Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Watch out for those assumptions

As regular readers will know, I have a weakness for Calvin & Hobbes, and a penchant for seeing learning and teaching parallels in them. Today is another of those:
I love the fact that Calvin has completely misinterpreted the purpose of a fire drill. I suspect most of us would have loved a drill that allowed us to practise burning down our schools. The thing is though, that it's called a fire drill. If you know that drill means practice, and you're 6 years old with a tendency to lateral thought, what the heck else are you going to think?

This cartoon opened the door to a forgotten tupperware cupboard in my mind and, as is the way of tupperware cupboards, the contents all came tumbling out. Memories of incidents where assumptions were made about the way things were being interpreted. In case you fancy a chuckle, I'll list some of them at the end of the post.

As learning professionals, we need to be particularly aware of this pitfall. If you're a teacher in the classroom, and you're able to identify that something got lost in the translation, at least you can put it right. But what if you're designing an elearning resource, to be used by some distant person in some remote location? There is no opportunity then to fix it - no way of even knowing that the wrong conclusion has been reached. This is why user testing is so important. You might know what you mean, but how do you know everyone else does?

And so to the tumbled tupperware:

  • When I was three and my mother was expecting my younger sister, my father explained that he had lovingly planted a seed in my mother's tummy that was growing into a baby. Later that day, I had to be given a purge to rid my young stomach of the enormous number of canna lily seeds I had been swallowing for all I was worth so that I could grow a baby of my own
  • Debbie was buying shampoo in the local supermarket. Her little brother was at the stage where he felt the need to read all the labels, just to prove he could. "For greasy hair," he read, "Why do you want greasy hair, Debbie?"
  • Years ago I was describing my first ever experience as a wedding guest to my 11 year old sister, and shared the gossip that one of my peers had got drunk during the toasting because she downed a whole glass of bubbly each time instead of taking just a sip. Robyn asked how you could possibly drink champagne while dancing, "Doesn't it spill?" I was nonplussed. "Isn't the toe sting like a tap dance?" she asked.
  • Bridget's class of 7 year olds was completing a worksheet. The grain of the wooden desks was causing havoc with their penmanship, so she suggested they lean on a book. Most of the children dutifully popped a book under the worksheet to good effect. One little lad sat bolt upright in his chair and continued to struggle. "Matthew, why don't you lean on a book, as I suggested?" she asked. "I am Mrs Bridget," he replied, proving his point by pulling out the book he had clamped between his rigid back and the chair.
  • I was walking and laughing with my son recently and jokingly responded to one of his remarks, "Ooh, you're playing with your sick leave, there". "What's a sick leaf?" he asked. Through my laughter I explained the concept of time off for ill health as opposed to holiday. He gave me a "puzzled" look and insisted "Yeah, whatever, but what's a sick leaf?"
I could keep going, but I'm sure you have even funnier/more telling examples of your own. Feel free to share!

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