Feb 23, 2010

building blocks

I have an image in my mind of language as building blocks. Maybe it's because my own kids love building towers, castles, and race tracks with these brightly colored and oddly shaped pieces of wood. There are squares, rectangles, triangles, arches, cylinders and quarter circles of various sizes and colors. Depending on a person's creativity and skill, a person can build many things. We have had towers that have reached as tall as fingertips stretched over head. We have also had race tracks that have been half an inch high. "Don't knock over my castle" I am told as I walk into the bedroom and see an outcropping of blocks. A few minutes later, the castle is a jail for misbehaving race cars. So much of what my kids create is based on what they can imagine. But there are also very strict rules governing their creations. For instance, no matter how hard they try, they cannot reach above their own height to place blocks, unless they use a tool. So, the height is limited. Even stricter (since there are chairs and step stools) are other laws of physics. Balance and placement become so important.

But, I never sat down with my boys and explained these laws of physics, balance, proportion, placement... I never told them, practice stacking two blocks together until you get them perfect, and then practice with three... No, their understanding of the rules of building blocks has come about through play. They have built, and toppled, and built again.

I never told them that before building we had to take an inventory of every block and study its characteristics. Although, the grammarian in me has taken inventory, and does want to organize the blocks into nice neat categories...

Teaching a language is a lot like playing with the blocks. I can teach my students to inventory all the blocks - the words, the morphemes, the grammar... We can study the characteristics of each one. And then we can practice putting two blocks together. Once we get that right, we can move on to two new blocks, or string three blocks together. Or, we can just build. Yes, we will make mistakes. The blocks will fall down. But, when we let creativity take over, the things we can build if we just try!

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