In yesterday's post
I talked about symbols in life and art. We're constantly encoding and decoding symbols every time we send or receive a "message."
This is even more intense for students because they are bombarded by new and different messages every time they change classes. They might need to decode an equation in math, a paining in art, a word problem in science, a primary source document in history, sheet music during band or the facial expressions of their best friend in between periods. We're all living in a symbolic world loaded with culturally constructed and contested meanings.
How can we teach students to make meanings? Many folks are trying to help us do this by talking about literacy. In the last thirty years this print-centric word has been used to refer to the act of encoding and decoding in every discipline - have you heard about scientific literacy, media literacy, historical literacy, or my favorite, innumeracy
- the fancy work for mathematical Illiteracy? Everyone is working on making meanings.
How does one teach students literacy strategies that are transferrable to all the disciplines that are a part of our daily lives?
The first answer might be to find a good literacy specialist - these folks are pros at teaching readers to be meta-cognitive about the act of reading.
The second answer might be to use some simple strategy like the "reading with your pen"
moves showcased in the playbook. This tool scaffolds "active reading."
But what kind of lesson can you do to teach students strategies for decoding texts they might not understand? The artwork of Xu Bing (showcased yesterday
) gave Nicole and I excuse to create a fun lesson to deal with this challenge.
This text is part of artist Xu Bing’s novel Book from the Ground
. Bing has written this story in a “language of icons” that he has collected. In his artist’s statement Bing says, “regardless of cultural background, one should be able understand the text as long as one is thoroughly entangled in modern life.”
You probably have some ideas what this story might be about. If you want to explore the icons on your own - skip ahead, don't read the translation.
Due to the size restrictions of this web page you might have a hard time reading the translation below. If it is too small for you to read I suggest you go read the interactive (and slightly different) online translation here
At the bottom of this post I have uploaded a BETA Learning Experience Organizer (LEO) should you want to use this text in your class to talk about making meaning, codes, symbols, reading, writing, and understanding. The LEO is ten pages long and it is loaded with graphic organizers to scaffold your instruction.
I used this LEO in my "Literacy Across the Curriculum" class for undergrads. In that class Bing's story was a model for what students might experience when they're asked to process a challenging text. From there we were able to develop reading strategies that would apply in any discipline.
Nicole used the same LEO in her high school classes to talk about:
1. symbolism in writing
2. symbolism in the Anglo-Saxon epic poem Beowulf
3. the evolution of Middle English into Modern English.
Her students, being quite gifted, spent a lot of time "talking back" to Xu Bing's artist's statement
Please check out the LEO below if you're interested in creating a learning experience for students using Xu Bing's art. Additionally, please post any feedback on the LEO in the discussion forum below - especially if you catch any typos! We will happily update the document based on your feedback and ideas.
Xu Bing's Website
Xu Bing's artist's statement
for "Book From The Ground"
The "Book From the Ground" homepage
The "Book from the Ground" wiki
- Contains the full index of Xu Bing's icon dictionary.
EDITOR'S NOTE 4.21.10:
• PDF was updated on 4.21.10