Search for Meaning

EDU 6120-Search for Meaning

This week we are left to ponder the search for meaning.  As I explored Herbart’s idea of “Man’s worth does not lie in his knowing… but in his willing.” I was confronted with a story about my own child’s search for meaning.  My 8 year old daughter, Delaney, is a passionate reader.  She consumes books and loves to explore words.  In this exploration there are constant questions as to what a word means.  The other day during our morning routine, Delaney asked, “Mom what does crestfallen mean?”  I said, “It is when someone is sad or disappointed about something.”  That was it Delaney kept reading and breakfast continued while I packed lunches.  It was not a huge “search” but it was what followed that made this inquiry so memorable.

Later in the week Delaney was extremely excited about going to a jump rope class with her good friend.  She had been talking about it all week.  However, when she arrived there was no room in the class for her; she was not going to be able to participate.  The friend’s mother, Ann, had dropped the girls off and when Delaney couldn’t participate decided to bring her home.  When she arrived on our door step Ann recalled a conversation that she had with Delaney in the car that “amazed her”.  Ann said, “Delaney I am so sorry that there was no room in the class for you we will have to try again another time.”  Delaney, without missing a beat replied, “That’s okay Ann I am only slightly crestfallen.”  Ann said that she could not believe that that word came out of an 8 year olds mouth but more shocking was how appropriately she had used it in a sentence.  I told her about Delaney asking about the word earlier in the week and realized that she now not only understood the word within the context of a sentence or story but that she now had another word to use in conversation.

This simple story illustrates to me that a child’s thirst for knowledge button is always on.  They never stop learning and neither should we.  Now while I by no means think this is extraordinary for my child, I think the process of acquiring knowledge is fascinating.  Did Delaney try to use this word earlier in the week and fail?    Did she wait for the opportune time to use it perfectly?  Had she been thinking about the word all week or had she just remembered it?   Whatever the process was for Delaney, her willingness to try was successful and she has since acquired new word that I keep waiting to hear come out of her mouth.  She had taken on Herbart’s idea that knowing is simply not good enough but willingness to use this knowledge is the goal.

I would like to explore a student’s search for meaning through a literary example.  I think that reading can be a great way to explore and search for meaning. A story is a safe place for a student to relate to, explore, and experience new meaning.  They can explore unknown worlds, ideas, characters, places, cultures, families, words, etc.  The list is endless.   The key to this type of searching is to make it a safe place for students.  To allow students to ask questions, explore ideas, support failure, and encourage further exploration.  For example I could start a “book club” in class.  I would ask students to find 3 words per chapter that they might not know and find out what they mean (use dictionary, infer the definition, ask someone what the definition is, and search on a computer).  Then encourage students to use these words class discussion.  Support failure and encourage practice, because often through failure meaning can be discovered.  Talk about where the book is taking place and have them research it’s location; or if it is a fictional place have them each draw an illustration of what they think it looks like and compare. Talk about different cultures and investigate what different cultures are represented in “our class community”.  There are an infinite number of ideas to present when searching for meaning yet the key is to promote exploration, to ignite the students’ individual passion for discovery.

Dr. Scheuerman lectured that it is our job to “find a way to engender enthusiasm”.  As a teacher I need to find a way to take what I have knowledge of and find out what is meaningful and relevant to the students, combine the two and teach with “crazy passion”.  Herbart wrote, “Present… such men as he would like to be,” in other words; lead by example.  Share my thirst for meaning in everything I do and teach.   If I can ignite the quest for knowledge in a student  then the student can decide what they want to learn and discover with the teacher as a support and guide.  “The goal of the Herbartian approach, therefore, is a life of volitional virtue, and the means is and “artful” combination of psychological and pedagogical practices.”   A tall or order but one I am eager to realize.


2 thoughts on “Search for Meaning

  1. Sarah,
    I love this story about your daughter! It reminded me a lot of when I was a kid, and I was always using words that were bigger than me. Most often the result in my case was an accusative “Do you even know what that means?” from my older brother or sisters. A great deal of the time I didn’t, but I guess that’s a search for knowledge in it’s own way: if I wasn’t using it correctly, I could tweak it and try again. I also really love the idea of a book club in class to discuss and work through unfamiliar territory. Like I mentioned in my post this week, I get a lot out of talking with others, and I think it goes really well with literature at any level.
    Thanks for your post!

  2. Sarah,
    Terrific idea! I love how thoroughly you delved into discovery through the book club idea. I often find myself looking up a word or phrase that I’m unfamiliar with only to be launched on a lengthy tangent following the rabbit through the hole. How great to use this in the classroom in order to teach a myriad of new knowledge.

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