Vocabulary learning

It looks like I am beginning to gather data on this issue, and to help my international students.  Here is a great resource

When I taught science (1966, 1968-1972, 1973) it was my evaluation that I needed to help these students in two ways: (1) teach them the vocabulary of science – so at the end of my time at Kiama High School, I was starting to plaster the science lab walls with visuals: text/terms/vocabulary, and pictures of what these terms related to; (2) give them enough opportunity with the science gear to begin to build manual facility with the technical gear.

I am not sure what would be my number 2, now, but I fail to see what might dislodge my number one.

Whetten and Cameron have this to say about vocabulary: (p.64, 4th ed)

Individuals who have a high tolerance of ambiguity also tend to be cognitively complex. They tedn to pay attention to more information, interpret more cues, and possess more sense-making categories [vocabulary] than less complex individuals do.

Schon has this to say: The Reflective Turn: Case Studies in and on educational practice.  (p. 349), speaking of appropriate rigor inthe study of practice

With respect to the first condition, 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.



Interesting article on the art of persuading by John Dickson.  This has connections for me, concerning my incapacity to persuade, which was particularly apparent during 1968-1972.

It also has links to recent contributions to ‘popular misconceptions’ .. an aspect of Mezirow’s ‘Distorted Assumptions and Toulmin’s Fallacies .. and my collection and analytical tool of Faulty thinking.

Other recent contributors to my growing file are Ross Gittins’ commentary on David Myers and Dave Snowden

Metaphor, some personal history

When I was a senior school student of English Literature (circa 1961/2), one insight stood out for me – irony, in Shelley’s Ozymandias.

As far as I can remember, that was the first time my perception of learning, in Eng Lit, went beyond ‘learning the facts’.

Yes, I had learnt that ‘metaphor’ is a form of speech, and is when one thing is claimed to be another, as in ‘The moon was a ghostly galleon …’; compared with simile which used ‘as’ or ‘like’ to preface the claim.

I have met up again with ‘metaphor’, and now much later.  Jack Mezirow speaks of metaphor being an indicator of the kind of reflective work/thinking that conveys the potential to move a person’s meaning perspective (what he calls ‘transformative’), or provides evidence of such a shift (p.219).

I have been used to the idea of ‘analogy’ and that kind of thinking being helpful for creative theorising since reading of Kekule’s snake, and the benzene ring (probably Asimov, probably about 1960).

Now I am understanding metaphor, and that kind of thinking, to be related to abduction, as distinct from deduction and induction.

The process of comparison, so vital to ‘research’ and working with ‘findings’, to manage lots of data, is part of this older understanding of how an educated person can use language, and so and more ‘creatively’.

In my thesis (1999-2005) I worked some more with Gregory Bateson’s idea of the meta- … meta-cognition, meta-communication, the second-level process of thinking about thinking, communicating about communication etc.

So what is the meta-4? (as per punning) … to help us think and to communicate our thinking …

How important is it? It seems to me that irony, paradox, truth hidden in the meaning of words, is something that will be with me all my life.  Whether  I can make something more of this understanding is another matter; let alone considering how I make something more of this …

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.

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.