Re: [xmca] PoTAYto and PoTAHto

From: David Kellogg <vaughndogblack who-is-at>
Date: Wed Oct 15 2008 - 01:53:08 PDT

Sorry, Steve. I think the use of "intentionalism" is a good illustration of what Wolff-Michael is trying to say.
It takes two to mean. Jackson Pollock thought his canvases were actually RECORDS of his movements, like movies (in other words, not icons and certainly not symbols but indexes). But most people who buy them just like the colors and shapes (they see icons rather than indexes).
I think that Pollock's intentions, even his rationales, are important though. After all, when we determine the value of a painting, or try to decide whether Pollock's paintings have fractal structure, we take his actions (and the drying time of the paint) into consideration.
When Wolff-Michael uses the term "intentionalism" it really DOES matter what he intends by it. What I heard (and what I meant by it) was this: when we look at a transcript, the intentions of the teacher are important to understanding it.
I agree that they are not everything. From a philosophical point of view, perhaps, they are nothing. But when I look at the data, I see children who are trying very hard to read the teacher's mind. So they are something!
Here a Korean teacher is trying to get the kids to play twenty questions. The teacher sees FAR into the future, but the unexpected STILL happens.
T (holding up a number and hiding her face behind it): This is a number. I don’t know it.
S: Two.
T: Is it one?
S: Two.
T: Is it one?
S: No.
T: No, it isn’t.
S: No, it isn’t.

a) The teacher recognizes that “This is a number which I don’t know” or “Here is a number which I’m going to try to guess” presents grammatical complexities that the children are unequipped to deal with. The teacher gets around this barrier by severing the clause which presents the number from the clause which presents her ignorance of the number and making the guessing task implicit rather than explicit.
b) The teacher sees that direct answers such as “Two” will remove the pretext for practice and prevent a game from taking shape. So she ignores all direct answers to her indirect question and uses an explicit yes/no question instead.
c) The teacher recognizes that short answers such as “no” will leave the questioner in the position of providing all the grammar, so the teacher switches roles with the answerers and models the “no” answer as “No, it isn’t”.
a) Because the teacher’s simplification of the initiate was successful, the children understand that she wants to know the number, and they offer her a direct path to the knowledge she wants. This direct answer, of course, functions as a barrier from the teacher’s point of view, but it is NOT based on repetition of previous knowledge. It is based on an (incorrect) conjecture about the teacher’s intentions.
b) Because the teacher ignores their direct answer and asks about the number using a yes/no question, they assume that she did not hear clearly and repeat their answer just as directly and more clearly. This repetition, however, is NOT based on the short-term memory of their previous answer: like the previous, answer, it is based on a theory about the teacher’s intentions (still incorrect, of course).
c) Because the teacher still ignores the direct answer, the children realize that a yes/no answer is required and provide this as economically as  possible. This economy is not based on any desire to make a beeline for the teacher’s goal (which they do not yet fully understand) but once again on an act of empathy and a theory about what the teacher has in mind. It is, however, close to Paul Grice’s maxim of making your contribution as informative as necessary but not any more informative than necessary
Paradoxically, the teacher appears to be teaching the children NOT to try to guess what she has in mind. Fortunately, this is bound to fail: even the decision at the very end to simply repeat and not to vary what the teacher has said is based on a theory of mind, that is, the theory that this is what the teacher has in mind for them to do. 
David Kellogg
Seoul National University of Education
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Received on Wed Oct 15 01:54 PDT 2008

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