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RE: [xmca] The strange situation

Jay, you wrote:

But I can't help thinking that much as it is true that successful teaching always depends on the teacher being truly responsive to the student, that is, to the cues the student provides about what more they need to take the step the teacher is hoping to see them take, that this inherent symmetry of successful communication still does not overcome the fact that the teacher really seems to be leading the students down a pre-determined garden path that leads to a pre-determined end. It's looks like transmission still, asymmetrical in power and ends and means still. And it's NOT, I hope, what LSV had in mind. Thought I might be wrong about this last point.

   when i think about your comment here - as well as Bateson's recognition that "the map is not the territory" - and that for me a theory is at best a map, certainly _not_ the territory, i also take into consideration that, again, accoring to Bateson, that learning is stochastic.  Whatever LSV had in mind, for me, my understanding is always an approximation - though i attempt to get as close to it as i can.

    as a teacher i cannot accurately predict what individual students will learn, nor can i accurately predict when they will learn particular understandings - further more, how each student will formulate her learning, verbalize it, etc., i can't even come close to anticipating.  much of my job is, i think, maintaining a recursive feedback loop in which i approximate my understandings of the student's understandings.  and out of this emerges common understandings, most of the time.

     below is an example of a small group reading lesson with third graders who are also learning english  i believe that it fits with what you are expressing.  in the reading group we have been discussing Frida Kahlo's work when Jorge gets up from his seat and returns with a book we had read earlier.

I turn now to Jorge, who has gotten the book on Diego Rivera. He has turned to a photograph of a mosaic of a traditionally dressed Mexican couple dancing.  
The woman’s hair has been parted in the middle, and hangs down in two braids in which red ribbons have also been braided.  She’s wearing a white blouse with what looks like embroidered flowers at the top, and her hands are lifting up a bright red skirt with what also looks like embroidered flowers.  A fancy lace slip shows below the skirt.  She is dancing on the brim of a wide hat, like a sombrero, but with a flat crown.  Her partner is mostly cut off in the photograph.  We can see not even half of him.  He sports long sideburns and a thin moustache.  He has a red scarf tied around his head.  He’s wearing a fancy vest and a red tie.  His gaze is on his partner, while her eyes are downcast towards the hat.  To my eyes they look as if they might be Gypsies or Mexican Indians.  I remember that I had been taught the Mexican hat dance as a fifth grader, and wonder if this is an example of that dance.  Jorge has a point to make, now that he has redirected us and gotten all of our attention.
1. Jorge – And, um, I think that, too, sometimes murals can tell stories because, watch this one.
2. T – I see you went and got the book on Diego.
3, Jorge – Yeah. Right here. I imagine that they are dancing, and that guy threw his hat – and the girl’s real, cause it has a girl’s dress from Mexico, and they do them.
4. T – And they do what like that?
5. Jorge – Their dresses.
6, T – Okay, so you’ve seen people like this dressed in Mexico?
7. Jorge – And I think they, murals, tell a story.
8. T – What kinds of times have you seen, when have you seen people dancing like this in Mexico?
9. Dolores – Guadalajara.
 Jorge wants us to understand that murals tell stories, and has gotten one of the cultural artifacts to illustrate his point.  He knows what this mural is telling because he has seen similar behavior in Mexico.  He knows that the hat didn’t just appear on the floor, but rather that the “guy threw his hat.”  He also recognizes the girl as “real” because he recognizes the dress from Mexico.
At the time he was talking I didn’t notice, but when I transcribed the tape, I realized that he used the verb “imagine”, which was earlier used by Miranda when she had announced that her sister had “imagination”.  During the tape transcriptions I have noticed that the same word will appear in close groups, as if each one of us is practicing using the word.  I think that this might be something to return to in the action research that might begin to demonstrate how vocabulary is appropriated.  But for now, what is most fascinating to me, was his understanding that the girl is real because her dress is from Mexico, and that this activity is found in Mexico.  I ask questions to elicit additional information, and then asking about times and places when Jorge has seen dances like on the mural, Dolores interjects, “Guadalajara.”  However, Jorge ignores Dolores’ contribution, and instead initiates a narrative.
1. Jorge – Like when they, um, go to, like in my grandpa’s bed and someone takes that thing I told you that round thing and it has sticks like that.
2. T – Tell me more. What does that round thing with sticks do?
3. Jorge – It, it has flowers.
4. T – You want to make a drawing up on the board? Okay.  You guys, watch what he’s doing to see if you can figure out what he’s making a drawing of.
5. Jorge – Flowers like this, I told you.
6. T – Oh!
7. Elizabeth – Oh, he showed us once.
8. T – Oh, for when people die?
9. Jorge – Yes.
10. T – Okay, a wreath. It’s a flower wreath. Uh huh(I write “flower wreath”).
11. Elizabeth – sometimes they can make heart-shapes.
12. T – Heart-shapes.
13. Elizabeth – And like, when, my cousin died and they make, they make one like this (draws on the board).  A heart like that.
14. T – They made a heart like that. (I restate and confirm what I see.)
15. Elizabeth – and they do that, and that, and it has flowers all around like that.
16. T – How old was your cousin?
17. Elizabeth – thirteen.  She wanted to get to fifteen.
18. T – She wanted to get to fifteen. (I repeat her statement.)
19. Elizabeth – Yeah.
20. T – But she only made it to thirteen.
21. Elizabeth – yeah.
 As he tells this narrative, Jorge employs a teaching strategy that I often use.  When I’m not sure that the students are understanding a word or a phrase that we are using I will often draw a picture on the chalk board.  Similarly, when Jorge notices that we can’t figure out “that round thing” with “sticks” and “flowers”, he stands up, moves over to the board, and begins drawing.  It is then, at turn number 6 that I understand what it is he is drawing.  Elizabeth at turn number 7 informs us that we’ve been told about this before.  Which is true.  Jorge tells lots of stories about his grandfather and his death and the work they did together on the farm in Chihuahua.  At turn number 10, I label the picture, and then Elizabeth recalls other shapes for flower displays in funerals.  Elizabeth then steps up to the board and draws a heart-shaped floral display, and begins her own story about her cousin that has died.  This is a new story, and will be returned to for the next few weeks.  The narratives ends poignantly for me when it is revealed that the cousin was only thirteen when she died, though she had wanted to live at least until she was fifteen.  
 As Elizabeth tells her story, I thought about my own cousin, Judy, who died when she was fourteen.  I remembered her three younger brothers at the funeral playing catch between the grave stones with an enormous yellow chrysanthemum.  I remembered what a cold foggy day it was.  I remembered how angry I was.  But I didn’t say a word about this to the Group of Five.  It wasn’t that I decided to not say anything.  I just brushed the story aside.


Phillip White, PhD
University of Colorado Denver
School of Education
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