situated meaning

Book Review #2 – What does the word “Work” really mean?

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Situated Meaning

James Gee builds on the concept of situated meaning; therefore I want to explore this a bit for our parents and educators who may be unfamiliar with this idea.

Literacy is more than just decoding words. It’s about making meaning of words and groups of words. However, words have different meaning depending on their situation.  For example the word “WORK.”  Let’s use this sentence, “Her work has been very influential.” How does one make sense of this word?

First we consider the domain or world it is being used in.

Domain 1 – Warehouse laborer
Work means the 8 hours of labor I give in order to survive and get home to lead my “real” life.

Domain 2 – Academic
Work means the efforts toward deeper understanding of ideas and could be thinking, reading, writing, teaching, etc.

Domain 3 – Physics Theorist
Work means the calculated value of a force over a distance and implies that no work is done if something isn’t moved.

Domain 4 – Relationships
Work means the emotional, physical, and psychological efforts to benefit a relationship with another person.

Thus to make meaning of the word “WORK,” I must first know the domain in which it is being used.

Second we must consider the specific context in that domain in which it is being used.
Let’s take the Academic domain.

Context 1 – Her Research  
Work means the ideas she has developed through her research efforts.

Context 2 – A Specific Committee
Work means the leadership, time, and/or other efforts with the committee toward some end.

Context 3 – An Office Hours Tutor Session
Work means the individual discussion, questions, and explanations exchanged with a student in order to help them make sense of ideas.

Making meaning of a word is more than decoding it.  One must situate it within a domain, a context, and the statement in which it is used.  This is more complex that just learning words.  Gee goes on to say that this kind of situated meaning experience is necessary to develop deeper literacy skills and can be found in games.

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