Language is a very complex hierarchical system. Ferdinand de Saussure compared language to the rules of chess. The speech (parole) in his comparison is similar to how the player chooses the moves of the chess pieces in the game. But speech itself doesn’t have that much direct impact on our working environment, but concrete body movements do. Nevertheless, speech is one important tool in making changes happen in the environment. For this reason, there is something fascinating in this connection between speech and body movements, and it is worth our while exploring it a bit more closely.
Let us think of routine work. You can speak while driving a car for example. But if you were starting a car for the first time, you would have to focus your whole attention at that very moment. As a teacher you should not intervene at that critical point when the beginner is beginning to practice a new skill. Learning something new demands peace and quiet to be able to concentrate on action and doing. Afterwards you can come back to the experience. In that moment it is important to use words as a tool in the reflective speech act. In fact, it is vital for a teacher to distinguish between the learning situation of the student who is practising new skills on the one hand and the student for whom already the practice has become a routine on the other hand. This know-how is part of a teacher’s core-competences.
In the work-place learning, it is important that the supervisor is alert to these two separate phases: when the student needs just time to drill and when it is time to reflect. Many of us have our own experiences of where the teacher has intervened to explain at a wrong moment and the opportunity to learn was totally wasted.
In addition to the timing of reflection, it is crucial to find the right words. It´s essential to use nouns instead of pronouns. Pronouns are very handy and quick when speaking while working, i.e.: “take this and put it there with that”. You can share information about the work briefly and still be understood. The work context will complete the parole. On the other hand, the thing that the pronoun “this/that” stands for needs a context. But from the point of view of learning it is crucial that the teacher uses nouns and especially such nouns that represent standardised professional concepts. The student starts to get the necessary cognitive tools to speak about the work and “to know “what kind of business he/she is in”. Practicing speaking by using the correct concepts in the right place and at the right moment develops the student´s ability to reflect in a professional way.
If we want to maximise the impact of the teaching efforts on the learning process, we also should concentrate on the rhythm between action and reflection. In addition, in action you have to distinguish the routine work from the new one. To be able to perceive these kind of differences, teachers have to practice in real contexts. A real context is one that involves all the above described stages: firstly, to take time to learn a new skill, secondly, to be sure that the routine of the skill is achieved and thirdly, to use nouns and professional concepts when reflecting on the practising of the skill with the student.
The text was written by lecturer Virve Vainio from Haaga-Helia School of Vocational Teacher Education and education management professional Kari Viinisalo from Oppisopimuskummit ry. You can find links to all the previous texts by the authors below.
Learning through mind and body
In search of the lost cat