One of my goals as a teacher is to help my students embrace their ignorance. Too many of them are afraid to participate in class discussions because they’re worried they’ll be wrong, or worse they feel they don’t know anything. I try to emphasize that not knowing things is okay, it just means there is more stuff to learn! To make them feel better about their own ignorance I teach them about the concept of schema. A person’s schema is everything they have learned over their lifetime. People use this accumulated knowledge, or schema, to make sense of and interpret new situations. Since everyone’s life experiences are different we all have different schemas. I know a LOT about geography and history but much less about science and math. I encourage my students to think of their schema as a library they can reference when trying to understand new things. I demonstrate this concept by having them interpret things like this:
One of the students saw this sign and observed, “Hey, they messed up that sign, one leg is shorter than the other on the people.”
“Well, that’s to indicate they are walking.” I replied.
“No, I think they just messed up the sign.”
“Ok, I’ll buy that, then that means they messed up all of the signs we’ve seen like this in each of the countries we visited.”
This next photo I took over 10 years ago in Spain and show it to my students every year. I ask them to use their schema to tell me what they think it means:
“Illegals running across the border!” Is a typical response I get every year, I’m still not sure how they get that from this. I point out the briefcase held by one of the figures and say it indicates a school crossing.
This year I’ll show them this one which is more clear:
I wonder what my students schema will tell me about this one:
Every year my students complain about our school dress code, so I’m looking forward to showing them this photo from the Pantheon
Travelling through France, Spain and Italy I was struck by the number of signs that had no text, just images or caricatures like the first photo I posted here. I started to wonder why there were no words, then I realized, duh, there’s like a gazillion different languages spoken in Europe, pictures are easier than having every translation on a sign. So if you’re travelling to the Museo de Prado with your dog you’ll know what this means:
Another teaching goal I have is to encourage my students to travel. Many of them are hesitant because they don’t speak another language. I tell them not to worry, with their schema they’ll be just fine. Finding food for example:
A pleasant place to eat….
Or a bathroom…(a little fuzzy, I was in a hurry)
or a place to buy souvenirs…
I’m not sure how well myself or my students could have navigated medieval Carcassone though, even with our schemas. Without a proper frame of reference, this makes no sense:
Here’s a close up, any ideas what this indicated?