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Curiosity and language learning

Attempting to explain relationships between concepts that language ability does not accommodate – yet.

(Image: An image by an anonymous Grade 5 student, depicting a complex message that words could not yet convey.)

This image depicts a very precise message on the surface – cyber bullying hurts. It also depicts the vulnerability of the child, sitting at his computer, in an otherwise safe place, most likely at school or home. The child is defenseless, arms by his side, unaware – the attack came fast and hard. The child is alone, the attack without witness, a large empty space surrounds him to further hint of this isolation.  The  impact from the blow, painful – the viewers attention drawn immediately to the clenched teeth and closed eyes of the victim; powerless, resigned, alone. The anonymity of the bully’s arm adds to this feeling of isolation and powerlessness. However, this anonymity works both ways, a faceless interaction, devoid of any confirmation of intent – leading to a whole new line of inquiry into the other side of the screen, out of the picture, the origin of the arm; an inquiry into communication during online interactions. Did the bully know? It’s a complex picture.

I was a mentor to a group of Grade 5 students working on the culminating task for the International Baccalaureate (IB) Primary Years Program (PYP) Exhibition. During the Exhibition inquiry process, in small, collaborative groups, students conduct an inquiry into a issue important to them and as you may be able to guess, this image came from a group inquiring into cyber bullying. During the mentoring process, I was amazed at the adventurous spirit in which the students were able to experiment with new language to describe cyber bullying. This was most obvious in the range of new vocabulary that they could draw from, but also in the more complex types of sentence structures that they were attempting to use to explain the complex issues they were uncovering. The students were attempting to explain relationships between concepts that their language ability could not accommodate – yet.

One of my students drew this picture for me on a thank-you card at the end of the Exhibition. Considering the inquiry that those students had pursued, it was a powerful image and the students, at different times and in different ways, had explained all of the connotations of the above picture. The students were intensely curious about this topic and it was this curiosity that drove the experimentation with new language. They were also passionate, but passion is not always coupled with curiosity (and this can be a dangerous mindset later in life). That it was curiosity that drove their need to use new language is a critical point when considering language learning in our schools. How seriously do we consider the role of curiosity when considering the development of language?

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