10 June 2011


BEING BILINGUAL. During my first two years of high school, my classes included four semesters of Latin -- not the form or pronunciation found in the modern Catholic church, but the form and pronunciation of classical Latin. The real deal. I remain grateful for that experience -- not only because Latin forms the basis for a significant portion of English, but also because it gave me the opportunity to experience the ancient world in its own language. This broadening of one's perceptual and cognitive experience is explored in The Bilingual Advantage, in which a cognitive neuroscientist compares how monolinguals and bilinguals differ -- from brain structure (anatomy) to brain function (physiology), and the implications for comprehending our world and even extending our lives. It is a worthwhile read.

Latin, by the way, is the common root of the Romance Languages -- Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, Romanian, and Catalan. Of these, I've studied Spanish and French, and found that my background in Latin was invaluable in understanding not only vocabulary, but also grammar and syntax. Riches upon riches. Our brains are like any muscle -- the more we exercise them, and the more variety we introduce into our activities, the healthier we are.

A related concept is Intertwingularity, a term coined to express the complexity of interrelations in human knowledge. In a world of accelerating complexity, it is clear that the learning/teaching of topics in isolated compartments is no longer useful. As a teacher, I often drew upon concepts from history, poetry, philosophy, art, or the daily lives of my students while helping them to learn biology or environmental studies. All knowledge is connected, and interdisciplinary teaching has become the norm in many schools and universities, rightfully so.

LEARNING TOGETHER. Since I seem to be on a roll here, allow me to include this link to a Boston Globe article about a school where "Facilitative learning, not repetition or following a curriculum script, is the mandate .... The classrooms are designed to foster collaboration (among students) ..... Teachers are not boxed in between a large desk and the blackboard. They stand. Walk around. Ask questions .... There's a five-step engineering model for continuous improvement (ask, imagine, plan, create, improve)."

If you grew up in a traditional rote learning environment like I did, this may sound a little outre at first. But I've seen variations of collaborative learning succeed dazzlingly. Though it may not be useful to every discipline or every student, it remains an exceptionally powerful model for learning. And we can never have too many tools in our kit, can we?

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