About Dianne Allen

Facilitator of professional development, majoring on reflective research of practice to work with learning from/by experience, developing self- and other-awareness, and reading context

Prepositions

He (the non-native English speaker) wrote

Teachers and administrators are in the heart of this transition since they are directly responsible for implementing ICT in educational curricula.

I jumped to correct the ‘in the heart’ to ‘at the heart’.

And then I stopped, and thought, and commented to myself:

Interesting aspect of prepositional use .. why am I (21st century Australian) reluctant to say ‘in the heart’, as a metaphor for the critical/key role they play in this change?

Such a little thing, these prepositions.  Such a minor change?  But if we are talking, and thinking, about sociocultural aspects of change, perhaps there is more to it than that.

Brainstorming, Chunking, Clustering and Clouds

One of the tools of creative problem solving, useful in group work, including in dispute resolution, involves brainstorming – gathering, unevaluated, ideas associated with the presenting problem, from a group of people.  One of the processes of such braintorming is the stimulation of associated words and ideas gathered into such words.  Brainstorming is a bit like de Bono’s green hat work, with a dash of yellow hat work.

One of Lewin‘s key suggestions for analysis of non-trivial amounts of ethnographic description required for the kind of qualitative research that is involved in observing and understanding social situations, is something akin to  ‘chunking‘: bringing together, under a single term, a constellation of factors, eg ‘gatekeeper’ for the kinds of activities a member of a community/group undertakes to manage the flow of information into and out from the community/group. It involves the development of a metaphor.(‘Topological’ mapping is another of Lewin’s suggestions.) (See Argyris, 1993 Knowledge for Action, p.8-10)

As I was considering the task of deciding categories, for a non-native English speaker, as part of the process of handling a lot of data, I noted

To what extent might recognising commonalities of categories be related to language comprehension?  To what extent is what I am doing related to my propensity for convergence by abstraction – going, I think, to a ‘broader’ level of inclusivity?   Others’ clouds and clusters work with words.

Now I find that ‘clustering’ is a technical term, with the propensity for use with computers, reminding me that when I was using NUD.IST for my data analysis, I was amused to find this qualitative analysis tool reporting results in a numeric form, as if recurrence was most significant.

In reading someone else’s writing for understanding, for meaning-making there are two sets of understandings and associations of words in play: the reader’s set, and the writer’s set.  No wonder miscommunication happens.

In thesis work, when clarity of communication is so vital, no wonder time and precious words are spent on working with some key definitions.

Big Picture Thinking

One of my ponderings, as I have worked with non-native English speaking thesis drafters, relates to the extent that vocabulary limits/determines the categories available for the more general abstractions.

In Whetten & Cameron’s Developing Management Skills, (p.64, 4th ed) the aspect of ‘cognitive complexity’, together with greater capacity for tolerating ambiguity, is raised.  ‘Individuals with a high tolerance of ambiguity also tend to be more cognitively complex’.  The point is made that individuals with greater cognitive complexity tend to have more ‘sense making categories’ than those with a low cognitive complexity.  Then they go on to say:

for the most part, in an information-rich environment, tolerance of ambiguity and cognitive complexity are more adaptive than the opposite characteristics.

Donald Schon, in The Reflective Turn, (1991), p.349, talks of ‘fundamental categories’ in terms of ‘ontology’, and the nature of the underlying story that can be developed to inform a researcher, and particularly while they are observing. and indicates that the availability of a range of categories will be one aspect of developing rigor, in Popper’s terms. (The other strand of the development of rigor will lie in the research approach, and the extent to which it is open to others being involved in esting validity). Schon says:

… appropriate rigor in the study of practice will depend on the researcher’s ability to generate, compare and discriminate among multiple representations of practice phenomena – that is, to formulate alternate causal stories of the phenomenon in question and test their competitive resistance to refutation .. the ontology, or fundamental categories, of an underlying story determines the kinds of observations that must be made in order to disconfirm an explanation derived from that story.

One of the problems for a non-native English speaker, in working with qualitative findings, may then arise from their lack of vocabulary in English, or to what extent, when learning English vocabulary to translate their thinking in their native language, they permit some of the nuances of their native language to be lost in choosing a reasonably well-recognised English word.

As a native speaker, one of the significant tools to aid my drafting is a thesaurus – the collection of like but different terms, with their respective nuances.

Big picture thinking, with its convergent tendency, and creative conceptualising, tend, as I understand it to be one of the hallmarks of academic literacy.

When I take offense/challenge

In one of my challenges of another’s drafting was in a methodology chapter, when they were describing the process of thematic analysis, and said

The tentative themes were then categorized according to the research questions to reduce redundancy. This categorizing technique helped to make salient the points that the interviewees wanted to emphasize. One of the refining techniques in the process of interview analysis was comparing two interviews only to show similarities and differences between two teacher participants so that common themes and contrasts could be clearly identified.

I reacted badly to ‘This categorizing technique helped to make salient the points …’

My first reaction was ‘what does ‘salient’ mean?’ – I don’t know, without checking, what it means, how come this non-native English language speaker is using it?

Then I remembered: when I was working with my thesis drafting, and working intensively with the literature, I found my writing ‘mimicking’ the vocabulary of the writers I was reading.  At the time, I shared, with a peer, my complaint with myself over this process, with: “whose thesis/ thinking is this anyway?”

One of my key perceptions of what science teaching (to school certificate learners, undertaking compulsory studies) involved, was that one aspect of the task is to teach vocabulary (eg carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, fibre: what they are; why and how they are different; and, then, what is the value of knowing this – how does it apply to an understanding of good nutrition?).

Similarly, I am seeing thesis studies being about (a) self-directed learning; and (b) functional literacy.

Research, for a learner, is going into the unknown.  In the first instance it is an unknown to them, but may well be known by the ‘field’.  Consequently, one of the roles of the literature review is to take this novice into the field, and to find out what the field already knows about the phenomenon being explored.  Then, if the learner still has an unresolved question, the next step is to design the investigation and take themselves into that new territory, to explore it, and to come back and tell the story (write the report).

The thesis is then the evidence of managing that self-directed study, and developing the functional literacy involved in reporting findings back to the field.  Part of the functional literacy task is to learn the privileged vocabulary of the field.  Part of the functional literacy task is to learn how to be able to use that vocabulary, accurately and effectively, and to construct a report, for the field (peer review), demonstrating the achievement of certain standards of (a) data collection, (b) data analysis, (c) argument development and maintenance while retaining an appropriately open and ‘critical’ stance of one’s own work as well as the work of others.

My second reaction to ‘make salient’ was with the combination, and the ‘implicit’, for me, in the term ‘make’.  I was reading this as a forcing process and by (me as) the analyst.

So, was the combination ‘make salient’ an expression of the non-native English language writer, or was it how a writer in the field of methodology had expressed it, which this learner, like me, was finding infiltrating their own native expressions as they worked at becoming an initiate of the field?

And my reaction to ‘make salient’?… Was it my tendency to try and disown bias?  Was it me trying to give the impression of ‘objectivity’ when, in data analysis, particularly,  it is the person of the researcher who is doing the ‘making sense’ of what is there, is doing the choosing of the category tag, etc?

So now, how  do I understand the objectivity/subjectivity divide?

In research there is no capacity to separate the researcher (subject) from the research (object).  Claims that this happens/ can happen are only claims.

And, further, when I am brought up against this issue, in drafting that is dealing with Engestrom’s Activity System Model (ex Leont’ev, ex Vygotsky), [and something which is new to me], how do I now understand how the ASM is seeing subject-object and via a mediating tool like language?

Writing and context

I have been encouraged, previously, to realise that writing is a complex task, according to Scardamalia and Bereiter, 1991 (‘Literate Expertise’).

Now that I am trying to help others to write, I am also finding out a bit more about that complexity.  It has to do with the contextual nature of writing and meaning making.

Bateson, (1972/1969 ‘Double Bind’, in Steps to an Ecology of Mind), suggests that part of the capacity to be creative arises from somehow recognising cues from context .. and realising that in a certain context, something new is what is most appropriate.

It seems to me, as I try and suggest alternatives, of word choice, of sentence construction, for non-native English writers working on thesis drafting, and as I try to explain why what is written is not satisfying me, as a reader, the issue of a range of options of how else to write this, arises.

Those options need to be examined , and by using a range of evaluative criteria, in order to choose, or to design, which one, of the many ways of saying something, best serves the meaning the writer wants to convey.

No wonder, when I tried to construct a email, to share some of this, the email became more and more convoluted …

I needed to be with the writer, questioning, and finding out the meaning they intended,

I needed to help them to settle the choice on one issue before I/we could proceed to the next issue, whether it was immediately consequential, or not.

The choice of options, and all options chosen, needs to consolidate (or coalesce) around the purpose of the writing.  This is what is meant by coherence – a context in which each sentence has its own inimitable part to play.

It seems that I wasn’t far wrong, as an eight-to-nine-year-old, in reading the lot to try and find the meaning of the new word/s, rather than using a dictionary as a first resort.  I was working on understanding a new term, especially, in its context, as well as by its context.

5 Feb 2010: Now I find, from Kate Wilson’s thesis on EAP, that van Lier (2004) puts ‘context’ on the top of his list of ten principles for language learning. [No. Kate puts ‘context’ top; van Lier puts ‘relations’ top and ‘context’ second; though if we are strictly systemic, it willbe hard to order anything as top, because they are all interrelated, so that you cannot have-one-without-the-other.]

A Practice Dilemma for Self-Study when helping

My practice involves helping.

The questions I ask, of my practice, to proceed into self-study, include:

1. How do I improve my practice?

2. How do I help you improve your learning?

3. How do I live my values more fully in my practice?

(from Jack Whitehead see http://www.bath.ac.uk/~edsajw/ )

I am beginning to recognise a persistent dilemma in undertaking this kind of self-study.

When my practice is with others, the process of my gathering data, for my focus, runs counter to ‘being there’ (presence a la John Heron), and being there for the process of helping.  And yet, unless I can know more about my practice, about the nature and quality of my helping, how can I work at improving it?

For the one I help, it is their objective that is their primary focus.  Asking them for information about my inputs is a distraction from that objective.  When that is the case, to proceed with my agenda destroys the helping relationship, shifting the ground.  When my focus moves from helping, I cease to be there, and cease to be effectively there for the one I am intending to help, and to keep on helping, and by being focused on their primary concerns and focus.

I can engage in relatively contemporaneous post-activity reflective work; gathering and documenting observations of the helping event.  I can engage in post-action reflection, and document that.

When the helping relationship is ongoing, I can work with my post-activity reflective work, and undertake some pre-activity reflective work as I design my likely inputs, and I can document that.

I can engage in reflection-in-action, and especially when the action involves writing a response.   It is more difficult to capture reflection-in-action in a live and synchronous interchange.  That is when ‘being there’ is much more significant.

But asking for evaluative input, from the person being helped, long after the event of helping, when the pressure of their immediate and primary task concern has abated, is likely to be asking for what is not remembered, and if remembered is now far from being relatively contemporaneous.  It may be coloured by layers of interactions since.

How then to find out the efficacy of my helping, from the other’s viewpoint (member checking aspect of validity)?

What does the literature have to tell me about this dilemma?

When I first noticed some of the dimensions of this dilemma, it was in respect of my professional development activity design.

(p.48-9 of my thesis

http://ro.uow.edu.au/theses/288/

During that process, a number of challenges to, and dilemmas of, the design and its assumptions arose.

  • [do people change, if and when they know their behaviour and what and how to improve?]
  • [is self-disclosure of, for, and by the practitioner ethical, or does it amount to a power play involving ingratiation?]
  • [when does a practitioner introduce challenges to assumptions?]
  • [if a practitioner has a mental model that goes beyond evidence-based research, because it has been framed in a different knowledge system, but appears relevant to the problem, when and how does the practitioner introduce such a frame, so that it too can be open to consideration and examination?]

My second recognition of some of the dimensions of the dilemma related to trying to establish a cooperative peer research team. Here I noted (p.53)

Concurrent with the preparations to contact a group and begin the professional development activity, I explored the potential to participate, as a peer, in a group, with others working in a like area.   It was, for me, a matter of congruence.   I needed to be doing what I was asking others to do.   I needed to find out, by doing, where it was easy for me, and where it was difficult for me.

….

While looking for such a group I was also aware of a dilemma: if my thesis was soundly based, then such a group would also need to build self-awareness, and in that group.   For me to bring my material to such a group of peers would need me to move out of the peer role for at least the input of the relevant self-awareness materials.

When I first recognised the dilemma, in practice, I noted (p.152-3)

One change that developed during the activity was the awareness of being there (Heron’s indicator of whole person facilitation engagement (Heron, 1999)) and adding that to my focused reflective categories.   To ‘be there’ I needed to disengage from my previous practice of in situ, in vivo, notetaking.   My experience of operating as a participant-observer in the action design included the training and testing of my memory and recording capabilities.   I reached the point where I recognised that my increased capabilities, together with being there, were sufficient to capture the material that is significant for ongoing practice issues, providing that the necessary records are made as soon as possible after.   I could ‘give myself’ to being there, attending with all my being to the moment and the interactions, and very little would be lost in the later recording.   Indeed, when my attention was distracted from being there, I often did not retain a good recollection of the distraction, let alone the other interactions operating at the same time.

Reviewing posts here

I have been reviewing my earlier bout of posting here (April 2009), and recognising some very useful thinking then.

Following the passage of time, I am now wondering if I have something more synthesised to report?

I have collected a WORD file of the posts here, and I can annotate that with comments ..

I am building an index of what is here at my Tiddlywiki to ‘get an overview’, as well as the refreshing that comes from re-reading, and maybe editing or commenting here on

Now I have a surfeit of ways of reviewing and capturing thinking … hmmm: where and how to simplify?; what to do to protect against malevolent reflexivity?

Language and thinking

At Facebook, I shared the following ‘what’s on my mind’:

I am thinking much more about English language, and its implications for how well we can think, and whether another language would help me think better …

That spawned 15 comments between myself and two others, an email offline, and a wall post from one of the two participants, to the effect that

I have heard of the idea that once you start dreaming in a new language then you are on the way to becoming fluent.

which, in turn, registered 6 comments.

My email offliner shared the following link  http://bit.ly/4BvmCS which extended our conversation to  more public and research-based substance.

In summary, my pondering about language and thinking, and multilingual capacities has some merit.

Along the way, I shared some details from Dispute Resolution studies, about language and tonal patterns, and national differences, and the potential for misunderstanding, in multicultural contexts, from differences in tone, and assumptions about what certain registers might imply.  Arthur Koestler‘s Act of Creation, 1964, got an honourable mention, and I have since been reminded that another of the indicators of proficiency in a second language is when you understand the jokes, and better still when you can repeat the jokes, because you have attended to the words that carry the joke.

The conversation then shifted to emotional thinking/intelligence, and, in part, because I referred to Gardner’s multiple intelligences, and I responded with some of the material I have worked on here, previously.

Language and creativity

Now to explain, in part, the other post.

In amongst my list of curiosities about learning is what and how we learn before we have what becomes our native language.

For me, it is logical that we do learn before we have recognisable and expressible language skills, and because we do learn that skill: the ability to communicate in our native language.

Gardner, in his preface to Frames of Mind (1983), comments:

‘Constraints research has revealed that, by the end of early childhood, youngsters have developed powerful and already entrenched theories about their immediate world: the world of physical objects and forces; the world of living entities; the world of human beings, including their minds.  Surprisingly, and in contradiction to the claims of the great developmentalist Jean Piaget (Mussen and Kessen 1983), these naive ‘conceptions’ and ‘theories’ prove difficult to alter, despite years of schooling.  And so it often happens that the ‘mind of the five-year-old’ ends up unaffected by the experiences of school. … At first blush, this diagnosis would appear to sound a death knell for formal education.  It is hard enough to teach to one intelligence; what if there are seven?  It is hard enough to teache even when anything can be taught; what to do if there are distinct limits and strong constraints on human cognition and learning? (p.xxii-xxiii)

So we learn our native language.

And, now, I am engaged in helping people work in a language which is not their native language, with writing for thesis purposes.

In the end, a thesis is an argument substantiating a claim.  The writing involves a protocol of exposing the substance of the claim: the grounds, the warrants, the backing, the qualifications and the rebuttals (as Toulmin puts it).

As I understand it, one of the protocols of western/occidental argument construction [that moves beyond ‘information’ (‘conveying the facts’) to a synthesis (that, in my case, prefers some sort of explanatory theory)] involves defining categories, and includes constructing the bounds of new categories and categories of conceptualisations, and sometimes by what is called nominalisation – making nouns out of verbs, or abstractions, or higher levels of generalisation.

That is to say, as far as I can express it, how we think, in the so-called 21st century world, has a high degree of reliance on ‘literacy’ – how we manage and extend our learning of language.

But what if this process of thinking, which privileges the ‘big picture’, is unbalanced, and to the extent that it is unbalanced, is faulty?

Do people who learn in another culture, with another kind of language, who may, by that culture and language, privilege ‘attention to detail’, and have other ways of managing detail and synthesising from it, both think differently and have other ways of problem solving, and ways which might help us deal with the complexity of the change wrought in our environment from the hegemony that has permitted virtually unrestrained exploitation of natural resources?

If so, does training them to think and express themselves, in compliance to the western/occidental mode, risk destroying that alternative?

Gardner, H. (1993). Frames of Mind: The theory of multiple intelligences ( 2nd ed.). London: HarperCollins.

Toulmin, S., Rieke, R., & Janik, A. (1984). An Introduction to Reasoning ( 2nd ed.). New York: Macmillan.