted of the Notes/Glossary/Readings sections and the Why Wittgenstein? essay. I fondly remember such sections as:

Even though the above sections are more esoteric than more recent material, they influenced the more applicable sections like:

Wittgenstein-infused essays also served as important milestones in the website's history, such as:

Today, the themes of Wittgenstein live on in a more applicable manners. Even though the site's name has changed, the website is still focused on the acquisition of language, the development of literacy, the importance of social interactions, and the scaffolding of ways of seeing, acting and thinking.

Celebrate the anniversary with us. Explore the site. Send us a message. Let us know your favourite part of the resource. Welcome and enjoy!

Podcast #5: A Response to "Encoding, Decoding and Understanding (Print) Language"

Welcome to another episode of The Literacy Bug Podcast! This week I respond to the recent blog entry called “Encoding, Decoding and Understanding (Print) Language”. In the mentioned blog entry, I casually glossed over the importance of oral language comprehension in the role of literacy development. In glossing over oral comprehension, I did not neglect or undermine its significance. In fact, I acknowledge the complexity and significance of language comprehension in propelling the need to encode and decode anything in the first place. In this podcast, I explore that which was left unexplored: the intricate relationship between print processing, language development and cognitive processing. Please listen, explore and enjoy! We aim to bring many more episodes in the coming weeks. (theliteracybug.com)

In the Spirit of Wittgenstein: Seeking a Clear View of Literacy

Following on the heels of the most recent blog entries (here and here), we have another unpublished entry to share from the archives … Unpublished no more, though. Whilst there are some rough edges to it, it is posted here as part of the ongoing conversation

 

Preamble

Often, when I have had a picture well framed or have hung it in the right surroundings, I have caught myself feeling as proud as if I had painted the picture myself. That is not quite right: not as proud as if I painted it, but as proud as if I had helped to paint it, as if I had, so to speak, painted a little bit of it. It is as though an exceptionally gifted arranger of grasses should eventually come to think that he had produced at least a tiny blade of grass himself. (Wittgenstein, Culture & Value) 

Following in the tradition of Ludwig Wittgenstein, I am compelled to grasp a clear view (or perspicuous representation) of literacy. It is a view that is not encumbered by the various forms and instances of literacy. In the spirit of Hans Sluga (2011), the search represents a compulsion to articulate a surveyable representation of an unsurveyable whole. The unsurveyable whole - in this case - is the history of the written word and its current manifestations in print and digital form. 

While this might seem an esoteric preamble to an otherwise basic blog entry, I was not comfortable proceeding without a nod to the context to these words.


Literacy Facts

Here are the elements of a clear view of literacy in English.

1. There are 26 letters in the English alphabet.

  • 21 are consonants;
  • 5 are vowels (or 6 if you treat “y” as a sometimes vowel)

2. We use these letters and letter combinations to represent 44 phonemes or English sounds (give or take one or two).

  • 25 consonant sounds
  • 19 vowel sounds

The clever reader will notice a curious fact about consonant and vowel sounds; there is a greater letter-sound correlation in relation to consonant sounds than there is for vowel sounds. It isn’t as easy to explicitly state the various letter and letter combinations which represent the 44 phonemes in English. These are learned over time, and are analysed from the learner’s growing (print) vocabulary. For more information, please refer to to the charts below.

3. There are also 131 possible graphemes which represent those 44 or so phonemes. There are 74 possible consonant graphemes to represent the 25 consonant sounds, and 57 vowel graphemes to represent the 19 vowel sounds. A grapheme can be an individual letter (like the letter "k") or it can be a group of letters (like the grouping "igh", "ph" or "ea"). And a grapheme can make more than one sounds. For example, the letter "a" can make four different sounds, as in cat, baby, father, alone. The letter "a" makes two sounds in the common word "banana". Can you identify the sounds? The following diagram shows a mapping of the 44 phonemes and all the grapheme which can represent those sounds.

Learners do not recognise all graphemes from the get go. In terms of learning, the following is a recommended order in which children explore the various graphemes in the first three to four years of school.

  • Letter Name-Alphabetic (Semi-Phonetic) Stage [typically between 4 - 7 yrs old]: CVC word patterns with the following sequence of graphemes and blends: a, m, t, s, i, f, d, r, o, g, l, h, u, c, b, n, k, v, short e, w, j, p, y, x, q, z, sh, ch, th, wh, st-, pl-, bl-, gl-, sl-, sp-, cr, cl, fl, fr, sk, qu, nk, ng, mp, ck

 

  • Within Word (Transitional) Stage [typically between 7 - 9 yrs old]: CVCe word patterns leading into more complex CVVC vowel patterns and common multisyllabic words: a-e, ai, ay, ei, ey, ee, ea, ie, e-e, i-e, igh, y, o-e, oa, ow, u-e, oo, ew, vowel+r, oi, oy, ou, au, ow, kn, wr, gn, shr, thr, squ, spl, tch, dge, ge, homophones

4. These sounds/graphemes are joined to form syllables. There are six common syllable types in English.

  • Closed (e.g. mat or pic/nic)
  • Open (e.g. he or ve/to)
  • Silent “e” or vowel-consonant-e [vce] (e.g. cape or stripe)
  • Vowel team or vowel pair (e.g. pain, head or toy)
  • R-controlled (e.g. far or fer/ment)
  • Consonant+le (e.g. a/pple or li/ttle)

In an analytic phonics approach, learners analyse known words to gain a firm grasp of letter-sound correspondences and word patterns. In a synthetic phonics approach, learners progressively move through letter-sound patterns of increasing complexity. Both approaches should be systematic, developmental and integrated. In practice, both approaches should be used, though one approach may be more or less dominant or effective.

5. Over time, we notice how …

  • The larger a learner’s vocabulary, the more lexical items the learner has to draw on to comparatively see how words work;
  • Phonological and phonemic awareness places an individuals in a position to problem solve the aural structure of words, and hold this in working memory for encoding and decoding;
  • Morphological knowledge helps a learner refine options by seeing meaningful, regular patterns in words;
  • Emerging spelling rules are understood through further practice;
  • Eventually, knowledge is built up over countless encounters with words. Some words we just remember. Other words we decode, encode and recognise in context. 

5. Word level fluency is not enough to engender reading/writing fluency, though. Learners must also become adept at rapidly interpreting, scanning and generating the grammatical elements in our sentences.

  • We must identifying the components of syntax, and understanding how the logic of this syntax allows one to express states of affairs and to understand states of affairs expressed in utterances.
  • This includes the ability to track pronouns - for instance.
  • The structure of a sentence explains how elements are related to one another (e.g. The cow jumped over the moon). This includes an awareness of the various types of words (e.g. nouns, verbs, adjectives, etc).
  • We need to know the words to extract sense from the sentence. And we often need to grasp the intention/conversation of the sentence to grasp its meaning.

To consolidate: Structural features are mastered whilst an individual is in the early stages of learning language and literacy. Whilst the learner is learning, teachers are directing the learner’s attention to the way in which language is represented in print.


Proceed With Caution

It is here that we need to proceed with caution.

The above (meta-linguistic) knowledge is necessary but not sufficient for full literacy development. It represents the form of our utterances but not their content. Actual utterances have content (i.e. refer to things and are parts of conversations).

Actual statements are also more complex than the formulaic syntax learned in formal grammatical study. Actual utterances include nuances of idiomatic language, fragmented constructions, rhetorical devices and more. 

The sequence of statements in a texts are also shaped by a dialogic agreement between “speaker” and “audience” … rather than a formulaic one which is determined by the structure of the utterance on its own. For instance, when Michael Mohammed Ahmed writes in his novel The Tribe (2014):

“Most of my Tayta’s children still live with her in a house that belonged to my grandfather. His name was Bani Adam. Everyday my father reminds me that it was my grandfather's house, he says, ‘We are Baat Adam,’ which means, ‘We are the House of Adam’. The house is in Alexandria. People sometimes think because we’re Arabs, that I mean the city in Egypt, but the Alexandria we’re from is actually a suburb in Sydney's inner-west.” (p. 3-4)

The sequence of the text responds to the imagined needs of an imagined interlocutor rather than a logic inherent in the grammatical form of the text. The text abides by the conventions of autobiography whilst anticipating questions/assumptions that an audience would be making. (Note: Even a recipe is shaped by the conventions/expectations imposed by tradition/context.)

This observation is most pronounced in the otherwise mimetic text - a poem by William Carlos William

 

“so much depends

upon

 

”a red wheel

barrow

 

“glazed with rain

water

 

“beside the white

chickens.”

 

Whilst simple on its surface, the poem demands its audience to see beyond the merely descriptive poem. The author would like the audience to appreciate its meditative quality if the text is to communicate as intended. One must recognise how the poem may or may not fit within the tradition of the haiku. (Note: See this as an example of Wittgenstein’s ‘language game’ concept illustrated in the video at the end of this section.)

We get close to a mimetic portrait in Ernest Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River”, but even “Big Two-Hearted River” requires its audience to be familiar with the general context, the language/vocabulary, and the overtones of Romanticism.

“Nick looks down into the pool from the bridge. It was a hot day. A kingfisher flew up the stream. It was a long time since Nick had looked into a stream and seen trout. They were very satisfactory. As the shadow of the kingfisher moved up the stream, a big trout shot upstream in a long angle, only his shadow marking the angle, then lost his shadow as he came through the surface of the water, caught the sun, and then, as we went into the stream under the surface, his shadow seemed to float down the stream with the current, unresisting, to his post under the bridge where he tightened facing up into the current.” (p. 143-144)

Ludwig Wittgenstein was a philosopher obsessed with the difficulties of language, who wanted to help us find a way out of some of the muddles we get into with words.


Coda

Whilst the surface code can be teased out as an object of analysis, the content of utterances elicits background knowledge which is so pervasive that any analysis must acknowledge that

“nothing merely physical, such as acoustic blasts or ink marks, or even words and gestures - ‘signs’ of one kind or another - can possibly communicate thought. For such tokens taken by themselves are ‘dead’, and can only be animated, have life breathed into them, by something inner, such as an act of understanding.” (Stern, 2004, pg 136)

Schneider (2014) also notes this implicit and confounding dilemma. Any formulaic, analytic theory of meaning makes only so much progress through a focus on structure alone. Eventually, one must include the imagination/experience/context/shared language of the speaker and the audience as part of the equation.

Formal theories of meaning seek to explain how propositions express a sense, hopefully clearly and unambiguously, through an understanding of the proposition’s logical structure. In such a case, one must have access to the phonetic, orthographic, syntactic and lexical knowledge to be able to decode the sentence and to decipher the picture expressed within the sentence. This process is quite a static exchange. Wittgenstein himself was inspired by Gottlob Frege to contribute to the formalist, analytical project in the Tractates Logico-Philosophicus, but would soon find this pursuit inadequate to explain how meaning is expressed beyond a very limited frame. 

Wittgenstein found that meaning - in context - is less static and more elusive. The meaning of an utterance requires an understanding of the utterance’s context, a familiarity with the way the utterance is being exchanged, the intentions of the participants, and the position of the utterance within a “language game” or “conversation”. For instance, the meaning of the phrase “he is a Red” could meaning “He is a communist”, “He is a supporter of the Liverpool Football Club”, “He is a Native American”, or some other derivative. Its meaning is dependent on factors outside of the logical structure of the utterance itself. For another example, let's say someone said, "I really loved Madagascar." The individual could be referring to the place, the film or Madagascar vanilla (as opposed to another type of vanilla). There might be an audience who wouldn't find the phrase ambiguous (they only know one meaning for Madagascar) or it might not be meaningful at all (they have no concept of Madagascar whatsoever), even though they understand the grammar of the sentence and can accurately pronounce each element.

Therefore, actual elements of context, content, purpose, practice, deliberation and cognitive/information processing must be dealt with to leap into meaning. This does not negate the importance of direct, explicit instruction in the structural elements of language and literacy; however, we must acknowledge that formal skills only facilitate communication. They are not the germ of communication.


In the words of Ludwig Wittgenstein 

 

A. TLP 3.13: A proposition includes all that the projection includes, but not what is projected. Therefore, though what is projected is not itself included, its possibility is. A proposition, therefore, does not actually contain its sense, but does contain the possibility of expressing it. (‘The content of a proposition’ means the content of a proposition that has sense.) A proposition contains the form, but not the content, of its sense.

 

B. Z 74: A sentence is given me in code together with the key. Then of course in one way everything required for understanding the sentence has been given me. And yet I should answer the question “Do you understand this sentence?” : No, not yet; I must first decode it. And only when e..g. I had translated it into English would I say “Now I understand it.”

 

C. PI 496: Grammar does not tell us how language must be constructed in order to fulfil its purpose, in order to have such-and-such an effect on human beings. It only describes and in no way explains the use of signs.

 

D. Z 91: Ask: What result am I aiming at when I tell someone: “Read attentively”? That, e.g. this and that should strike him, and he be able to give an account of it. — Again, it could, I think, be said that if you read a sentence with attention, you will often be able to give an account of what has gone on in your mind, (e.g. the occurrence of images). But that does not mean that these things are what we call “attention”.

 

E. TLP 3.141: A proposition is not a blend of words. — (Just as a theme of music is not a blend of notes.) A proposition is articulate.

 

F. CV: Often, when I have had a picture well framed or have hung it in the right surroundings, I have caught myself feeling as proud as if I had painted the picture myself. That is not quite right: not “as proud as if I painted it, but as proud as if I had helped to paint it, as if I had, so to speak, painted a little bit of it. It is as though an exceptionally gifted arranger of grasses should eventually come to think that he had produced at least a tiny blade of grass himself.

 

G. PI 291: What we call “descriptions” are instruments for particular uses. Think of a machine drawing, a cross-section, an elevation with measurements, which an engineer had before him. Thinking of a description as a word-picture of the facts has something misleading about it: one tends to think only of such pictures as hang on our walls: which seem simply to portray how a thing looks, what it is like. (These pictures are as it were idle.)

 

H. PI 533: How can one explain the expression, transmit one’s comprehension? Ask yourself: How does one lead anyone to comprehension of a poem or of a theme? The answer to this tells us how meaning is explained here. Let’s simplify language to the declarative statement that has the capacity to convey the unambiguously.  

 

I. “I shall in the future again and again draw your attention to what I shall call language games. There are ways of using signs simpler than those in which we use the signs of our highly complicated everyday language … If we want to study the problems of truth and falsehood, of the agreement and disagreement of propositions with reality, of the nature of assertion, assumption, and question, we shall with great advantage look at primitive forms of language in which these forms of thinking appear without the confusing background of highly complicated processes of thought.” (quoting Wittgenstein in Monk, 2005, p 69)

 

J. “When the boy or grown-up learns what one might call specific technical languages, e.g. the use of charts and diagrams, descriptive geometry, chemical symbolism, etc. he learns more language games. (Remark: The picture we have of the language of the grown-up is that of a nebulous mass of language, his mother tongue, surrounded by discrete and more or less clear-cut language games, the technical languages … 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)

 

K. “The pupil must want to go on alone in taking language to the world, and that what is said must be worth saying, have a point (warning, informing, amusing, promising, questioning, chastising, counting, insisting, beseeching, specifying the location of pain, and so on), then is there some question left as to whether the pupil has to find warning, informing, amusing, promising, counting, beseeching, chastising, and so on themselves worth doing? 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 at all.” (Cavell, 2005, pg 115)


References 

 

Literary References

Ahmad, M. M. (2014). The Tribe. Western Sydney (NSW): Giramondo.

Hemingway, E. (1995). The Collected Stories (Everyman's Library Classics). New York: Everyman's Library.

Williams, W. C. “The Red Wheelbarrow” n.d. Web at https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/red-wheelbarrow.

 

Wittgenstein References

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

Wittgenstein, L. (1974). Philosophical Grammar (PG). (R. Rhees, Ed.). Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Wittgenstein, L. (1980). Culture and value (C&V). Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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

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

 

Academic References

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

Phillips, D. (1977). Wittgenstein and scientific knowledge. London: Macmillan Publishers Limited.

Schneider, H. J. (2014). Wittgenstein’s later theory of meaning: imagination and calculation. Oxford, UK: John Wiley & Sons.

Sluga, H. (2011). Wittgenstein. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell.

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

The Machinery of Language and Literacy

In light of the most recent blog entry - Encoding, Decoding and Understanding (Print) Language - I've gone back to the archives to revisit an unpublished piece from the past. Whilst there are some rough edges, it is posted here as part of the ongoing conversation.

 

Introduction 

The layout of the diagram to the lower right might seem odd when it starts with “the world” as the notion at the top and "form of life" at the bottom, but this is to suggests that language and literacy are learned in a particular context. And the context determines the language(s) one speaks and it determines what one is likely to speak about.

In the words of Wittgenstein and Tomasello we find:

“When a child learns language it learns at the same time what is to be investigated and what not.” (Wittgenstein, On Certainty #472)
“‘Nothing could seem less remarkable than a one-year-old child requesting ‘More juice’ or commenting ‘Doggie gone’ … From an ethological perspective, perhaps the most astounding fact is that something on the order of 80 percent of all Homo sapiens cannot understand these utterances at all.” (Tomasello, 2003, pg 1)

Let’s say English is a language that is spoken in this environment. And - let’s say - that the word “Madagascar” exists in this world, and I hear the word “Madagascar” uttered in this place of the world. It also refers to a film (that I haven’t seen, but am aware of) and it is a type of vanilla (Madagascar vanilla), which I don’t know much about, either. There is a history to the word, and this history is its meaning. One points to a map to show me where the country is. One offers to watch a film with me. And one shows me a picture of Madagascar vanilla, and - perhaps - I have a chance to taste it. As long as I know that places, films and plants have names, then it is possible that I can know what is being referred to.

 

Phonological Awareness & Phonemic Awareness

I ask someone to say the word slowly, so I can have a go at writing the word, because if one is going to recognise the printed word, one must first be phonologically and phonemically aware of the word.

When I listen closely, I notice that Madagascar has four syllables:

 

Ma / da / ga / scar

 

One must also distinguish each of the sounds within the word:

 

[/m/+/short a/] + [/d/+/schwa/] + [/g/+/short a/] + [/s/+/k/+/ar/]

 

Alphabetic Principle, Phonics & Spelling

Then I attempt to spell the word based on my knowledge of English graphemes

 

M = /m/

a = /short a/

d = /d/

a = /schwa/

g = /g/

a = /short a/

s = /s/

c = /k/

ar = /controlled vowel - ar/

 

I’m pretty confident the opening letter is M to represent the /m/ sound, since I intuitively know that the letter “m” represents the /m/ sound most of the time (94% of the time to be accurate, if you see the chart to the right/above). Similarly, I know the /short a/ sound when I hear it. Whilst the letter “a” represents the /short a/ 96% of the time, I only appreciate this from experience. To make a long story short, I know the word “scar” and intuit that the word ends with the same spelling. I could be wrong, but this is when one’s word knowledge helps one problem-solve new words. That said, I might have spelled it incorrectly, and I might need to consult someone or something (e.g. a dictionary) to see if I am on the right track.

In the end, I heard a word, and I used my phonemic awareness skills to isolate the sounds. I used my knowledge of sounds-letters and my knowledge of words to spell it. If I didn’t have any of these attributes then I could be overwhelmed by the length of the word, etc. But I wasn't. Phew!

 

Morphology

For the time being, let’s say I recognise the word and I know that there is nothing quite morphological about the proper noun Madagascar. There are no meaningful prefixes, roots or suffixes which would assist me.

 

In a Sentence

Do we ever really encounter words only in isolation, though? As noted by Wittgenstein,

“If I know an object (word) I also know all its possible occurrences in states of affairs. (Every one of these possibilities must be part of the nature of the object/word.)” (Wittgenstein, Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, #2.0123)

 

In this case, I read the following state of affairs:

 

Madagascar is an island country in the Indian Ocean.

 

I am lucky. I know English grammar, and I am familiar with all the words - when spoken - but I struggle with the written form of the printed word “island”. I am familiar with the spoken word, which is pronounced

 

[/long i/] + [/l/+/short a/+/n/+/d/]

 

But I don’t know about this

 

[/short i/+/s/+/l/] + [/short a/+/n/+/d/]

 

But a helpful person informs me that the letter “s” is indeed silent, and the opening letter “i” is a /long i/ syllable. In fact, the printed word “island” is familiar in the end. What a relief?

 

Sentences in Context

I know the sentence is a descriptive sentence, and I know that it is meant to convey information. I use my background knowledge to place the sentence in context. This sentence comes next:

The population of Madagascar is over 22 million people, and it spreads over 500,000 square kilometres.

I recognise that the emerging paragraph is a geography paragraph and I anticipate that I’ll find out about the capital city of Madagascar, primary industries, natural sites and cultural practices. I know this because I am familiar with this genre of discourse, and I expect and value this knowledge. I intuitively am comparing this with a similar text I read/heard/wrote earlier. The earlier one was about the island of Taiwan, and I am interested to know the differences between the two island contexts. If I didn’t have this previous experience or background knowledge, then I might not be able to read/hear/write the new text as deeply or critically.

 

Another Attempt

Let us look at another set of words. Let’s imagine that a friend shows me a photo of a red wheelbarrow sitting in the rain and provides with the following poem:

 

“so much depends

upon

 

”a red wheel

barrow

 

“glazed with rain

water

 

“beside the white

chickens.”

 

“It’s beautiful,” she says. “It’s by a fellow named William Carlos William.”

 

I’m not really fussed by the poem, to be honest. And I don’t know why it starts with the phrase “so much depends / upon”. But my friend insists that the poem is meaningful. Even though I know all the words, and I can understand/imagine the scene, I am missing something. So my friend asks me to bring in a photo of something that is significant to me. When we meet again, we both come armed with a photo. My photo is of my late grandmother, and her photo is of a pier jutting out into a river at dusk. She reads out her poem.

 

“so much depends

upon ...

 

"the smell of

the river

 

"of bait, of fish

and blueberries

 

"on hot summer

days."

 

And she helps me write mine:

 

“so much depends

upon

 

"my grandmother's

photo

 

"on the mantle

piece

 

"watching over

me."

 

We do it again next week, and the week after, and I start to get the point. I find it peaceful just stating something meaningful. My friend and I might talk about the “meaningfulness” of the object in the photo, but these "meanings” or even descriptions are left unsaid in our poems. At some stage, she introduces me to haikus, and I find that I have a new way to relax. Every so often I stop and write or think or say “so much depends upon …” I didn’t understand the point at the start but I do now, and I have started to branch out into other forms/purposes of poetry. I’m really quite surprised. In fact, it takes on a form of meditation or secular prayer. Whilst I still need to draft reports and memos at work, I have another written outlet that extends what I achieve in print. I have learned a new "language game" - so to speak.

 

Conclusion

Let’s return to the opening diagram, and we find the following:

  • We live in a world;
  • And in that world there are “things”, “concepts”, “phrases”, “relationships”, etc;
  • These “things” have words, whether they are physical, like “a rock”, or conceptual, like "kindness”;
  • Some of these words are functional and appear in phrases or as single words, like “How are you?” and “therefore”;
  • The words are strung together in sentences to express some sense/meaning, and those sentences are strung together as part of a discourse of some kind;
  • And we communicate about something in some way to others.

To end, let me present the following scenarios:

  • an experienced electrician is wiring up a new electrical system. The electrician knows what everything is called and what everything does, but quivers when someone hands him an installation manual full of words and abstract schematics. “Mate, I can’t makes heads or tales of that thing” as he points to the manual. “I know what I’m doing.” Is it the technical nature of the manual that catches him off guard?
  • a philosopher is asked to wire up a new electrical system. The philosopher has no clue about electronics and quivers at the sight of the wires. Someone hands him an installation manual full of words and abstract schematics. After much effort, the philosopher eventually says, “Mate, I can’t makes heads or tales of that thing” as he points to both the manual and the box of wires.
  • an average person who is familiar with electronics, but is in no way an expert or practiced, is asked to wire up a new electrical system. She has a strong grasp of literacy and she is able to process information accurately. She knows what NOT to do in relation to voltage and amperage. She is eventually able to get the job done with the help of the manual, a few YouTube videos, and a couple calculated phone calls.

How would you go about explaining what is occurring in each of these scenarios? You may use the following diagram to help.

 

References

Tomasello, M. (2003). Constructing a language: a usage-based theory of language acquisition. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

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

_____________. (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.