Saturday, March 2, 2013

More on the "Here-and-Now-Photos-of-Us" game

I've talked a bit about how we abandoned the "Here-and-Now-Descriptions-of-Us" game in Phase 1, and replaced it with the "Here-and-Now-Photos-of Us" game. The latter game was actually describe in a couple of places in the Phase 1 guide (The First 100 Hours), but we've elevated it. Below is an explanation I wrote for another forum.

The old-cowboy traditional-linguist in me naturally thinks of person and number categories as first base. (person&number means I, you, you-plural, we, he, she, they, and various other possibilities). But now the Vygotskyan LLA in me also feels that the starting point of all languacultural life is two people in relationship, against the backdrop of others, and making reference to those others (and inheriting much from them). In other words, the kernel of languacultural life is "I-you" plus "he". It grows from there.

In other words, nothing seems more basic than person&number. Given this conviction, I was bothered by the fact that "I-you" played so little role in Phase 1A. Well, we get off to a good start in Session 1, Game 1, with "man, woman, I, you, boy, we..., dog, cat" (Where is the man? Where am I? Where is the dog? Where are you? etc.). Rip roaring start. However, think of a new baby: "I" and "you" are going to be some of the most frequent bits of sound in his/her environment. We may agree that they are the kernel, but they don't seem to play much natural role for us until dialogues in Phase 2. So we came up with the "here-and-now-descriptions-of-us," but always felt they were a lame patch up. In that game, you may recall, everyone starts doing something--sitting, walking, running, etc. And the nurturer addresses a single GP in the group, telling that person what everyone, including the nurturer, is doing, "*I* am standing. *You* are walking. *They* [two of your fellow GPs, say] are running. Now *we* (you and I) are sitting and *he* is walking... " 

What was the task in this? Well, the only task is to notice how the nurturer says those things. Not too good. Angela pointed out that it is in the spirit of "point and listen" which we largely shun, and not in the spirit of "listen and point," which we praise. (In "point and listen" there is no choice to be made, and so we don't process what we hear in the same way as when we have to do the work of  understanding it.) In the case of Kazakh, we videoed this game, which meant at least we could relieve and refresh the experience and strengthen the forms. 

Before entering the Kazakh world, at the same stage of Russian growing participation, we did something better. The year was 1995 or 6. We took our camera to our session, and we made separate photos of different combinations of us doing things separately and together. We only met once a week with that nurturer, and so we had a week to get the photos developed (we went to a one-hour place--the wonder of technology). 

In our next meeting, we spread the photos around, and the nurturer could literally ask, "In which picture am *I* running," since there was indeed a picture in which she was running. She said to my ten-year-old, "In which picture are *we* walking." He kept choosing the wrong photographs. Finally, she realised he could not understand "we". So she pointed to herself and said, "This is I". She pointed to him and said, "This is you." Finally, she put her arm around his shoulders and gave him a very firm sideways hug, saying, "This is we". Now that, my brothers and sisters, epitomises sociocultural learning of "we". First person plural is a good spot to epitomise that, isn't it. Few concepts are more sociocultural (or more GPA-ish) than "we," after all.

This game with photos, as an alternative to "here-and-now-descriptions-of-us," was presented in the Phase 1 guide, and I've mentioned it at many LLACs. However, we never named it. Now we have: "Here-and-now Photos of Us". Think of how superior it is to the mere descriptions. It creates a real information gap. The GP must process the person&number forms and understand them and use the information to perform that task, which means much deeper processing than when you are just supposed to listen and understand. It is also a good example of a "structured input" game. It can hopefully be modified for any level of complexity of person-number-gender-etc. system. (But if the languaculture uses both pronouns and other person markers, don't forget to omit the pronouns for structured input--or else you won't listen to the other person markings. So instead of "I am running; he is walking" you would just hear "am running; is walking".) 

Remember that with structured input, you need to keep it simple, as in "Start with two concepts, and only add one new one at a time". Also, and I'll put this in all caps, since they say that ALL CAPS IS THE EMAIL VERSION OF SHOUTING: DON'T GET CARRIED AWAY AND LET STRUCTURED INPUT ACTIVITIES TAKE OVER. They should be a really small part of the whole picture. And stick to grammar issues that are relevant to here-and-now language (in other words, not past tense and future tense!).

Having given this warning, I can testify that when done in proper balance, such games are powerful. In Potwari for the present progressive you have a sequence of a person, number and gender suffixes and mixed with other suffixes/particles. A little bit of structured input for several days--and at first even that seemed overwhelming--but by the time we started talking, we could produce the forms ourselves (not that it would have been the end of the world had we not been able too--remember, it's a long road).

So take a felt-tipped marker and go through your Phase 1 guide (The First 100 Hours) and wherever it says "here-and-now-descriptions-of-us" cross it out, and put "Here-and-now-Photos of Us". If you start Phase 1 again yourself or are coaching a Phase 1 group snap the required photos of the specific group on your phone or digital camera, and print them on your inkjet printer, and do the activity, a little at a time, as long as it is helping. With Mandarin Chinese, that will be for about five minutes! For Blackfoot, it may be helpful for several months. (Angela says Gulf Arabic looks a lot easier than Potwari.)

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