A Womb of Words

“We begin with a concept of some kind of basic awareness, some kind of basic ability to “know” or “sense” or “recognize” that something is happening. This is a fundamental theoretical and experiential given. We do not know scientifically what the ultimate nature if awareness is, but is our starting point.”

C.T.Tart

My world is filled with words. My words and words of others.

My language,  mixed with foreign sounds which have become part of my world.

Words make my world. Will the limits of my words limit my world?

If so, then there are boundaries to shift. New borders to establish. Rain, rain don't go awayDifferent worlds to explore. And new words to exploit.

This is my second posting on a digital story which is in process. Just as the rain brings smiles and frowns, so too does this entry.

Crossing boundaries requires braveness.

The Womb of Words

The stage had been set (A Journey of Stories & Roles) and it was time for the curtains to rise.

Context: Intermediate level of English

Number of students: 20 in each class, all with same L1

My students are accustomed to pair work and group work but were certainly not prepared for the challenge that lay ahead of them. In groups of 5 they had to individually select an image which they liked. Any image that appealed to them. Then, they had to negotiate and collaborate on their decision, for only one image was going to be used for the task.

The next step was to explain how they were to proceed: by logging onto Edmodo, I had created small, colour-coded groups (students were given a coloured coded cardboard to choose a colour for their group). I wrote the code for each colour on the board and students joined their new small group.

After uploading their selected image, one student had to begin the story. The others were to use the reply button in Edmodo and continue the story.

The first border to cross was that students were not accustomed to writing a group story without discussing it beforehand. Their experience was to sit together, talk about it in L1 and then one student would write it in L2 (English) while they others looked on or perhaps drew some pictures to go along with their story. This was a radical change. An entirely new world where they had to sit on their own, read what the other members of the group were writing and then add their own continuation of the story.

Challenges: to develop a story on one’s own – and in another language. Secondly, what thread/s would emerge? Would there be one story or multiple layers of a story? And if there are multiple layers to a story, is there a core to the story? How many worlds can co-exist within one story and will it make meaning to the reader?

Although I had reassured students that I was there should there be any questions, no questions were asked. I had told students to focus on the story – we would edit and proofread later. From some groups there were giggles and shrieks of laughter while others frowned as they looked silently into their screens. Shadows of uncertainty were present. I too wondered,  as I watched them engaged and forgetful of time.

What will emerge from a womb of words, where meanings struggle to link plot and characters? Where layers of stories compete to have the loudest voice?

Literacy and Technology

“Every creative act involves a new innocence of perception, liberated from the cataract of accepted belief.”

A.Koestler

Let us consider one last hypothesis related to soles of teachers and learners (A Journey of Stories & Roles) To teach signifies to give instruction. To learn signifies to gain knowledge. To give is an active verb and to gain a passive verb. These concepts of activity and passivity also determine roles in a very subtle way. The shift in concept. i.e. that learners do not only “gain” but also “give” (i.e. learners do not only “gain” but also active) in a lesson may be relatively new to learners. Relatively because they have already been exposed to a more communicative approach of teaching by their foreign teachers.

Communicative classes are supposedly open and flexible – an outsider would be able to percieve and understand the tasks in which the learners are involved: pair work with information gaps and transfer exercises as language is a vehicle for communication, groups work to stress the importance of interaction with others through language.

The communicative approach tends to be polychronic, but lessons and classrooms survive on the balance between a polychronic and monochronic atmosphere. If too much is done during the same lesson, e.g. too many activities and games, the learner will not able to cope with the accelerated pace – there will be no time given to digest and appropriate the information.

This lesson moved from a polychronic to a monochronic pace, where learners had to work on their own. However, with the tasks they were asked to do, further shifts were taking place, namely the emphasis of autonomy and creativity – and collaboration through digital media.

I have already stated how digital technologies in education open more opportunities for students who may not be particularly academically gifted (nor interested in becoming academic.) Using digital literacies is more inclusive for such learners. Cummins, Brown and Sayers (2007) argue that:

“the major problem in promoting an expanded range of literacy competencies for all students resides in the tension between inquiry-based and transmission-based orientations to pedagogy. As discussed in Chapter 2, inquiry-based orientations (both social constructivist and transformative) aim to support students in constructing curriculum-related knowledge, whereas transmission-based orientations focus on enabling students to internalize the content of the curriculum. Transmission orientations to pedagogy pre- dominate in low-income schools as a result of the pressure on teachers to ensure that their students pass the high-stakes tests that dominate the curriculum. Thus, the pedagogical focus in these schools is considerably more narrow than in more affluent schools, and this pedagogical divide extends to the ways in which technology is used in these two school contexts.” (2007:93)

By opening doors and creating bridges for my students, they are being given the opportunity to learn, explore and use digital literacies to their advantage. They are given the opportunity to create and to think critically (i.e. as they read previous contributions to the story, they need to think about how their contribution will aid the unfolding of the plot and construction of the characters).

Rorabaugh points out how:

“In his article “A Seismic Shift in Epistemology” (2008), Chris Dede draws a distinction between classical perceptions of knowledge and the approach to knowledge underpinning Web 2.0 activity. Our culture is shifting, Dede argues, not just from valuing the opinions of experts to the participatory culture of YouTube or Facebook, but from understanding knowledge as fixed and linear to a concentration on how knowledge is socially constructed. Dede writes that “the contrasts between Classical knowledge and Web 2.0 knowledge are continua rather than dichotomies . . . Still, an emerging shift to new types and ways of ‘knowing’ is apparent and has important implications for learning and education.””

Indeed there are shifts. Morever, there are challenges for those involved and participating in these shifts. One of the challenges within education is the assessment factor, particularly in regard to qualitatitive assessment and digital learning.

Miyazoe and Anderson (2010), in their study on the simultaneous implementation of a forum, blog and wiki in an EFL blended learning setting, state that:

“One of the difficulties that has yet to be addressed concerns assessment issues in collaborative learning, namely how we evaluate the process and the final products of collaborative work such as wiki productions. (…) to evaluate collaborative artifacts, at least three elements should be considered: 1) achievement as a group process in contrast to work of other groups; 2) the individual’s share in the group’s achievement; and 3) achievement of the individual before and after the group work.”

Collaborative work has often been a problematic area for teachers to assess. Nevertheless, it is something that language teachers often must do as there is individual work, pair work and group work in their classes. By using a digital platform such as Edmodo, the teacher has clear access to who contributes, how much is contributed and the quality of the contribution – in this particular case, both in terms of language use and story building.

In regard to the first and and third issues raised, the process has not yet ended and students will still have thresholds to cross.

A world of words, a womb of challenges and shifts in tormoil, will soon unfold.

References:

Cummins, J., Brown, K., Sayers, D. (2007) Literacy, Technology, and Diversity 

Miyazoe, T, Anderson, T. (2010) Learning Outcomes and Students’ Perceptions of Online Writing: Simultaneous implementation of a forum, blog, and a wiki in an EFL blended learning setting, System, Volume 38, Issue 2, June 2010, Pages 185–199

Rorabaugh, P. (2012)  Digital Culture and Shifting Epistemology

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One thought on “A Womb of Words

  1. Pingback: La Sonata | Dreaming Weaving Learning

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