Tuesday, November 27, 2007

For Those of You Who Love Language, A Treat

Erin McKean, a consultant assessor for our Latin programs in State schools, has a most wonderful blog called Dictionary Evangelist.

Subscribe if you love language -- it's consistently a lot of fun.

Transition Year Challenges: Mapping the Journey

Continuing from the last post . . . .

I spoke to an arts organization in London's East End, and they are interested in working with CAGSE on a mapping project for transition-year children we work with in our storytelling program. This program I've designed and implement with a professional storyteller called Sarah Mooney.

The Program

The Storytelling program does a number of things, all at once:

1. Raising children's awareness of how they think, how they feel, and the relationship between the two. This allows them to be responsible for the choices they make -- once they understand how they make them.

2. Offering children ownership over creative efforts that are often prescribed.

3. Giving children practice being more observant. Most people get lost in the process of analytic work somewhere between observation and drawing conclusions. Heighten sensitivity to the world around you, understand the importance of looking closely at detail, and you're less likely to take short cuts. This alone develops habits for more rigorous analysis of problems and makes it more likely we'll solve them in a satisfying way.

3. Offering teachers ways to enhance their own good work through somatic learning strategies. If we learn best by understanding concepts in different contexts, why not get the information in to the body as well as through the ears into the head?

4. Offering teachers ways new ways to approach subjects that are hardest to teach -- critical thinking, grammar, and writing, citizenship, and self-esteem.

We offer this program to schools to put in a literacy slot within the curriculum. It both develops literacy skills and works towards the requirements of the SEAL program currently being rolled out for the good of children's emotional development.

Getting the Program on a Map

It's likely that in January CAGSE will be working with Chris Nold to do emotional mapping of neighborhoods around a school through intergenerational walks -- within the school as well.

If Chris's and our past work is anything to go by, the project will give children and parents (or grandparents) a bigger context in which to see themselves as individuals, their relationship with school, and their place in the physical environment at home and in and around academic work.

Sarah and I will then build the storytelling work around negotiating identity within families, within schools structure, and as children move on to secondary school from the comfort of a familiar primary school environment.

More in the next post . . .

Friday, November 23, 2007

Emotional Cartography: In and Outside the Classroom

Continuing from the last post . . . .

I met with Chris Nold a week or so ago to discuss the possibility of working on a project within the storytelling work we do at CAGSE.

Most learning challenges for children are emotional rather than intellectual. What if we could help kids learn better by visually mapping the way they learn?

The Order of Chaos

In the creative process, there is always a point at which one steps into unknown territory. Writers often call it a block, but everyone knows that feeling of frustration when you've walked out of what you know and are not yet where you want to go.

Most of the time, this state causes anxiety, stress, and despair. It doesn't matter how many journeys of this kind we've made -- somehow, each time, we believe the state of not knowing will never end.

Once acknowledged, adults have the cognitive resources -- both intellectual and emotional -- to remind themselves that they've done this before, to remember the moment when they last found their way, and that no one exists in a limbo of uncertainty forever.

In other words, adults have the reasoning abilities (and one hopes, the practice) to know that change is inevitable.

What if there were a way to help children understand and remember this as well? Would this allow them to be feel comfortable with more risk and be more creative?

More in the next post.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Mapping Order from Chaos: Chris Nold

Pop Tech

I'm not sure how many of you have seen Kate Bulkley's article on Pop Tech in Guardian, but it's certainly worth taking a look. Of all the pieces I've seen, this one gives the closest picture to my experience of the conference -- both in content and energy.

Chris Nold

One of the most impressive speakers spoke the first day -- Chris Nold, who does emotional mapping of cities. Chris is interested in cities: what -- essentially -- is a city? What makes one city different from another? What makes one neighborhood stand out in one way while others don't?

It's not the buildings alone, Chris contends. It's the relationship between and among people and the environment.

Mapping It

Chris has created a machine that measures adrenaline as people walk around a neighborhood. Get enough people taking the same walk, record what they say, and you can map the overlaps and differences that make that neighborhood unique.

If this explanation is too abstract, please look here.

The results are extraordinary. More in the next post.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Speaking of Latin (and in it) . . .

The CEO of CAGSE, Dr. Richard Gilder, contends that the reason Classics are no longer taught in schools is the way they HAVE been taught to date.

There are plenty of academic torments we endure that have no immediately apparent application to day-to-day life. In fact, of all of these academic abstractions, Latin has the clearest relevance of all -- knowledge of it can faciliatate communication and understanding in whichever Romance language you speak.

And it works in English, too.

There's nothing that I can post that will match the blogs of the primary school kids with whom we work. These are all pupils who would not ordinarily have access to learning Latin, and through CAGSE have begun the language as a new adventure.

See what they have to say.

Spelling Out Enlightenment

In the last post, I discussed a conversation with Erin McKean, lexicographer and assessor for the CAGSE Latin programs in literacy.

Erin accuses good spellers of brutal moralizing -- using particular fixed meanings for words to instill shame and (they hope) submission and conformity to their points of view.

Erin thinks that good spellers have got their talent from one of their genes -- much in the same way that some people find it easier to do sums or match colors. Or they've been beaten and repressed so much that they want to impose the same treatment on others.

So Where Did It All Go Wrong?

Frankly, I blame Samuel Johnson.

As the first dictionary writer, he inevitably set a trend for those with a fear of change. Let's face it: Johnson believed in right and wrong. All of his epigrams, witty as they might be, inevitably moralize.

I mean really -- if a London dispatch rider is tired of London -- the smoke, the traffic, the congestion charge -- is he really, necessarily tired of life?

The Alternative

It's important to remember that Johnson wasn't the only 18th C thinker publishing like mad (and being read). The 18th C was one that was defined by an overarching argument about what it means to know.

There are those, like Johnson, Pope, and that crowd who defied change in meaning -- of custom, in fashion, and all the other things that went into building and maintaining the British Empire by force.

Then there was the other set -- Swift, Sterne, Susanna Centlivre and others -- who believed everything that one knows is defined by perspective.

Wouldn't advocacy of sort of play argue for a creative take on spelling and meaning?

And have you noticed that all (Western) arguments always come back to Plato and Aristotle?

More in the next post.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

Media Discretion: How to Use the Phone

Everyone uses the phone for business, but how?

As someone who worked in Silicon Alley in the early 90s, I felt quite sure that I understood online trends. I even wrote about them for a large consulting firm.

Clued in, me.

However, somehow I forgot all this when it came to training a high-level employee, very smart, but very young.

Young here doesn't mean immature: instead, it indicates a digital divide.

And I'm supposed to be an expert.

What Happened

From the first meeting I had with my employee (call him Joe) and our client, it was clear that he knew what he was doing. He had exceptional instincts.

Joe's job: new business development within educational communities.

In person he is an excellent communicator, and has good judgment about timing (when to say what to whom to greatest effect).

However, when I left Joe on his own, what I neglected to take into account in a majority of cases, he sent email rather than having real time conversation with new clients.

I'm talking voice here, of course, not text.

Lesson 1: How to Use the Phone

One day, I got four angry phone calls from three different people involved in the project. Every one of them seemed to be very upset about something entirely different.

Then I figured out that the common problem was none of the specifics explicitly stated in loud, angry voices.

It was email.

This Might Sound Obvious to Us (Not Even That Much) Older Folk . . .

At the root of every mess was the assumption that email 1) conveys transparently the intended meaning of the sender, 2) is read immediately, and 3) is the most effective way to communicate decisions.

It never occurred to my young executive to pick up the phone and find out what was going on.

We Lost the Client

Ultimately, it's my fault for not anticipating this problem. In fact, I've never trained anyone so young.

There was nothing wrong in the email in terms of what was said -- it was the fact that an email was sent at all.

I assumed that this sort of relationship management would be common sense to someone with Joe's flawless in-person communication skills.

But how would he learn media discretion if he only talks on the phone when text was unavailable?

Back to Pop Tech in the next post.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

More on What (Not) to Say: American Education

Say No More

I read a provocative blog post this morning that talks about the criminal code in the US that (this blogger claims) has an effect on our personal relationships:

EVERYONE who lives in the USA knows that "we have the right to remain silent." That little prayer is from something called the Miranda ruling by the Supreme Court. If you get arrested, the cops have to advise you that you have the right to not testify against yourself, which is protected by the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. The "Miranda warning" typically includes something like, "Anything you say can be used against you in court."

Bush and the Patriot Act seem relatively recent, and the widespread fear of being watched, held, saying the wrong thing in the US seems relatively recent.

However, I'd never thought about the Miranda Rights' potential influence on the American psyche, particularly when teaching children what's possible. American crime television and cinema often ends with the crook being caught with this particular mantra heard over a din (and it is chanted like a mantra).

After the British press yesterday reported that interventions in primary education have failed and testing is not useful (is anyone who isn't a politician surprised?), it's clearly not only Americans who need to encourage children to know what they think, say what they know, and not be afraid to see what others don't.

For Americans (and Viewers of American Crime Drama), What Alternative?

The idea wouldn't seem quite so provocative if it weren't for this question: what common chants encourage us to say what we think without threat of recrimination? And what implications does this have for kids who watch TV for much longer (and often much earlier) than they read?