Look, An Ostensive Teaching!

Few times I mentioned ostensive teaching. I guess am kind of a fan of “ostensive teaching analysis” of the meaning of the words. I will put in this post few considerations about the ostensive teaching.

The people throughout the world teach each other concepts through examples, and successfully so. As far as I remember my own learning, and as far as I observe how I teach my kids things like colors, numbers and other concepts, I do it mostly with pointing to examples. And while ostensive teaching is used to teach the learner, I think that imagining “how would I teach my child such-and-such word” can help myself also to get a clearer picture of what I mean by that word, or what that specific concept to which the word is referring is.

Ostensive teaching is teaching of concepts, and not merely words, because the student needs to figure out what is that the teacher is pointing to. So, in the ostensible teaching, it isn’t just the case that the student is given the meaning from one side, and the word on other, and all the student has to do is to make association, but it is a kind of a “guess the meaning” game, where the student tries to guess what the teacher is pointing to (or which is the same, what the teacher means). In this kind of teaching, the words have also a role of feedback which allows the student to check if he or she guessed right.
How hard is this guessing game depends on the salience of what the teacher is pointing to. Some things are more salient in the situation than other. For children most salient in most cases are objects themselves, and not their properties (like color, number, etc..).  For them, for example colors are not something they notice, but there is just the gestalt of how the object looks. Two objects in different colors will look differently to the child, and it might find the one beautiful and the other ugly because of that, but they won’t have “different colors” for the kid; as the kid yet can’t notice the colors. How do I know? Because I experience the world in same way, (and I guess all of us do), if I see a running rabbit, I notice it the rabbit as a gestalt, and not the color of its fur. I don’t somehow first notice all of the properties, compare them, and then synthesize them into concept of rabbit. I notice the rabbit, and later when I see another one, I can recognize it. Not because of its properties, but because of its gestalt look.

While the teaching of words is not done through ostensive teaching lot of the time, it is not because it is not based on something people notice in the world, but because they notice it first, and then ask about it, for example we might ask “What is this?”. The way of this learning is very similar to ostensive teaching, just that in the case of ostensive teaching the teacher provides the examples, and tries to point to something about them. It is often that this is required for the things that the student hasn’t noticed by himself or herself, so for less salient things. What can the teacher do except trying to make the property more salient? Probably use examples in which everything but that specific thing stays the same. For example present blue ball, and then the same kind of ball but green, if one teaches colors. Or first one, and then two balls of same kind if one teaches numbers.  If that doesn’t work, one can just as the wise Rafiki (the monkey from Lion King movie) say – ‘No, look harder’.