Or understanding the wonderful world of stuff and the associated words.
Pick up something in front of you. Have a close look at it. Do you know it’s naming word, noun?
Describe it in terms of shape, colour, size and texture, adjectives.
What does it look like, smell like, feel like, taste like, sound like?
Welcome to the world of seeing things for the first time, just like early learners do. How much do we, as adults, take for granted about the world around us and how we got to know things for ourselves?
When children are young they ask, continually, “What is it?” and a bemused parent repeats the name of the object, which then gets extended through colour, shape etc, in an effort to broaden the vocabulary, sometimes just to make the “conversation” a little more interesting.
If you have two objects, then you can compare them in a variety of ways, starting with the sensory experiences above, introducing the language of comparison, rougher, smoother, heavier, lighter…
You can explore similarities and differences, for example, a handful of different leaves allows sorting and the beginnings of classification. It can also embed the idea of simile.
Things that move can be exciting, as then you can seek words that try to describe the movement, beginning to incorporate a range of verbs and adverbs.
What is it made from? This could be the beginning of some kind of materials science explorations, or perhaps also incorporating geography, as the materials may have been imported.
Life is lived for everyone as a sequence of experiences, time-bounded, and often constrained by geography. Each experience is absorbed in different ways by different people, depending on an individual’s sensory acuity, and possibly by the preferred means of accommodation of incoming information. Sight, touch, hearing, taste, smell all play a significant part in absorption of each experience. How can we know the impact of the experience on the receiver, without them having a well-developed articulacy and the active participation of the listener?
Gradually internalised pictures begin to develop which can be drawn to mind when the naming word is given, so to talk of a dog will create an image of such a creature. However, will it cause the same image to be called to mind in everyone, or will some think of a terrier while others recall a Great Dane?
The simplest response to a stimulus is to describe what has been experienced. Articulacy and names of objects are vital first steps in seeking to understand anything new, especially if the thoughts are shared with others who are able to respond appropriately and to share their own insights, so we have the beginnings of discussion and collaboration in learning. Therefore the key to this approach is communication of reactions to experience, employing any appropriate form of language and a variety of associated skills.
We tend to make huge assumptions about ourselves and others, often indulge in communication limited to the superficial for fear of causing any offence by having seen things differently. Communication, discussion and reflection, often thinking aloud, are the bedrock of understanding. Are these skills valued by society as a whole? What proportion of the population falls at the first hurdle, by not engaging with the world of experiences around them?
The issue of how we learn has taxed many generations of educationalists. Over a hundred years ago, Dewey coined the idea of visualisation as a key to learning. If one considers this idea, at its core is the idea that we need mental images that can then be manipulated to develop deeper thinking, more abstract thoughts. The ideas of Piaget were often simplified to the notion of concrete and abstract thinkers. This idea does fit with Dewey’s, in that the concrete stage is concerned with experiencing for oneself, at any age, playing with materials, artefacts, tools and seeking to understand some attributes, so that, by the time maturity appears, there is an ability to draw from memory images that can then be manipulated mentally.
Put learning in my way then walk beside me.
Talk to me.
Point out things that I may not yet see.
Answer my questions, and ask me some.
Ask me to explain what I think.
Add new words and ideas as you see that I understand.
That way, I’ll grow a little and you’ll know how much.
Then you can put new learning in my way.
Talk to me about learning, share thoughts and words.
Excite me to join in the world of stories and of discovery,
To fit with what I already think.
The world’s a very big place and I am very small.
The stories are sometimes enormous, too big for me to understand,
Perhaps for you too.
Share with me the secrets of discovering things for myself,
To experiment and explore,
To explain with my words what I have seen, read or heard.
Help me to learn to think for myself.
That way I will become a learner.
Give me a voice. Give me the words to join in.