October 10, 2009

Tracy Hasn't Gotten a Straight Answer Yet

Tracy asks:
How could we learn language without content knowledge? For example, how could a small child ask their mother for a biscuit without some awareness of what a biscuit is?


When Tracy writes "some awareness of what a biscuit is," I read this as meaning an "awareness of the concept of biscuit," rather than an "awareness of the word biscuit."

If Tracy meant the latter, I'm close to certain she would have written "without knowing the word biscuit." Moreover, does anyone seriously disagree that a small child could "ask their mother for a biscuit without knowing the word biscuit."



Also, when Tracy writes "ask their mother," I read this as expecting the child to use expressive language to put a question to his mother, rather than expressing a desire to their mother which includes expressive language and non-verbal communication.

Stephen, on the other hand, interprets the sentence to mean "how could a small child express a desire to their mother for a biscuit without knowing the word biscuit"? Yeah, that's quite the burning question we've been waiting with bated breath to have answered.  It "asked" this question to my six year old daughter, she immediately responded with "you could point to it." Stephen, in contrast, broke through Google's 4000 character limit explaining his answer.  An answer to a question no one really asked for or cares about.

So let's get back to Tracy's real and far more interesting question: "how could a small child ask their mother for a biscuit without some awareness of the concept of biscuit."  Or, why don't we go back to an even broader question "how could a small child express the desire to their mother for a biscuit without some awareness of the concept of biscuit."  This eliminates the need for facts and receptive/expressive language altogether which seems to be confusing Stephen or at least is serving as an excuse for avoiding the direct answering of Tracy's question.

Of course, I anticipated all of this which is why I clarified the issue in my post which Stephen has studiously avoided addressing.

And, while we're at it, the term "concept of biscuit" does not require an knowledge of language. Concepts are a form of domain or content knowledge.

And let's also exclude the rare situation in which a person could express a desire as the result of a habitual response or the like.

Lastly, I'm sure Tracy would still like to know the answer to her original question, if we want to stick with the same concrete example.  How does one read about or think critically about biscuits without understanding the concept of biscuit.

Back to you Stephen.

(Prediction:  I will regret not defining (for yet another time) what a concept is and how a concept is known.)

9 comments:

Downes said...

Bull.

I said here (and in the comments):

"evidence which would prove that there is some fact without which a knowledge of some language is impossible."

I also took the time to explain what I meant, and to describe the logical form of the sort of answer needed.

As for this bit of nonsense - "I read this as meaning an "awareness of the concept of biscuit," rather than an awareness of the word biscuit.'" - I took the time to ask and establish whether she believed 'knowledge' is "(a) propositional in form - and specifically, expressible as a sentence or set of sentences?" and she replied very clearly that yes, that's what she meant.

Sorry, there is not shred of truth to this post. Not one.

KDeRosa said...

We shall soon see what Tracy really meant.

But, when someone writes "A and B" in normal usage it typically means A, B, or both" at any one time. You shouldn't have just assumed she meant "both" always.

Regardless of the "misunderstanding" nothing is preventing you now from addressing the question as I clarified.

Downes said...

Yes Ken, when somebody writes "and" then normally mean "or".

Any more gems of wisdom before I'm done here?

KDeRosa said...

So, if I write knowledge includes rules and procedures, you're saying I must mean that every piece of knowledge must include both a rule and a procedure, not that piece of knowledge one is a rule, knowledge 2 is a procedure and knowledge 3 includes both. I couldn't possibly mean that in ordinary usage?

Stacy in NJ said...

Are you asking about biscuit the fluff thing eaten with gravey in the South or the British version of biscuit, which is really a cookie? Define your terms, Define your terms.

Tracy W said...

'knowledge' is "(a) propositional in form - and specifically, expressible as a sentence or set of sentences?" and she replied very clearly that yes, that's what she meant.

Downes, to quote myself, again
"By "content knowledge" I mean (a) and part of your (b). The part of your (b) I want is the one you labelled "experiental, or the result of some experience, or some neural state".

Claiming that I only answered (a) and ignoring that I clearly speified "part of (b)" is lying by omission.

Tracy W said...

Ah, now I've posted, it occurrs to me how Downes was misreading my statement.

When I said "I mean (a) and part of your (b)" Downes is reading this as content knowledge has to be both (a) and part of (b). But I was meaning this as content knowledge is made up of both propositional knowledge and "experiental, or the result of some experience, or some neural state". So if someone knows something they can put in a proposition, that's part of their content knowledge, and if someone has some experiental knowledge that for whatever reason they can't put in a proposition", that's also part of their content knowledge. (And as a practical matter, anyone participating in this conversation has both.)

So, Downes, to ask again:
"Is there any evidence that could convince you that content knowledge, in the sense of either propositional knowledge or experiental knowledge, or the result of some experience, or some neural state, might be necessary for reading and critical thinking?

Malcolm Kirkpatrick said...

Wittgenstein: "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."

Maybe we can hum. Or express ourselves through dance. That baby can cry from hunger. Is that "asking for a biscuit"? Of course, the adult has to distinguish the hunger cry from the pain cry and the loneliness cry, and so does the infant. Is that "content knowledge"?

Sorry if this derails the discussion, but it seems to me a lot depends on what you are trying to do with an answer to the central question: "What is the role of content knowledge in Reading instruction?"

We can think without words. I expect deaf-mute nurses could teach chess to infants reared in isolation from language, using only figurine algebraic notation and physical chess sets, or chess sets alone. These nurses could then present a chess position and "ask" (with facial expressions) of people so instructed for 15 years: "White to play and move. What would you do?"

Whether the children's answers make sense (i.e., whether the children had learned to play chess, i.e., whether their chess teachers had done their jobs) would depend on whether the moves they suggest would be, in fact, good moves.

In Math and chess, the syntax is the content knowledge. The game is symbolic manipulation only. Let => mean "implies". Let <=> mean "if and only if". Let "~" mean "or". Let - mean "not". "a=>b"<=>"-a~b"<=>"-(a&-b)". The content knowledge is pretty basic: when do people use the word "not", "and", "or".

It seems to me that Steven Downes wants to use as his measure of Reading teacher effectiveness a test of students' knowledge of syntax alone. Even here, some content knowledge matters. Students must discriminate between nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, etc.
Read the following text and answer the questions. You have 15 minutes. Make sure you completely darken the bubble wiht your #2 pencil.
Text..
"Twas brillig and the slithey toves did gyre and gimbal in the wabe".

Question. What did gyre?

You assumed that "toves" is a noun, did you not? Maybe "toves" is an adjective and "slithey" is the noun, as in "pie a la mode" or "hamburger de lux".

You know what? In a free market for education services, I would not care what Steven thinks. To each his own, I always say. Let him teach his own kids. When they grow up, they can shine engineers' shoes. "What works?" is an empirical question which only an experiment (a comptititve market in education services) can answer.

Perhaps the point of State-monopoly school systems is to compel working stiffs to pay attention to Professors of Education.

KDeRosa said...

Malcolm, Stephen has left the building so allow me to play the poor-man's Stephen Downes:

Malcolm, my characterization of your understanding of content knowledge is inconsistent with the points you raise in your comments. How could you hold such contradictory views? Clearly, you do not wish to argue with me according to my mischaracterization of your views. I bid you good day, sir.

(Not sufficiently obtuse, I know, but that's the best I can do.)