There is a fascinating debate taking place in the blogosphere about definitions of literacy. I shall not attempt to summarise it here but urge anybody reading this (hallo mum) to explore further.

 The discussion has inevitably broadened from reading and writing to encompass aesthetics, with music, visual arts and latterly, dancing, being examined.

 Kevin Lindorff’s contribution about Isadora Duncan sparked some thoughts for me (that’s what Learning 2.0 is all about I’m beginning to grasp). He recalled a remark made by the dancer in response to a query about what her dances meant. She replied that if she could explain that she would have no need to dance; thus challenging the ‘sweeping assumption’ that everything ‘should be somehow best explained or represented by language’.

 I struggle with the concept that language can be superseded. Not – I hasten to add – because I place a greater value on traditional literacy. I have worked with too many young people whose preferred mode of expression is through art or music or dance; who founder when faced with text but soar with alternative means; whose ability in these areas display a far superior knowledge and understanding than I could ever hope for.

But because language is a natural medium of expression for me, I find it hard to comprehend these different manifestations of thought. I am only able to develop my thinking through language, through writing down these developing ideas whether to share with others or to refer back to over time. And I feel it is incumbent upon me in my teaching to help students develop language skills because they need to function in the real world.

 I should love to find out how thinking is developed in the aesthetic arts without language.


I was put in mind of one of those ‘Ah-Ha’ moments I had while at university studying History. I was privileged to spend a term in Venice – the excuse being a study of the Renaissance. During a lecture about Durer’s painting of St Jerome in his Study  I made a conceptual leap. Hitherto I had assumed that creativity was a gift only a few were granted. You either had it or didn’t; could draw or sing or dance or – in my case – couldn’t. Then Signor Benedetto pointed out the use of perspective and the aligning of important items to create a harmonious whole. I realised that even great artists did not necessarily just get up one morning and put brush to parchment and end up with a masterpiece. They knew certain rules and applied them (or not) thoughtfully.

 It is, I know now, obvious, but it altered my perceptions profoundly and gave me an even greater respect for those people who produced beautiful things or actions.

This taught me more: that by listening to an expert and talking with others, I was able to envisage being able to do it myself, however ineptly. Describing the process, breaking down the structure of a creative course of action, thinking about the development of an idea, can be in itself a creative act and, what’s more, helps me learn. The act of giving voice enables me to make sense of what I already know and of how to make progress. Questioning where I am with a project, how I got here, what has not gone according to plan  and how I may adjust to new circumstances means I am better equipped to transfer my knowledge, understanding and skills to other areas. 

I still have a voice in my head that tells me I am not ‘creative’. But I can try to take what I have learned to help my students to articulate their thinking process with words.