Competency Puzzle “Read & Write Effectively” Pieces F-00.01 to F-01.10: Celebrate Complexity One (Corona / COVID) Symbol or Sign at a Time
“Ex Unum, Plures”(Latin) = “From One Can Come Many”
“Covid 19. You know what I mean? At this moment, it’s everywhere!” begins a (real?) song, broadcast on radio. It’s just one small icon, combined with 5 alphabetic letters, 1 punctuation mark, and 2 digits—as in COVID-19, the most pressing issue of our current times & places. Yet this minimal “piece of written language” has proliferated into almost every area of human existence or endeavor:
# Family & Human Relations, # Health & Medicine, # Government & Law, # Business & Work, # Science & Technology, # Consumerism & Economics, # (Higher & Self-) Education, # Community & Environment, # Migration & Travel, # Recreation & Entertainment.
(Coincidentally [or not], these areas of interest correspond approximately to the content of just about any contextualized language-instruction materials, including those of Worklife English: Competency-Based Reading / Writing Books 1-6.
Yes, language—and life—is complex. So “What’s the (Pedagogical) Point?” Isn’t it that even the smallest element of written language can have many associations; can trigger an abundance of memories, thoughts, or ideas; can expand to touch on numerous subjects of (historical, scientific, sociological, linguistic, etc.) study or research, and so on and so on? How much more meaningful, then, can become the combination of single symbols into signs, visuals, text, information, intentions, objectives, concepts, attitudes, points of view, and more—and more—and more?
As an illustration, here’s a montage of only a small portion of the images, words, & ideas that appear onscreen when “COVID symbol” is the cue. Can you visualize, think, or explain how these figures (representations) might relate to the ten Subject-Matter Titles listed above?
Probably, your perusal of the COVID-19 montage above included thoughts about social distancing, remote connections, health regulations, distribution of necessities, development of vaccines, climate change, movement of populations, community development, relatives & friends, “getting back to normal,” political controversy, and/or everything else continually referenced in media, work environments, everyday life, and beyond—well into the future, which hasn’t yet happened. (Or has it?)
In other words, because of the proliferation of meaning from the smallest printed entity to the largest totality—all over the world throughout the passage of time, life as we know (and probably don’t understand) it is becoming more and more convoluted, complicated, and complexified.
“Warum einfach wenn es auch compliziert geht?”(German) = “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”
The process of complexification so prevalent today may disturb scientists, researchers, educators, and others like us who have given our careers over to simplification, clarity, organization, certainty, transparency, or precision. After all, we’ve devoted our time, thought processes, and energy to the illumination of truth and the exposition of principles so that we and others can discover, figure out, organize, work out, formulate, regulate, classify, and control. As an illustration, here’s our usual Ten-Puzzle Pieces image, with F. Read & Write Effectively circled, with a Chart of Key Words & Phrasing for the kinds of topics, skills, strategies, or tasks to cover.
And if we search the literature or output on the concept of Simplicity vs. Complexity, most sources (treatises, articles, quotes, images) are likely to choose Absence of Complication as the way to go. Regarding universally commonplace tasking, their general recommendations are to:
# Declutter & Organize, # Be Honest in Detail, # Eliminate Time Commitments, # Single-Task, # Get Rid of Bad Habits, # Take Charge of Your Time & Energy.
Comparably, educational web pages focused on instructional improvement are likely to suggest that instructors and self-teachers:
# Give / Think of Examples—& Counter-Examples. # Define Essential Words. # Use Visuals Whenever Possible. # Break Down Concepts into Manageable Pieces. # Direct Instruction Toward Proficiency Levels & Learning Styles. # Provide Abundant Practice. # Assess Progress in Reinforcing Ways.
Those, of course, are the principles behind efficient and effective materials design, intended to be useable for teaching / learning without additional preparation. (For samples related to this article theme, Symbols & Signs, see the Parts & Pieces for “Read & Write Effectively,” F-00.01 to F-01.10).
Articles lauding Simplicity over Complexity tend to talk more about how to simplify than why to do so. In contrast, moreover, there are those experts and writers that extol the benefits of complexity. Their articles have titles like “An Argument for Complexity Rather Than Simplicity,” (@ “I’d Rather Be Writing Blog”), “Combining Simplicity & Complexity,” (@ “Better Explained”), or “Complexity” (@ Wikiquote).
Potential Benefits of Complexification
Articles like those mentioned and linked above propose to celebrate complexity by putting forth its benefits. Here are some of the perceived advantages that may be mentioned:
# More important than simplicity in product or materials design is usability, also referred to as usable content. Images and words (simply) have to be made optimally readable (accessible / functional) to those that access them.
# As a writer or materials presenter, do you make content simpler? Or do you raise awareness of just how complicated the targeted subject matter really is? If you’re being honest and want to be effective, you’ll probably choose the second option.
# It’s been said that when information or data is complex, the job of educators and learners is to simplify it. And when it’s simple (or has been simplified), their task is to complexify it—by determining not only what it means in the immediate context but also what it might mean—and where it could lead.
# “If we abandon the urge to look for formulas and easy answers, we begin to think multi-dimensionally, to glory in the mystery and paradoxes of life, not to be dismayed by the many causes and consequences inherent in experience— to appreciate the fact that life is complex.” (Adapted from “An Argument for Complexity”)
# When we compare the benefits of “simple vs. complex” material, aren’t we really interested in what it can do? If it’s “basic,” it probably doesn’t do very much. But if it’s “advanced,” it’s powerful. The ideal combination of features may be not necessarily “Simple & Basic,” but efficiently “Understandable & Advanced.” (Adapted from “Combining Simplicity & Complexity”)
# Simple is too often “simplistic,” which can become dangerous because blind belief often precludes logic, reason, or truth. The complexity of the universe, on the other hand, can represent beauty, divinity, love, and all that human beings strive for in their pursuit of (higher) meaning.
# In education and the world of work, simple often becomes tedious, boring, or dreary. Complexity is needed to stimulate imagination, creativity, real understanding, and true capability.
So what does this all have to do with Competency-Puzzle Pieces F-00-01 to F-01.10, designed to jumpstart instruction in Written-English Language Skills (Reading & Writing) with material on symbols (figures, icons, alphabetic letters & numbers)—and to progress to practical insertion of symbolic images into matters pertaining to personal info or functional basics of everyday life? Maybe nothing or not much.
On the other hand, if the main purpose of blog posts is to draw attention to the many items available behind Puzzle Pieces in the general plan of ten “Language Teaching & Learning Parts & Pieces (Competencies) That Seem to Work,” Complexity needs to be attached to Simplicity. One way to “simply make teaching / learning more complicated” is to suggest and try out ways to “go beyond the well-organized & structured.”
Competency Puzzle “Read & Write Effectively” Pieces F-00.01 to F-01.10: Celebrate Complexity One (Corona / COVID) Symbol or Sign at a Time
To make lessons or sessions simple instructionally, here’s a sampling from Parts & Pieces numbered F-00.01 to F-00.10 that can be used to present, practice, and assess competence in Figures (including Alphabetic Letters), Signs, and other basic, commonplace representations of meaning in written English. They’re followed by suggestions for how to “go beyond the clear or obvious” by expanding single symbols, (combinations of) letters, words, images, and text into whatever thoughts and ideas that they might elicit.
F-00.03: Introduction: Starting Out, (from WorkLife English Reading / Writing 2: English in Everyday Life) is representative of material such as E-00.01 to E-00.05 that gets (high) beginners to review sequences of alphabetic letters and numbers.
Its colorful Chapter Opener for Starting Out alone might suffice in getting text users to review (in their minds, aloud, or with one another) what they know about:
# the sequence of 26 roman / English alphabetic letters; # the appearance of their four variants (block printing, upper & lower case vs. cursive capitals & small letters); # the use of these (universal?) characters in locations around the world; and/or # Arabic decimal numerals that occur in groups of ten.
Even without textual explanation or directives to follow, page 2 suggests that individual letters and numbers can be found on everyday objects. Its four drawings might bring up commentary on:
# how everyday items like telephones, dictionaries, timepieces, and calendars have changed over time; # which versions of these—and related objects— (young) users prefer; # other common things that display single letters and/or numbers, such as keyboards, blocks (toys), alphabet learning charts, filing folders / labels, etc. # other (kinds of) articles participants might like to collect, examine, and share to expand awareness of the ubiquity of letters / numbers.
Pages 3 and 4 display several configurations of block-printed or cursive- handwritten, upper & lower case, alphabetic letters. These are in labeled rows, exercise items, and tables divided into “quartets.” After getting the “meaning” of these collected symbols and following directions to complete intended exercises, learners might choose to:
# use (graph) paper (with writing guidelines) to put down letters in various arrangements of their own—in (reverse) alphabetical order, in mathematical distributions, in (square, round, triangular, etc.) designs, or something else. Others can then read aloud the letters and identify the intended patterns.
# make up similar exercises with variants of their own for others to complete, thereby assessing the comprehensibility of their own handwriting or typing.
Participants who know—or wish to learn—other alphabetic writing systems (Greek, Cyrillic, Arabic, etc.) might even devise activities that “teach” those characters.
Page 8 invites text users to print missing numbers between 1 and 99 in a Grid. It might then lead to numerous other ways of practicing Arabic (or other, such as Roman) numerals in comparable configurations. Motivated (mathematically-inclined) participants will soon be creating (Sudoku-like) puzzles that not only reinforce the reading / writing of numbers (+ letters?) but that also work to expand everyone’s interests and skills.
F-01.02: Chapter 1: Getting There, (from WorkLife English Reading / Writing 2: English in Everyday Life) has four Parts for Written-English Skills Development pertaining to Street Directions, Signs, Addresses, & Maps.
Before, while, or after “playing it straight” by taking in its pedagogy and completing its exercises, text users might decide to peruse / comment on the page 9 Chapter Opener by:
# “defining” central vocabulary like instructions, street signs, (street) directions, maps, and # using “the imperative” + sentences with can / can’t to talk about an aerial view of an neighborhood.
Part One / Read & Understand on pages 10-11 has a simulated, illustrated “flier” and a drawing of a scene with simplified signs. Participants might:
# (in the imperative,) tell what (else) students could do to study at a school and/or to get there, # make up (other) yes / no questions about the first illustration or their real situation—and answer them, # add the words of real or possible signage to the illustrated environment, and explain what they mean, # photograph or copy the text of real signs they often see, # type into a search engine “street signs” (to view and talk about updated images).
Part Two / Information on pages 12-14 “addresses” addresses, telephone numbers, and clock times for users to learn how to read (aloud) and jot down. They could also:
# suggest alternative ways, if any, to interpret printed contact info and record it, # write down and/or read aloud familiar addresses, numbers, other contact info, and set times for readers / listeners to identify, # find and share other abbreviations that have to do with real + virtual locations, # insert real or made-up data into authentic or simulated forms that call for it.
Part Three / Spelling on pages 15-16 (re-)introduces the concept of Phonics & Spelling (the correlation of spoken sounds with the appearance of printed or written letters.). It’s useful for:
# noting that the phonetic patterns apply not only to common vocabulary words with “regular” spellings but also to names (that people make up for places + people), # practicing a phonics / spelling concept that often comes up early in reading / writing practice—that of the simple” vowels a, e, i, o, u.
Part Four / Read & Write on pages 17-18 targets basic writing conventions (capitalization & punctuation). It may be obvious how to “go beyond the text”—by editing, giving / taking dictation on, and/or composing any (real or simulated) directives in lists or paragraph form.
F-01.04: Introduction: Starting Out, (from WorkLife English Reading / Writing 3: An Immigration Story) contains several generic activities that can be used (again & again) to practice reading and writing (personal information) through Intermediate Levels of linguistic proficiency and beyond.
Its colorful Chapter Opener for Getting Started suggests that participants are about to learn about one another and tell / write about themselves in various ways. Text users can comment on the vocabulary and the visuals they see—Competency & Grammar Listings, Exercises with Blanks, Guided Writing Paragraphs, Grid Games. They could also begin thinking / talking about what “personal info” entails or what they wish to share. The display might even elicit discussion of the highly politicized issue, “Right to Privacy vs. Right to Know.”
Pages 2 & 3 simply present the elements of “guided-writing” instruction: a framework with labels for (real or made-up) info for writers to insert, vocabulary lists for them to draw from and add to, and paragraphs with blanks to complete. Because these are all “generic” tasking elements, their vary nature invites going well beyond the text—with related and/or widely different content or subject matter.
Pages 4 & 5 offer step-by-step instructions for a highly-productive Paired Grid (Strategy) Game that not only provides practice in all four language skills (writing, reading, listening, speaking) but that also lends itself to self-checking interaction on just about any subject imaginable. Even the directives (which only happen to address personal contact data) are adaptable. How much more is the content that teachers / learners might choose to focus on, research, and/ or exchange.
F-01.08: Chapter 1: The Arrival, (from WorkLife English Reading / Writing 3: An Immigration Story) has four Parts on 12 pages useful to Intermediate Written-English Skills development & above. There’s a Story to be developed in alternative ways; Signs & Forms to understand and complete; Paragraph Editing with punctuation and spelling to insert; and Guided Practice in listing, combining, and writing Steps in Instructions.
Before, while, or after simply covering the chapter material by taking in its pedagogy and purposely completing its exercises, text users might decide to look at / talk about the page 6 Chapter Opener. For instance, they might feel encouraged or inspired to:
# explain or get clarification of concepts like language competencies, grammar focuses (the imperative, the simple present & past, modal verbs), and spelling patterns. # describe the photograph by answering questions like “What objects, places, and kinds of people do you see in the picture?” “What are the people doing? How & Why?” “What happened before this scene? What’s likely to happen next, soon, after a while?” # discuss which “issues” the visuals bring to mind.
Part One / The Story on pages 7-10 presents a familiar story in an unaccustomed form. It may stimulate participants to:
# from the page 7 drawings and vocabulary, first predict what the narrative that follows will say, # read (silently and/or aloud), the 4-paragraph story beginning on page 8, # try completing Exercise A without re-reading and then check (and correct) their answers, # either looking at the text or from memory, retell the narrative so far—accurately (if they wish) or with changes that they imagine should be there, inserting their own commentary whenever it occurs to them, # encourage listeners to augment, change, and/or contradict their synopses, and react to these, # on pages 9-10, choose one of the given endings to the story, tell reasons for their choice, and/or make up an even better ending of their own, # compare the sample tale to their own (true or made-up) arrival-in-a-new-place account.
Part Two / Practical Reading & Writing on pages 11-13 makes use of simulated “realia”—those real objects or pieces of content that just about everyone encounters when moving through space and time. Here are (extra) activities that it might suggest:
# On page 11, after completing Exercise A regarding comprehension of common signage, locate notices in the “real world” that say exactly the same thing or that have similar meanings expressed by different words. Reproduce and discuss these. # Photograph / Download and share other signs with significant (or trivial) meanings. Discuss the effectiveness (or weaknesses) of these attempts to fulfill purposes, like to get people (not) to do things. # One pages 12 & 13, analyze possible steps for teaching others / learning to fill out everyday forms effectively. If participants need or want practice in these skills, collect as many different kinds of documents that require input as possible. Work (together) on the most relevant of these.
Part Three / The Rules of Writing on pages 14-16 targets writing mechanics (paragraph form, capitalization, punctuation); spelling (of simple vowel sounds in multi-syllable words), and rules for adding -(e)s endings and –(e)d endings. To maximize its concepts and purposes, in addition to following its steps, teachers / learners might later choose to:
# apply given (and related) rules from page 14 to their own paragraphs, using the process for editing practice, # use page 15 explanatory / exercise formats with other groups of sounds to spell in words (like complex vowel sounds, initial consonants, etc.) # impose spelling rules for -(e)s or -(e)d to their own writing of words, # research and practice spelling of other inflectional endings, such as –ing, -er / -est, etc. # Create “stories” with relevant features to dictate, write down from dictation, correct or improve, and so on.
Part Four / Communicating in Writing on page 17 offers standardized steps for teaching / learning to write numbered Instructions in effectively sequenced (consecutive) order. Use the given vocabulary and phrasing for practice, but go well “Beyond the Book.” Collect relevant processes of interest to participants to clarify / improve by listing their steps. Research them in print and online, compose them, follow them, and go on from there.
And here are the major resources (complete books) that Parts & Pieces are excerpted from.
- WorkLife English SkillsBook & Workbook 1: Life Skills
- WorkLife English Competency-Based Reading / Writing Book 2: English in Everyday Life
- WorkLife English Competency-Based Reading / Writing Book 3: An Immigration Story
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