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RE: [xmca] Intensions in context and speech complexity ; From 2-?
Has anyone brought up Bruner on the role of narrative in this discussion? I
just came across his piece, which incidentally also references Halliday. In
Acts of Meaning(1990) in the chapter Entry into Meaning in his discussion
about the order of acquisition of grammatical forms, he holds that this
"order of acquisition of grammatical forms reflects a priority, as it were,
in communicative needs--a priority that reflects a higher-level requirement
of communicating" (p. 76). Phonemes and even syntactical structures do not
exist before and independently of meaning even though they are the building
blocks of meaning. They exist with meaning and because of meaning. Bruner
goes on to make what he calls a radical claim that it is the "push to
construct narrative structure that determines the order of priority in which
grammatical forms are mastered by the young child" (77).
I find Bruner's explanation interesting in reference to this discussion
because it speaks to the subject of motivation of students during authentic
assessments. For Bruner, narrative requires four crucial grammatical
constituents: agentivity, sequential order, canonicality, and voice. This
again reminds us that students will not necessarily perform a repetition
and/or a consistent performance of grammatical construction in a testing or
lab setting and even if they could that this performance is not equal to
understanding or even using a similar construct in actual situations of
engagement (play, social relationships, etc).
A story that illustrates this for me: I used to teach ninth grade English. I
taught regular English 9 and Pre IB 9(International Baccalaureate)
simultaneously and couldn't help a comparison. The students in the Pre-IB
class were hand selected achievers--they had high grades and perfect
attendance, they entered the program by choice and signed a contract of
character. Academic success was strongly written into their personal
narratives. However, a distinct number of them could not fathom
sophisticated (for lack of a better and more encompassing word) concepts in
actual class discussion, journal writing, or independent written work. They
preferred to be given specific tasks which they could perform--just like
repeating complex grammatical structures. Independent thinking scared them
silly not just because they might not be able to do it, but because they
were not 100% positive it would be evaluated by the teacher as A work. On
the other hand, many in the other class who could not perform the repetition
of complex grammatical structures let alone understand references to them,
could use them very well in writing and speaking because they were motivated
to communicate their ideas about the world regardless of the grade. This
shows the importance of motivation, but also the complexity of the
orientation of that motivation. A blanket statement--they were highly
motivated--would not suffice in understanding how motivation would affect
their work. Although an English classroom deals overtly with writing which
is a natural fit for illustrating issues of grammar and narrative, I think a
similar idea fits in other content areas and for other measures of cognitive
performance in a experimental vs. naturalistic settings.
I guess what I am really getting at is that development is not linear and
fixed. Just because I was taught and successfully manifested a skill at one
point, doesn't mean I will be able to do it again consistently, or even when
prompted. If it matters to me and the people I care about consistently, I
will probably continue to use it. But if there is no reason, I will probably
revert to using something that suits my needs and the needs of those who are
engaged with me just because it is more efficient. Do I need to make this a
conscious choice? No. We make choices like this rapidly. Very young children
can do this. A baby will see a stern look on the face of a grandfather and
stop what he is doing. Another might see a stranger passing by smile when
they add something to the grocery cart when mother isn't looking and they
are vindicated to repeat. Speculating on how these very small instances
become a part of a developing narrative is fascinating. What was once
important to me and compatible with my own story about who I was and who I
would become, may not be important anymore; I once thought I wanted to be a
cheerleader. For about half a summer in the ninth grade, I believed I could
be. I practiced technical skills for hours. I mastered tumbling, jumps, and
even the splits. Can I do them now? No, way!
What I see in working with children is the same with older students and even
adults. Another story to illustrate the importance of the situation to the
successful performance of the task: I coach recreational soccer. One year I
had a very helpful and friendly parent who talked to me and shared wonderful
ideas at every practice about the kids, the drills, their skills,
teambuilding, etc.--until he found out I was an English teacher! That was
it. He turned red, he stuttered and sputtered and then he never communicated
his good ideas again. The context of the communication had shifted. The
intent to communicate, the motivation...all of these things mattered to what
he perceived as the "performance" and the assessment. I never once thought
about his grammar or remarked on it, but it seemed as though knowing I was
an English teacher was too much pressure for him and affected his ability to
speak. I can't help but wonder what kinds of English teachers he had when he
was in school.
It is not just the requirements of the task or assignment that matter to
people of all ages, whether it is an assignment to do a grammar worksheet or
to write a narrative essay, or to complete a math problem. The most
important narrative whether we acknowledge it consciously or not, is the
narrative in which we believe ourselves to be individuals acting as an
agents toward our own goals and the goals of others who know and care about
us and how the culture reflects this story and the values of those goals.
This makes it very complicated to extract how a particular assessment fits
into a particular narrative. Some questions: How do schools and teachers
reflect individual student narratives? How do students create these
narratives and what are the factors that impact their formation? How do we
enable student voice at all ages? (I put all ages here, because it is often
assumed that young children do not know what is best for themselves and
couldn't possibly need to have a voice especially when there are more
capable grown-up parents and teachers to do that type of decision making for
them. Ironically, the need of older students to have voice is also dismissed
with arguments like, I don't care how they feel about it, I teach ______ at
the college level and they are old enough to handle it and figure it out for
From: firstname.lastname@example.org [mailto:email@example.com] On
Behalf Of Jay Lemke
Sent: Saturday, July 25, 2009 9:40 AM
To: XMCA Forum
Subject: Fwd: [xmca] Intensions in context and speech complexity ; From 2-?
Mike sent this but it went only to me. He wanted it to go to the list.
University of Michigan
Ann Arbor, MI 48109
Begin forwarded message:
> From: Mike Cole <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> Date: July 25, 2009 2:26:14 AM GMT+02:00
> To: Jay Lemke <email@example.com>
> Subject: Re: [xmca] Intensions in context and speech complexity ;
> From 2-?
> Reply-To: firstname.lastname@example.org
> Yep, you got at what I was trying to discuss, Jay. And some of the
> factors that I thought might provoke such spotty
> "precociousness." I do not know Halliday well enough to know if what
> you describe explains what I was asking about,
> the general set of considerations you raise resonate.
> David Kel and I discussed these issues a little by phone (taking
> advantage of his presence in my time zone for a while).
> It seems like the absence of kids being able to use speech on behalf
> of their own motives in the way classrooms ordinarily
> work -- e.g. they are in the responder role and have to guess at
> what the teacher is after/about -- would reduce the complexity of
> the thoughts to which they can give expression.
> I believe that some of the electronic comm media such as elluminate
> (as described by people in recent notes) may be an example
> of conditions under which students can be more in control of what
> they get to say and as a result get more agentive, excited, and
> perhaps, even learn more.
> PS-- Long ago -- like in the early 1980's -- some of my colleagues
> at LCHC found that if they had an asynchronous discussion
> group that accompanied the live class, some of the students who
> never responded, or did so only with difficulty, were leaders
> in the a-synchronous interactions. My guess was that the shift in
> medium changed the constraints on communication, "freeing"
> some who could not manage the pace of the classroom. Not entirely
> unlike the frequent comment that many people who mostly
> read but do not write on xmca are knocked over by the pace and rapid
> On Fri, Jul 24, 2009 at 10:35 AM, Jay Lemke <email@example.com>
> I am replying to Mike's much earlier message about context and
> speech complexity, though I've read the subsequent discussion,
> mainly because I remain interested in the original issue he brought
> up. I know the discussion has shifted, as it so often does, more to
> critiques of ideas of internalization, but that seems to have
> happened in part because one reading of Mike's question led to the
> suggestion that internalization was an important part of the answer.
> My version of his question is this:
> How do we understand the phenomenon of young speakers producing much
> more complex forms of speech in activities in which they appear to
> have more intrinsic motivation and authentic interest, compared to
> activities in which they are just following someone else's lead?
> I am not an expert on early childhood language development, but I am
> a developmentalist in the sense that I analyze meaning-making across
> all timescales as a building up of later meanings on top of earlier
> ones to reach greater complexity and efficacy. Just as in biological
> development the complexity and efficacy (for something) of later
> stages depends on the foundations laid in earlier ones (hence the
> link with evolution).
> I believe it is a well-known phenomenon in language development --
> and I mean that term as shorthand for increasing complexity and
> efficacy in (self- or other- directed) speech as an integral
> component of some larger activity -- that new speakers occasionally
> produce much more "advanced" speech than the average of what they
> produce in some time frame (i.e. speech more like the average in a
> much later timeframe). I think this is also true of other sorts of
> longer-term learning processes. There are just time when it all
> comes together for us and we perform with an apparent capability
> well ahead of our usual performances. We appear to leap forward, and
> then fall back.
> Is this just luck? sometimes perhaps, and sometimes it is the over-
> interpretation of the observer, reading more meaning into the speech
> than may have been "intended" (another shorthand). But we also know
> that in the case of speech, receptive understanding encompasses such
> more complex forms, even if active production rarely or never-before
> has shown them. And that of course has something to do with the more
> complex forms being present in the environment, the community, the
> co-activity with others. So the fact that it may not be
> reproducible, or that it may not recur across different settings,
> may not necessarily mean that it was not "intentional" (i.e.
> functionally and deliberately meaningful on the part of the new
> It may have arisen in play, in exploration of wording-possibilities.
> It may have arisen in a less-self-monitoring context where
> inhibitions against more complex production for fear of errors,
> ridicule, communication failure, etc. were much reduced (like
> speaking a foreign language when just a little drunk). It may have
> been driven past all inhibitions or obstacles by intense desire or
> Or it may have been abetted by particularly supportive
> circumstances. My own hypothesis about what Mike seems to be
> describing is that precocious speech is more likely to occur when
> more complex meanings are easier to build up on top of already
> familiar meaning-speakings. Halliday gives some examples of this for
> spoken dialogue, where very complex verb tenses will appear that are
> far more complex than those normally (or ever) seen in written text,
> because speakers build up time-relational meanings on top of prior
> speakers sayings. This is micro-developmental, on the logogenetic or
> text-production timescale (seconds to minutes).
> What circumstances support such short-term climbing to new heights?
> it may be a particular speech-partner, it may be a particular
> familiar topic, it may be a rush of need or desire to make the more
> complex meaning, which is a meaning that has become appropriate to
> the moment in the ongoing activity because we have been able to get
> that far in terms of building connections on connections, meanings
> (including those made by nonverbal gestures, actions, etc.) on
> It seems reasonable to me that there ought to be a strong social-
> situational correlation between activities in which we are heavily
> personally invested, or just really enjoy or want or need, and those
> in which the other factors I've suggested are available to support
> climbing unusually high up the ladder of meaning complexity -- i.e.
> of meanings built on other meanings.
> What do you think?
> Jay Lemke
> Educational Studies
> University of Michigan
> Ann Arbor, MI 48109
> On Jul 20, 2009, at 6:06 AM, Mike Cole wrote:
>> Hi Lois--
>> I appear eerily unable to communicate the issue that is the focus
>> of my
>> attention which is not whether kids imitate the language around
>> them, but
>> for the difference in performance of the same kids, within hours or
>> so of
>> when they first say something complicated, to "revert" to a
>> version of that utterance at about the level of what they do when
>> asked to
>> an utterance dreamed up by an experimenter to test some theory of the
>> process of grammatical development.
>> The kids are performing in both cases. But in one case they are
>> to achieve THEIR goals. In the other they
>> are performing to achieve goals they have little understanding of.
>> Something or other ideas think furiously.
>> Neither you nor David, so far as I can tell, addresses the question
>> I am
>> asking. Since you both know a ton more about
>> language acquisition than I figure I am being totally dense. What
>> am I
>> missing here?
>> About Vygotsky writing *Something which is only supposed to take
>> shape at
>> the very end of development, somehow influences the very first
>> steps in this
>> *I believe that Vygotsky is stating a very widely held view of the
>> of development, one which can be found in many scientific sources
>> but which
>> also has deep roots in the Judeo-Christian (and probably lots of
>> traditions). Here is a version of it from
>> T.S. Elliot, "East Coker" but I believe it is also intimately
>> related to the
>> idea of a spiral of development which is often found in
>> Hegelian and Marxist thought. Anyway, here is one catholic-convert's
>> expression of the idea:
>> In my beginning is my end. In succession
>> Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended,
>> Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place
>> Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass.
>> Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires,
>> Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth
>> Which is already flesh, fur and faeces,
>> Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf.
>> Houses live and die: there is a time for building
>> And a time for living and for generation
>> And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane
>> And to shake the wainscot where the field-mouse trots
>> And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.
>> In my beginning is my end. Now the light falls
>> Across the open field, leaving the deep lane
>> Shuttered with branches, dark in the afternoon,
>> Where you lean against a bank while a van passes,
>> And the deep lane insists on the direction
>> Into the village, in the electric heat
>> Hypnotised. In a warm haze the sultry light
>> Is absorbed, not refracted, by grey stone.
>> The dahlias sleep in the empty silence.
>> Wait for the early owl.
>> In that open field
>> If you do not come too close, if you do not come too close,
>> On a summer midnight, you can hear the music
>> Of the weak pipe and the little drum
>> And see them dancing around the bonfire
>> The association of man and woman
>> In daunsinge, signifying matrimonie-
>> A dignified and commodiois sacrament.
>> Two and two, necessarye coniunction,
>> Holding eche other by the hand or the arm
>> Whiche betokeneth concorde. Round and round the fire
>> Leaping through the flames, or joined in circles,
>> Rustically solemn or in rustic laughter
>> Lifting heavy feet in clumsy shoes,
>> Earth feet, loam feet, lifted in country mirth
>> Mirth of those long since under earth
>> Nourishing the corn. Keeping time,
>> Keeping the rhythm in their dancing
>> As in their living in the living seasons
>> The time of the seasons and the constellations
>> The time of milking and the time of harvest
>> The time of the coupling of man and woman
>> And that of beasts. Feet rising and falling.
>> Eating and drinking. Dung and death.
>> Dawn points, and another day
>> Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind
>> Wrinkles and slides. I am here
>> Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.
>> On Sun, Jul 19, 2009 at 8:47 PM, Lois Holzman <
>> firstname.lastname@example.org> wrote:
>>> Hi All,Mike's post sent me back to my most recent thinking on
>>> (two weeks ago!) as well as to my language development research in
>>> mid-70s with Lois Bloom. I do recall that my first published article
>>> (Imitation in Language Development: If, When and Why) was one of a
>>> at the time that focused on spontaneous imitation as opposed to
>>> imitation, such as Slobin's study Mike refers to.OUr findings from
>>> longitudinal data from 6 children from single words to syntax were
>>> interesting: by our operational definitions, some of them didn't
>>> imitate and
>>> their language development was similar to those that imitated.
>>> Those that
>>> did imitate, imitated what they were in the process of learning,
>>> and not
>>> what they knew well nor what was beyond them. Today I would say they
>>> imitated what was in their ZPD and that their imitations were
>>> part of
>>> creating that ZPD.
>>> So it seems to me that the change referred to -to the more
>>> form- could be understood as the child making meaning with what
>>> has been
>>> said, playing with it, creating with it, using it. For the social
>>> doesn't end just because the child is alone--s/he takes it with
>>> her/him; it
>>> becomes part of her/his life world and repertoire.
>>> What I can add about the relevance to school is the importance of
>>> opportunities for language play, and especially the kind of creative
>>> imitation Vygotsky believes is critical for very young children.
>>> For the
>>> most part schools do not create opportunities for children to play
>>> language in the way that is described here. We've created this
>>> thing called
>>> "vocabulary" which they are obliged to learn. Children are asked
>>> to get the
>>> correct or finished version tas quickly as possible-and they are
>>> given simplified language to help them do this. There is little of
>>> playfulness that happens when the language around you is not
>>> simplified, and
>>> you are free to play with and use it in a variety of ways.
>>> Perhaps helpful in adding to what I am saying is part of this
>>> quote from
>>> Vygotsky, which I wrote about in an article several years ago and
>>> resurrected for a just completed chapter for Cathrene-Ana-Vera's
>>> But is fully developed speech, which the child is only able to
>>> master at
>>> the end of this period of development, already present in the
>>> environment? It is, indeed. The child speaks in one word
>>> phrases, but
>>> his mother talks to him in language which is already grammatically
>>> syntactically formed and which has a large vocabulary*. *Let us
>>> agree to
>>> call this developed form, which is supposed to make its appearance
>>> at the
>>> end of the child's development, the final or ideal form. And let
>>> us call the
>>> child's form of speech the primary or rudimentary form. The
>>> characteristic feature of child development is that this
>>> development is
>>> achieved under particular conditions of interaction with the
>>> where this .form which is going to appear only at the end of the
>>> process of
>>> development is not only already there in the environment . but
>>> interacts and exerts a real influence on the primary form, on the
>>> steps of the child's development. *Something which is only
>>> supposed to
>>> take shape at the very end of development, somehow influences the
>>> very first
>>> steps in this development. *(Vygotsky, 1994, p. 348-the article is
>>> Problem of the Environment, appearing in The Vygotsky Reader)
>>> Apologies for
>>> the slightly abridged version of the passage.
>>> Not surprisingly, I "relate" creative imitation to performance....
>>> Lois Holzman, Director
>>> East Side Institute for Group and Short Term Psychotherapy
>>> 920 Broadway, 14th floor
>>> New York NY 10010
>>> tel. 212.941.8906 ext. 324
>>> fax 212.941.0511
>>> www.performingtheworld.org <http://loisholzman.net/>
>>> loisholzman.org <http://loisholzman.net/>
>>> On Jul 16, 2009, at 5:00 PM, Mike Cole wrote:
>>> David's note of a few days ago on 3-7 year old changes in
>>> egocentric speech
>>> me of an old article by Slobin and Welch (reprinted in Ferguson
>>> and Slobin,
>>> *Studies of Child Development, 1963)
>>> *that it took a while to track down. The study is often cited in
>>> studies of
>>> elicited imitation where an adult says some
>>> sentence and asks a little kid to repeat it. Kids simplify the
>>> sentence in
>>> normal circumstances ("Where is the kitty"
>>> becomes "where kitty") and other such stuff. There is a pretty large
>>> literature on this.
>>> But when I went to find the phenomenon in the article that had
>>> most struck
>>> me, I could not find it in the recent lit
>>> on elicited imitation. The phenomenon seems relevant to the
>>> dialogic etc speech discussion.
>>> The phenomenon is this: When a 2yr/5month old child is recorded
>>> you finish your eggs all up, Daddy, you
>>> can have your coffee." they can repeat this sentence pretty much
>>> as it is
>>> right afterward. But 10 minutes later it has
>>> become simplified a la the usual observation.
>>> Citing William James (the child has an "intention to say so and
>>> so") Slobin
>>> and Welch remark:
>>> If that linguistic form is presented for imitation while the
>>> intention is
>>> still operative, it can be faily successfully imitated. Once the
>>> is gone, however, the utterance must be processed in linguistic
>>> terms alone
>>> -- without its original intentional and
>>> contextual support." In the absence of such support, the task can
>>> the child's abilities and reveal a more limited competence than may
>>> be present in spontaneous speech (p. 489-90).
>>> This kind of observation seems relevant in various ways both to
>>> acquisition in school settings and to my reccurrent
>>> questions about the social situation of development. Is it
>>> relevant to the
>>> discussion of egocentric and social speech, David?
>>> xmca mailing list
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