A new, informational-cybernetic paradigm for the preparation of future teachers specialized in languages, literature, and art

Vladimir A. Fomichov
Moscow State Institute of Electronics and Mathematics (Technical University),
109028 Moscow, Russia
vladfom@yahoo.com

Olga S. Fomichova
Moscow Children and Teenagers Palace for Creative Work,
Kossygin str. 17, Moscow, Russia
vaf@nw.math.msu.su


In the second half of our century, it has been possible to see that the role of the humanities in the society has been diminishing. To a great extent, this process has been determined by the progress in such modern technologies as computers and television. We can easily imagine that one is able to make a successful career in many fields pertaining to technology without mastering the richness of the humanitarian culture. On the other hand, it is known that early acquaintance with computers often causes the adoration of computers, negatively influences the humanitarian development of the person, makes the mental outlook of a person rather primitive.

Meanwhile, people have the need of philosophical understanding of the world. This ability may be given only by the humanities. So where is a way out?

We suggest essentially new arguments in favour of a new flourishing of the humanities in the nearest future, of their great role in positive transformation of preschool and school education. We propose a way where the humanities will enable us to preserve and extend the creative potential of a person, will not allow computers to negatively influence development of the child's personality.

The modern cognitive evolutionary biology concludes that there are especially appropriate time intervals for developing this or that cognitive ability of the child. Our idea is to use a great potential of the age 5-9 years for deep humanitarian development of the child.

We suggest the following: very early, at the 5-9, before the acquaintance with computers, to enable children to feel the joy of creative work and intellectual activity, the beauty of expressing thoughts in natural language (NL), of poetical metaphors, and of the correspondence between a picture and ideas, emotions encoded in it. Then there is a serious hope that the child will come to a computer as a formed creative personality, and then he/she will consider computers only as useful assistants and will ignore many computer games due to the primitiveness of their intellectual and aesthetic contents.

The stated goal is achievable. We proved this assertion both theoretically and practically. We elaborated a new theory of effective knowledge transfer called the Theory of Dynamic Conceptual Mappings, or the DCM-theory. Its central component is an original, informational-cybernetic conception of early positive developing consciousness of the child (his/her thinking and mental outlook). The conception includes a many-staged method of effective developing children's abilities of processing symbolic information represented by means of NL or the language of painting (Fomichov and Fomichova, 1997, 1998).

For realizing this conception, we elaborated new methods of teaching called Methods of Emotional-Imaginative Teaching ( EIT-methods). These methods are destined for effective developing children's intelligence at lessons of mother tongue, foreign language (FL), literature, poetry, and art. The methods have been successfully used during 8 years in teaching English as a FL, literature, the languages of poetry and painting. The total number of students exceeds three hundred, the age varies from 4 to 17 years.

One of the most striking and positive results is as follows: five-nine-year-old Russian children master with great interest and joy very rich sublanguages of mother tongue and of a FL (English) for describing the nature and the feelings evoked by the nature. Their command of FL highly exceeds the level of the FL command determined by modern text-books of English as a FL for children under ten; e.g., by popular "Teaching English to Children" (W.A. Scott and L.H. Ytreberg, London, New York, Longman Group UK Limited, 1994). In particular, 7-8-year olds (3rd year of studies in experimental groups) are able to read fluently and to discuss in FL unadapted "Alice's Adventures in Wonder Land" by Lewis Carroll, to describe in FL landscapes and seascapes.

We suppose that obtained theoretical and practical results indicate a way opening prospects for a new flourishing of the humanities in the nearest future. And it is very interesting that for discovering that way, we proceeded mainly from ideas elaborated in Computer Science: in Artificial Intelligence (AI) theory. The ideas of just this field enabled us to find an appropriate angle of look at the ideas of Cognitive Science, Philosophy of Language, Semiotics, the soft stream in Cybernetics, integrate these ideas, and elaborate a really systemic, interdisciplinary approach to solving acute problems of education.

The AI-theory influenced the creation of the DCM-theory, in particular, as follows.

  1. In accordance with the paradigm of AI-theory, we looked at the problems of education from more general positions as usual: we considered teaching as a particular kind of transferring knowledge from one intelligent system (a teacher) to other intelligent systems (the learners), where both a teacher and the learners possess their own, often not similar, inner conceptual pictures of the worlds (analogues of knowledge bases).
  2. Specialists in NL-processing systems (the corresponding theory is a part of AI-theory) realize very well that for enabling computers to understand NL, it is necessary to transfer to them a lot of knowledge about the world and NL and to develop their knowledge processing abilities. 5-7-year-old children have very high associative abilities in comparison with computers. And we must systematically develop much more their abilities of processing NL-texts than it is widely accepted nowadays.
  3. The ground of our new approach is giving a very rich language to young children. We solved this problem in the most complicated variant - in teaching FL (on the example of English). The most difficult was to find the manners of explaining the basic rules of reading words in English and rules of using Present Simple and Past Simple Tenses to 5-6-year-old children. For solving this problem, we represented the difficult pieces of FL-grammar in a generalized form, using semantic nets and more powerful formalisms. It helped us to invent such analogies (fairy-tales, stories) which proved to be really thrilling for kids.
  4. M.Minsky suggested in 1975 the theory of frames - structures for representing stereotypic situations. Basing on our new interpretation of this theory (being a popular part of AI-theory), we invented an effective method of teaching 5-7-year-olds to reconstruct the complete situations designated by NL-texts.

We proceeded also from ideas of Cognitive Psychology (as concerns Semantics of Emotions), Cognitive Linguistics (mainly, theory of conceptual metaphor), Semiotics.

With respect to the analysis of preprimary, primary, and secondary education in Western Europe, Russia, U.S.A. and to our theoretical and practical experience, we believe that it is necessary to considerably improve the preparation of the future teachers specialized in mother tongue, FL, literature, poetry, and art. With this aim, we suggest a new, informational-cybernetic paradigm for the preparation of such specialists. First of all, it includes the acquaintance of future teachers and specialists of preprimary educational system with such basic notions of AI theory and Cognitive Science as knowledge representation, knowledge item, knowledge base, frame, information transfer, information coding and decoding, symbolic information processing, conceptual structure of a text, and a number of other concepts (we don't mean here the learning of mathematical means, methods, and models used in AI theory).

A college student successfully mastered these ideas will get much deeper (than usual) understanding of the processes of information transfer underlying the processes of teaching and learning. The other positive consequence is that the mastering of these concepts will help the future teachers to better understand the principles underlying the functioning of ITSs and to find for them an appropriate place in the teaching process.



References

Fomichov, V.A. and Fomichova, O.S. (1997); An Informational Conception of Developing the Consciousness of the Child; Informatica (Slovenia), Vol. 21, No. 3, 369-388.

Fomichov, V.A. and Fomichova, O.S. (1998); A New Theoretical and Practical Approach to Early Positive Developing Child’s Consciousness; Cybernetics and Systems’98, Vol. 1 (ed. R.Trappl), Austrian Society for Cybernetic Studies, Vienna, 276-281.