What does it mean to think and develop thoughts in a particular subject or field of interest? What does it mean to say that a student knows something as opposed to them having simply repeated the answer verbatim? What does it mean to learn? One person attempting to resolve these questions is Anna Sfard. In in her work on Commognition or thinking-as-communication she builds a model of thinking and learning that is both provocative and robust. Despite this model is a newcomer to the field but I believe should not be disregarded as such. If nothing else, it raises interesting questions with regards to how we should engage with the language our students use. My job here is to give it a little light of day and see if anything shines.
But I’m getting ahead of myself: what even is it? In Sfard’s words:
“The basic tenet of the communicational approach to the study of human cognition is that thinking may be conceptualized as a case of communication, that is, as one’s communication with oneself… [T]hinking is nothing but our communicating with ourselves, not necessarily inner, and not necessarily verbal” (26).
If this is true then, limited as it may be, the words that come out of a person’s mouth are probably the best path towards actually understanding what’s going on inside their mind. The limitations that jump immediately to mind are Wittgensteinian, Quantum-Uncertainium, and Scrabble-based. I want to get into these issues in more detail in turn but for now it suffices to wonder if as teachers we’re paying close enough attention to the words that are coming out of our students’ mouths.