Category Archives: learning

A different language

I’m still thinking in an expansive way about different ways of seeing, learning, living. I found this on Twitter thanks to @ggrosseck


Sometimes I feel my vision of people and the way things work is so tunnel-narrow. I really need to open up my understanding. It’s frightening to admit that foreigness can cause such a defensive reaction.

Here is the blog of this passionate autistic woman. This is how she describes herself and the purpose of her blog: 

This is a blog by a self-advocate who has participated in several aspects of the disability rights movement including autistic liberation, psychiatric survivor, mainstream disability rights, and developmental disability self-advocacy.

What do you think of the video or the blog?

New young blogger and writer

Her post is called Scribbles, and she has a way with words.I love Varia’s blog, Siberian Pepper.  

“Education is not about getting the piece of paper at the end; it is hopefully, a community and an exchange between people all yearning for knowledge and new skills. I plan to suck it up as much as I can, put everything in, run my hands ragged over the keyboard and look in strange places for inspiration.”

Synesthesia or Remembering that learning is not all thinking

My son wrote an interesting post about his association of different keys in music with colours. Although his colour association is not synesthesia, he does intuitively ‘see’ colours in music.  It’s a great reminder that our learning and understanding come through different channels, and that we’re programmed in unique ways. Here’s an extract from his post where he explains the thinking behind some of his improvisations on keyboard which are named after colours:

The image underlying Green (G minor) was one of a forest, and so I worked in some (admittedly simple) cross-rhythms to give the sensation of the complexity of the forest, of the trees in three dimensions, randomly scattered. Blue (E minor) is an ocean, with a lapping, repetitve bass line; the waves rising and falling with cresendo and diminuendo. Finally, White is in C major, more conventional and ballad-y with a recurring tonic note in the higher registers. When I was playing around with the ideas on my upright, the image was one of ice and its cold purity, especially through the harmonics that it caused; but unfortunately these were lost when I recorded it on my electronic piano.

Sometimes I think that we should trust that we’re all wired to naturally absorb things, and that teaching should be the provision of the ideal environment to assist that absorption. If our teaching interferes with this, then learning is aborted.

I wonder if that made sense?

Good teacher, Bad teacher

Recently I’ve been thinking about teachers that I’ve had, which ones were good or bad, and what makes them so. I can remember teachers who inspired me, and whom I loved, whose classes I enjoyed. I can also remember those who worked like a sedative, or whom I didn’t respect.

Well, I just remembered a teacher who was both the best and the worst teacher. It’s a good reminder that ‘good teacher’ and ‘bad teacher’ may only exist in fairy tales, and that, just as people in general, teachers are multi-dimensional and complex. There may be aspects of their teaching that are good or bad, but they themselves can be both.

My teacher of Russian (from the age of 6 years to about 16) – and I knew her well until she died at the age of 91 – used to torment me with disparaging remarks about my ‘bad’ character, as displayed in my handwriting (narrow at the time, an obvious mark of mean character), and the fact that I was Pisces. At the age of 9, I had reached saturation point with her constant negative remarks and exploded at her, telling her that I hated her. We made up, and she continued to teach me. As an adult, I continued to visit her, and was able to forgive the early years, developing a close relationship with her, and considering her earlier ‘faults’ as idiosyncracies.

What I will always remember her for was her passionate commitment to teaching. She would speak about literature, art, drama, architecture, historial events in a way that convinced me they were part of her life, never something she had just learned from a book. She used to direct Russian-language plays, and would be directly involved in every aspect, including stage design, music, choreography – she would paint the set, design costumes, edit the script, coach us with our lines and expression, research for historical accuracy, give us the background to authors, genre, etc. She gave up every hour in her day, and we were fortunate to have had these experiences, although we didn’t always appreciate this at the time.

I think she would have embraced modern technology. I was still visiting her up until her death. In her last days, before her cancer became too unbearable, I remember her little unit with its map of the world on the wall, so that she could follow world news events, and all her books, her notebooks with summaries and research, sketches, plans. I can imagine her enjoying Google Earth, or saving her newly found links in Delicious. She lived to teach, but even more than that, she lived to learn, and I saw her learning with an unquenchable fervour, her mind fresh and excited, until her death. She is a real inspiration to me. She wasn’t perfect, and she’s a reminder that none of us are, and that you can still be great, even as you are imperfect.

Dictionary evangelist – redefining the dictionary

Erin McKean does more than redefine the dictionary in her TED talk; she redefines our concept of language. She says that our idea of what a dictionary is hasn’t changed since Queen Victoria’s times – we have the idea that a dictionary contains the ‘good’ words (the ‘real’ ones) and keeps out the bad words (‘not real words’). That’s what she finds frustrating about her perceived role as lexicographer – that she is seen as a traffic cop, whereas she’d rather be a fisherman (yes, she used ‘man’). 

But, I hear you say, dictonaries have changed, they’ve come online, they are well connected; they have hyperlinks. Well, according to Erin, an online dictionary has essentially remained unchanged – it’s just a Victorian design with a modern propulsion.

What Erin challenges the audience to do is to rethink ‘good word’/’bad word’. She says when people find a word that isn’t in the dictionary, they think it’s because it’s a ‘bad word’ (think Scrabble), but actually, it’s not in there because the dictionary is too small. The book is not the best shape for the dictionary.

Erin challenges us to look past the artificial constraints of the book-form dictionary; we should study ALL the words. So how do we know that a word is ‘real’? She says, if you love a word, use it. Using it makes it real. It’s less about control and more about description. New words are everywhere, and Boing Boing is an example of the use of ‘undictionaried’ words. Erin suggests we look at the English dictionary as a map of the English language. An antiquated map of the world only contained what we ‘knew’ at that time, but there was much more to discover. As Erin says, when we left out countries in the old maps, we didn’t even know they were missing. So too with words.

And so Erin McKean is in the business of collecting words. She says that words need to be collected with all their background information – a word is ‘like an archaeological artefact’, and ‘a word without a source is like a cut flower – it dies fast’.

Well, I’m swept up by the evangelistic fervour of this New Age lexicographer, but do I dare embrace the new lexicographical freedom and risk chaos? Can we open up the business of word making to the masses when it has traditionally been the hallowed role of unseen word geeks? But then again, Wikipedia has opened up the font of knowledge, and the world hasn’t collapsed yet.

And I recommend Erin’s blog, Dictionary evangelist if you want to discover the unchartered seas of 21st century language. Here, instead of talking about a word’s etymology, Erin delights in its ‘roots, bones, innards, pips, and secret parts’. Or read about the acceptance of new words like ‘chillax’ in Erin’s article in the Boston Globe.

And let’s have some fun with words. To quote Erin, ‘if it works like a word, just use it’.

early images of reality from picture books and today’s clickability

We take for granted today the clickability of information. We should think back, really think back properly, to the days before we had the internet as a source of information.

I was talking to my son today about our early conceptions, and we shocked ourselves about uninformed and xenophobic ideas we had of people and cultures when we were children. My primary school years situated me in a very narrow place, although not as narrow as some, since I did come from an ethnic background. These are very interesting times because we are developing and learning like crazy but we don’t have a great deal as points of reference, so our learning is coloured by our often incomplete or erroneously formed concepts. To put it another way, what information we do gather is not always correctly understood and is even reconstructed by our own imagination. I say imagination because you need a great deal of it to fill in the gaps between the isolated pockets of knowledge and understanding.

So, I remember growing up with Australians who were either ‘real Australians’ or from a European background (Greeks, Italians, Macedonians) and Russians from my own cultural group which was always a minority (and none at school). Since I loved to read, my knowledge in these days was gleaned from books, most of which I owned and some from libraries. Information books didn’t seem to abound, and picture books were often teachers of the world beyond my own. I remember learning about dark-coloured people with grass skirts or slanty-eyed people, people living in teepees or igloos or swimming underwater every day. Now, that’s not a deliberately racist description because, since my information was delivered through a visual medium, my knowledge of these people was almost entirely visual. And not a realistic depiction but usually a cutesy illustration.

Now we take it for granted, but a little context to information is just a click away on the internet. Google Earth or Maps would have given my little snippets of information of other cultures a geographical location, and joined all those floating, isolated bits of knowledge into a world map; Flickr could have given me an easily accessible collection of pictures. Of course, information books with photos abound, even picture books with beautiful photography which deliver early aspects of reality to the preschool child.

How has this affected my development of knowledge? Do I still harbour distorted ideas of the way things are in the depths of my subconsious? Or have I worked hard at reconstructing and revising the way I see and understand things? Is this a blessing in disguise, a constant practice for maintaining elasticity and flexibility in the course of life and my understanding of it?

Meanwhile, I remember my picture book worlds with nostalgia. I used to imagine myself in the pictures, and dreamed of living on the little island where the smiling grass-skirt girls lived, so tiny that you could walk it in a couple of minutes, always sunny, water crystal clear, fish and birds abounding, all things provided for idyllic living. Did you wish you lived in any of your picture books?

Captain Planet and Powerful Learning Practice

Did you ever watch Captain PlanetMy older son, now 18, used to love the show, and for some reason I’ve had an image in my mind of our PLP team as Planeteers. This Monday a small team from our school will be embarking on the Powerful Learning Practice journey led by Will Richardson and Sheryl Nussbaum-Beach from USA, and within our own sphere, Jenny Luca. I can see our only male member, Kevin,  as Captain Planet and the rest of us as Earth, Fire, Wind, Water, Heart. We will join rings and sing in unison (or polyphonically), only one of us will have to rewrite the words so that they cleverly express some kind of transcendentally splendid PLP message. Any suggestions? 
Why am I raving? I suppose I see this as a mission of sorts – a mission I have some idea about but also many questions; a journey that equips us with new understanding and skills for 21st century learning and teaching which we will pass on to the rest of the school community.  What’s important to remember is that behind the small team is the larger team – the rest of the staff: talented, hard-working, and committed people. Although we, the Planeteers, are excited about meeting the rest of the cohort, and taking part in the program on the first level, we are not doing it for ourselves, but will return to the larger team with our new learning, making a difference to the whole school. You see why Captain Planet comes to mind? We’re on a mission – hopefully not as pushy, holier-than-thou converts, but people who are priveleged to draw from the experience of others and eager to share with our colleagues. As the good captain says: by YOUR powers combined, I am Captain Planet!
Now excuse me while I find my lycra superhero vest.