Saturday, 4 July 2009

Activity with scissors

A comment

I am trying to catch up with this week's busy CE blogosphere.

I have just posted a Comment to an interesting vignette Susie Mallett's Conductor blog, in which she writes about the triumph of learning to cut with scissors.

Having written and posted this response on Susie's blog, I take the liberty of reproducion my comment here.

You asked: ‘Did you ever think about all the movements involved in cutting something out with a pair of scissors?’

I never think about this, because I never need to. I suppose there are those who do need this but I have never been one of them, this despite having learned to use scissors myself and later helped my own (normally developing) children learn to do so too.

I had to understand such activities, before or during their operation, then I might have never learned to do this myself, and I would never have been able to teach others either.

Cutting with scissors is not a bad paradigm example of this. Think, though, of any human motor activity, like riding a bike or driving a car, brushing your teeth or (your other example tying your shoes. Think of playing the piano, or hurdling. Think of your own examples for yourself.

In every case it the complete activity itself that is learned, not its component and associated factors, then to be fitted together to re-create some new, complex whole. It is the whole that is learned, while its complexities that remain implicit. Of course there are better and worse ways of easing learners into new skils, and there is the vital question of motivation and reward.

There is the fact that the focus of the activity in learning, the use of this material tool, is outside the learner’s material being, and the task (and its learning) is inconceivable without, say, the goal of directing the scissors’ cutting point to follow the line, achieve a particular end etc.

There is the further fact that this material action is irreducibly meaningful and that, by mastering the activity, we incorporate into our developing selves some of the created meaning and knowledge of our own our historical culture (Activity Theory, Leont’ev's original, not the silly post-modernist nonsense that has appropriated its name). It it not, therefore something that can be reduced to vulgar task analysis.

Thank you for describing the beautiful intricacy of the task so well.

Futurity

I see that I omitted to mention a further point, to note from Susie's practical example that activity is not simply future-oriented, vital though this consideration be.

There is a further aspect to achieving a new skill its own future effects, not simply on the material world though exercising the newly gained 'skill', what a dreadfully inadequate concept, but in the knock-on effects upon learners' psychological and social worlds.

And, I suspect, upon the conductor's too.

Systemic enough ?

Italic

Reference

Mallett, S. (2009) Snip-snip, Conductor, 1 July

2 comments:

  1. You wrote:

    "There is a further aspect to achieving an new skill its own future effects, not simply on the material world though exercising the newly gained 'skill', what a dreadfully inadequate concept, but in the knock-on effects upon learners' psychological and social worlds."

    Please explain.

    Susie.

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  2. I just wanted to emphasise (again!) that an 'achievement' is no more that a point in time. It is not just an outcome but already a factor in the changing nexus of personal-social transactions out of which development is created and recreated...

    The reified notion of a 'skill' as simply an outcome (and then perhaps a steady state) misses this systemic dimension.

    Your account of the effects of learning to use scissors (not just cutting-out!) captures this well.

    This is no obtuse, abstract matter. if one were evaluating the effects of your intervention here, then it would be insufficient (and reductionist) simply to measure motor skills.

    Ditto with respect to the behavioural (functional) outcome of cutting behaviour.

    One would have to account the effects upon the processes within the wider social psychologhical system to which this new learning might contribute.

    This would be do-able. Not easy but possible.

    'Researchers' please note!

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