Above all, figurines communicate.
One model of communication suggests that for a message to be received in the sense that the sender intends, the sender must convey it in a manner which the receiver will understand. A mutual language, appropriate body language and facial expression, and a lack of interference are all required for the receiver to the message as intended by the sender. Interference might be a noisy environment, a breakdown in the communication medium such as a depletion in mobile phone charge or an inability of the receiver to focus on the message because they are busy, tired or trying to hold two conversations at once!
Model of communication found at http://www.pathways.cu.edu.eg/subpages/training_courses/Communications7/images/C_I_Page_08.jpg. Retrieved 26/10/13.
In my English as a Second Language classroom, the biggest interference to communication is lack of mutual language; coming a close second is worldview.
What is worldview?
Our worldview is shaped by everything we have experienced in our life. The way our parents raised us, their actions or behaviour, whether directed towards us or not, especially in our early years, shapes some of the ideas we have as children about adult behaviour, relationships and the way our society or community is organized and operates. The school we went to, its environment and teachings will also have formed part of our worldview. The wider culture and the society in which we were raised will have influenced the way we see ourselves and others. Our own sense of ourselves, our identity and place in the world, while influenced by all of the above, ultimately rests with us. Whatever decisions we make about ourselves, our life and those we meet will be greatly influenced by our worldview.
As I mentioned earlier, in my English language classroom, the greatest barrier to communication is lack of a mutually intelligible language, especially in the beginner levels. The second greatest barrier to communication is the widely varying education systems from which my students come. In particular, the Chinese students come from a educational environment where teachers are the authority, the text is to be memorized and not questioned and students are to be silent and allow knowledge to be poured into their heads.
The ESL classroom, especially in western countries, is very different. We learn through communicative activities; I encourage students to call on their existing knowledge and those of their peers to find ways of understanding new language points. The Chinese students find it hard to complete communicative tasks, but more specifically, they find it hard to understand why communicative tasks might help them in their acquisition of English. This is the message, rather than the language itself, that I find most difficult to convey. It is important to help students see how working together and sharing existing knowledge to elicit new facts and ideas, might be more effective than long-winded explanations from me.
Tensions between their education system and worldview and the context in which I am expected to teach appear to interfere with attempts to convey this message. Even when they reach university age Chinese students are told that ‘they don’t know anything’ and can’t make their own decisions because they are too young (this view came through strongly in their writing). They are taught to defer to their parents and teachers in most important matters in their young lives.
To be told by a western teacher to ‘work it out for themselves’ in their language classroom is often quite confronting for them. Their world view is that they should listen to their ‘elders and betters’ and allow them to make all important decisions for them, however much they might resent those decisions at the time. The default position is ‘they (adults) know what’s best for me’.
In the western English language classroom, some students may become resentful of the teacher because they expect the teacher to impart their knowledge to them. Their view is often expressed as ‘I’ve paid all this money for this school to teach me English, and they keep telling me to find out for myself’. The intention behind the teaching methodology just doesn’t correlate with either their previous education experience nor with the wider Chinese political culture, which is, to a great degree, not geared towards citizens asking questions and discovering things for themselves.
So what’s all this got to do with interpreting figurines?
Have you had a look at the figurines on my previous posts? How did you interpret them? What were your impressions of their origins and uses?
What knowledge, life experiences or personal ideas did you bring to your interpretation of them? Perhaps you had seen them somewhere before, or figurines like them. Did you use that previous knowledge to form your opinions of them?
Do let me know how the figurines pictured in the previous posts communicated to you!