By Michelle Michlik, Academic Services Coordinator
Language comes at us in many formats, and valuing those different modalities is essential. Field students benefit from living in an area that is rich with resources for language that extends beyond their collaborative classrooms and overall school day experience.
I have always loved words; how they can carry history in their spelling pattern, the way they sound when articulated out loud, and most of all, how they can come together to create ideas for the mind to comprehend. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, I was grateful to have the opportunity to be with my family, where many words flew about with rapidity as we shared new stories and remembered the old ones together. I also texted with family and friends that could not gather in person, and those words were captured in tiny lit-up characters on my phone or as messages on my social media pages. There were words in recipe directions, on street signs driving from one family home to another, in music lyrics that my children played in the car when they had control of the aux cable, on podcasts, on audio books, in the Sunday paper, and in every show or movie I watched—sometimes with subtitles.
My love of words led me to my current audiobook, The Language Instinct by Stephen Pinker. He explains language as a uniquely human gift brought to us by our need to exchange ideas, and language is often taken for granted as it is more complex than we realize. As our families gathered and gabbed over turkey and gravy, there was likely no script or table of contents for conversation. It just happened. Stephen Pinker also states that language is not the same as thought, which then means that to convey meaning you are not limited to words. The hugs from my aunt do not need words to understand her message, neither does the effort my sister-in-law puts into her presentation of her holiday table need words to perceive that she cares. As much as I love words and all of their intricacies, I also know there is meaning in the unspoken.
Language comes at us in many formats, and valuing those different modalities is essential. Field students benefit from living in an area that is rich with resources for language that extends beyond their collaborative classrooms and overall school day experience. There is a museum in DC called Planet Word Museum that is dedicated to sources and applications of language. It also has karaoke - seriously, it is a really fun place. There are also audiobooks, podcasts, graphic novels, video games, movies, books, magazines, and youtube. I am fortunate to work in an educational environment where different modalities to make meaning are honored and applied. Field classrooms are places rich with words but also with alternatives to help students engage in a depth of meaning in a way that is purposeful for them. In spite of my personal love of words, I know all the different ways we encounter meaning gives us a more inclusive learning environment and wider brush to paint all of our ideas.