Clearing confusion – reading and writing for the masses

This week at the Carrot Ranch, Charli Mills is talking about disorientation and has challenged writers to In 99 words no more, no less) write a story about disorientation. She suggested exploring different ways confusion could be expressed, and the tension that could be created by that confusion.

I decided to give myself a break from writing about the confusion that students may feel as they attempt to navigate the murky waters of expectations and inappropriate curricula that have little connection with their lives; or about how disoriented they may feel in an environment that bears little resemblance to any other they will experience.

Instead I decided to share an interesting story I heard this week and a flash fiction which is more memoir than fiction, a reminder to self of how lucky I am to be doing what I am.

First for the story.

My current audiobook is Alphabetical: How Every Letter Tells a Story by Michael Rosen. In the book Rosen talks about the English alphabet, dealing with each of the 26 letters in turn. He has organised the book so that

“Each letter in the book is linked to a topic. Each chapter takes on different aspects of how the alphabet has been used. Each chapter is preceded by the short story of how that particular letter evolved, how its name came to be pronounced that way and something on how the letter itself is spoken and played with.”

K

When listening to Rosen read his chapter about the letter ‘K’, “K is for Korean”, I was fascinated to find out that the alphabet of South Korea, Hangul, is “the earliest known successful example of a sudden, conscious, total transformation of a country’s writing.”

The alphabet, described by Rosen as more of “syllabic monograms” than letters and is easy to learn, was devised in the mid-fifteenth century by the ruler of the time, King Sejong, as a way of enabling everyone to be literate.

Prior to the introduction of this alphabet, Chinese characters were used. According to an article on Wikipediausing Chinese characters to write was so difficult for the common people that only privileged aristocrats usually male, could read and write fluently. The majority of Koreans were effectively illiterate before the invention of Hangul.

Rosen says that what is “remarkable . . . is that there was an already existing system of writing which was, to all intents and purposes, overthrown in its entirety – not adapted. (It happened) because one part of the ruling elite decided that a total change was the only way in which everyone could read and write easily.

Hear! Hear! I say, and express a wish that all our students of English would find learning to read and write far more easy and enjoyable than many do, that more emphasis would be placed upon helping students learn than in “teaching” particular content at particular times.

Also included in Rosen’s chapter about ‘K’ was mention of the Voynich Manuscript which appears to be scientific in origin, but which contains fictitious plants and is written in a “language” which no one, including codebreaking experts, has been able to decipher and read. Rosen says that “With one beautifully executed volume, (the author) causes instability and doubt at the heart of the production, ownership and use of knowledge. It is a carefully constructed absurdist joke.

Unfortunately for a small (but too large) number of our students, reading and writing for them is often as confusing as the Voynich Manuscript.

Man-resigning

 

For a little bit of reminiscing, here is a video of Michael Rosen talking about the dreaded Friday spelling test. I wonder how his experience matches yours.

And so to my flash fiction of disorientation and confusion . . .

Obfuscation

The pulsing train wheels pounded in my head.

Way off in the distance voices called instructions to each other.

“What day is it?” I said.

The voices were closer now. “She’s in here.”

“Can you walk? Come with us,” they said.

They led me to a vehicle and bade me lie down inside.

Then came the questions:

What’s your name? When were you born? What day is it? Why are you here? Who are you with?

Slowly, as if from the deepest recesses, I drew each recalcitrant answer, recreating identity.

“You’re okay. You bumped your head,” they said.

Thank you

Thank you for reading. I appreciate your feedback. Please share your thoughts about any aspect of this post or flash fiction.

32 thoughts on “Clearing confusion – reading and writing for the masses

  1. Pingback: Lost & Confused « Carrot Ranch Communications

      1. Sarah Brentyn

        Ugh. It did. I keep running across this idea of kids blogging in school and I’m not happy about it at all. I was curious what you thought. Often, our reactions are similar but sometimes you make me think of something in a different way. Also, I’m in the middle of raising kids in this tech age (you don’t WANT to know) while you are an educator who loves implementing tech into classrooms. (So do I, BTW, just…with strict guidelines. There is too much that can go wrong, too many horror stories involving kids to just put them out there. I think it’s dangerous and stupid.)

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        1. Norah Post author

          I’m sorry your comment got eaten, Sarah. I would love to know what you think of kids blogging. I follow quite a few bloggers who blog about blogging with children (Wow! That’s a lot of ‘blog’s in there!) Most of them use host sites that are very safe for children to use. I think one of them is called edublogs. I can check a few of them out in more detail and let you know, if you would like. Sue Wyatt @tasteach runs a blogging challenge for students. You can check it out here http://studentchallenge.edublogs.org/ I think it sounds amazing. I am disappointed that I didn’t know about, and wouldn’t have had the opportunity if I had, blogging when I was in the classroom. I think I would have loved my children to be involved. I think it gives a real purpose for writing, just as it does for us, and provides a real audience, not just the teacher. I know there are a lot of dangers in internet usage, so it does need to be carefully monitored and, as this is the world our children are living in, they need to learn how to navigate their way safely. I think to just put children out there without any support and guidelines would be dangerous and stupid. But I think to not educate them about safe and effective use would be equally so.
          Thanks for sharing and an opportunity to discuss this issue. I’m sure there are many better qualified to do so than I. I appreciate that you asked my opinion and am pleased that I sometimes give you an alternative point of view to consider. We do often agree also, which is lovely, and makes discussing points on which we diverge easier. 🙂

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          1. Sarah Brentyn

            Thank you. I’ll check out “edublogs”. I’ve seen “kidblogs”, too. I think it has amazing potential for kids who don’t like to write but, as a mother and teacher, I am horrified at the thought of introducing yet another online danger to kids. The sites I’ve seen thus far have little protection/privacy/security for kids because that would “limit their access to students around the world”. A nice thought but this brings us back to privacy, safety, and how do you know if the person “following” you on your blog is actually a student? Apparently, I’m the only mother who refuses to buy her kids a smartphone. What does a second, third, or even fourth grader need a smartphone for? They don’t. And cyber-bullying is so easy if they have the technology right in their hands. Right now, before I’ve looked thoroughly into kids bloggign, it seems like a very bad idea. My kids aren’t getting a facebook or twitter account until they’re thirty. 🙂

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            1. Norah Post author

              Hi Sarah, that is a great demonstration of what we have been discussing. You are being true to what you like. You know what you like and are sticking to it regardless of the societal pressure to do otherwise. Being a parent is one of the most difficult roles we can undertake. It might give us the most joy, but it can also give us the most heartache; and making decisions about the future of our children and their well-being is always difficult.
              I’m inclined to agree with you about smartphones. Until children are old enough to be somewhere unaccompanied by an adult I don’t think a smartphone is necessary. Of course they weren’t available when my children were growing up, but they wouldn’t have needed one at the ages you mentioned. Mind you, when I was a kid we’d be away for hours at the beach or playing in the bush. Our parents wouldn’t have known exactly where we were or what we were doing. As long as we were home before dark, in time for tea, it didn’t matter. How times have changed! Parenting decisions are more complex these days and I admire your strength in giving consideration to these issues, making an informed decision and sticking to what you believe. 🙂

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  2. Sarah Brentyn

    That English alphabet book looks interesting. Thanks for the link! Love the flash. That’s where my mind went, too, with this flash. (No pun intended.) I really like this one. Do you have a lot of memoir pieces? Have I missed them on your site?

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Sarah, I’m finding the book fascinating – lots of interesting stories. Today I was listening to stories about Morse and Braille. Learning something of the people and stories behind the inventions is great.
      I love your pun, intended or not! I’m pleased I got mine (mind) back! 🙂
      No, I haven’t done much memoir. You haven’t missed them. One day . . .
      Thanks for your comment. 🙂

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  3. Sherri

    How interesting this is Norah, and I love the way you capture that awful sense of disorientation through your flash, wonderful writing. I have learnt something today, I had no idea about Kiing Sejong and the alphabet. Fascinating, thank you for that 🙂 I’m sorry I haven’t been over here as much as I would like lately Norah, things have been a bit fraught but I’m hoping that this week will be better. I wanted to pop over and see what you have been up to and glad to say ‘hi’ again. Have a great week 🙂 (I’ve yet to come up with my flash for this week, missed a couple lately, so really out of the loop…)

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    1. Norah Post author

      Hi Sherri, Thank you for your comment. I’m sorry things haven’t been going so well for you and hope this week has improved. Look after yourself. No need to apologize for not popping over more often. We all do what we can. I appreciate your dropping in whenever you are able. It’s always lovely to receive your kind and encouraging words. I was pretty excited about King Sejong so had to share. I’m pleased you enjoyed finding out that tidbit of information too. I’m sure Charli’s flash challenges aren’t going to lose their shine for a while, so they’ll be there waiting for you when you are able to join back in. I look forward to reading your responses when you do. Thanks for your support with mine. Take care. 🙂

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  4. Charli Mills

    I first learned of Rosen from you and have since become fascinated by his intelligent understanding of children as if he is still connected to that experience. He makes such a clear point about the difference of reading and writing spelling words versus hearing and speaking them. Each is its own skill, yet spelling was taught as if it were one. And spelling truly had no impact on my ability to read — I always had high reading comprehension but struggle with spelling. Today, I have a list of words that I can’t get right. For some reason, they confuse me like push/pull. 🙂 Great flash. Its as if reading into the character’s tunnel of returning comprehension.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thanks Charli. I’m pleased to accept responsibility for introducing you to Michael Rosen. He’s rather amazing, I think. Until recently (a year or two ago) I wasn’t aware of any of his work other than “Going on a Bear Hunt”. What a tragedy that was for my education. I’m now trying to make up for lost time. He has much to offer.
      Thanks for your comment on my flash. Between missing my step and coming to in the way described, I have no memory of the 15 minutes between. I feel very fortunate to have been able to pull the memories back.

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  5. Bec

    Hi Nor, Rosen’s book sounds great! Such amazing and unpredictable stories in history, and great that a person with imagination and enthusiasm, like Rosen, is collecting the stories to share them. The FF is great too, you tell the story very effectively! I can just imagine.

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    1. Norah Post author

      Yes. It’s not really a topic that I would have expected to fill a book! Such interesting stories too. I wouldn’t like to have to study it though. That would annihilate the enjoyment!
      Glad you enjoyed the ff! 🙂

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  6. Annecdotist

    What interesting stuff you bring to your blog, Norah! Now I’m imagining you drive into work listening to Michael Rosen, thinking about what you might share with us.
    I love the flash, and glad you weren’t concussed for long. It’s a horrible feeling not knowing not just where you are but who.

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    1. Norah Post author

      That’s exactly what I do Anne. Drive to work and think about sharing with you! It makes it all the more pleasant and purposeful.
      I thank my lucky stars that I have recovered well. Many others have suffered far worse from similar accidents. 🙂

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  7. Rebecca Patajac

    Wow, I’d love to read that book on the history of the alphabet. I’m quite surprised that the alphabet was created almost completely ‘from scratch’ in order to give everyone an equal chance to be literate. If only more students nowadays had the confidence in the English language that I love having in life. Though I do believe that reading and writing ability is increasing with each generation; once the new students come through the schooling system, whose parents were just that little bit more confident than their migrant parents in literacy, positive influences about the English language will grow in the younger circles. I am excited for the future!
    Thank you for this thought provoking and inspiring piece 🙂
    I do like your flash fiction also, you have portrayed the lapse in awareness and memory during a blackout very well, great work!

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    1. Norah Post author

      Thank you for sharing your obvious enthusiasm and confidence in life, Rebecca. I like your positive attitude and belief that things are getting better.
      I do recommend Rosen’s book as a good read if you are at all interested in the English language. I’m not sure where you would find out more about the language of South Korea.

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