The Pedagogy of Play: Bite-Sized Pieces, Part IV

For background and context, read the first three in this series:

The Pedagogy of Play: Bite-Sized Pieces, Part I

The Pedagogy of Play: Bite-Sized Pieces, Part II

The Pedogogy of Play: Bite-sized Pieces, Part III

I went to the Indie Hurrican at Gamestorm 11 this weekend, a game convention. I playtested my fluency strategy (“bite-sized pieces”) for Polaris, and had some great results. This has helped me improve it. Thanks to Zach, Jim, Mark, Jennifer, and Gilbert; I hope that your passion for Polaris inspires you to play it with people you care about! Read on for the changes and clarifications in my method. I’ve left out a lot of details and page number references, as you can find them in previous versions.

0. One-paragraph summary of the Polaris setting.
1. Give brief Road Map of how we will acquire fluency in Polaris: Warm-Ups, Character Creation, Scene Framing skills, and the Ritual Phrases.

1. name story
2. firing line
3. yes, and
4. color, advance
5. counting

1. Choose a name, one aspect, write on character sheet (using ben lehman’s polaris name/aspect handouts).

2. Character Circle/”I don’t see it”: semi-collaborative character creation. One person gets 30 seconds (or so) to describe their character; then, randomly (popcorn-style), everyone in the circle gets to add one piece of “what they see”, keeping a hold of the initial description, staying true as possible to it. The formula for adding a piece: “[character name] has [braids/big sword with runes/constant pain from leg wound, etc.]”, “I see [character name] [chasing jehovah’s witness/filing her nails compulsively/painting a masterpiece]”, “[character name] [dislikes/likes/loves/hates]”, etc. You get the idea. The group goes for about 3-5 minutes, then switches, unless someone pops the bubble by saying something that anyone else just can’t see fitting. The poppee must then say to the popper, “I don’t see it!”. They then move to the next player, who in 30 seconds also describes their character,etc. etc.. The goal: don’t pop the bubble, or put it off for as long as possible. Also, to get everyone repeating each other’s character’s names, so that we know them by heart.

CARD HANDLING: For each of the following categories, I slap down an index card with the ritual phrases on them. Between each card, as facilitator, I have picked out one paragraph or so of setting text for a player to read, rotating the reader of course. For each card, we go around the table giving everyone a chance to practice, resulting in 4 scenes per card (except for the session card and player intros, of course].

1. SESSION CARD: “Long Ago, The People Were Dying at the End of the World…”/”But All That Happened Long Ago, And There Are None Now Who Remember It.”

[SETTING: you might now read “moments frozen in time”, from the beginning of the book]

2. CHARACTER CARD: “But Hope Was Not Yet Lost, for [name] Still Heard the Song of the Stars…”

3. SCENE CARD: /”And So It Was…”/”…And So It Was.”

[SETTING: another paragraph or two, etc. etc. continue to do this between the rest of the cards]

4. NEGOTIATE CARD: “But Only If…”/”…It Was Not Meant To Be”/”…And That Was How It Happened.”

5. MOONS CARD: “…But It Was No Matter.”/”…We Shall See What Comes of It.” (moon vetos I)

6. ESCALATE CARD: “…You Ask Far Too Much!”/”And Furthermore…” (exhausting themes) (moon vetos II)

7. DICE CARD: “…It Shall Not Come to Pass!” (assign ice, light, zeal) (start to check experience)


However far we got in slowly adding and mastering each ritual phrase in order, when the session ends, we always discuss how it went, talk about high points, look for improvements we can make, etc. I know that most groups will need a “cool down”, just like they had a “warm up”, and I haven’t quite wrapped my head around where I want to go with that yet.

For next session, I recommend starting at the beginning (keep the same characters if you want, of course), and adding in phrases as people demonstrate fluency, building them back up to where you left off. Don’t simply go “ok, we all mastered all those phrases last time”, DOUBLE CHECK, methodically. You’ll have fun reliving the process, and you won’t regret the chance to go over it again, I wager. Don’t think “we already did that prep stuff last time”; think “this counts as part of the game; when you play polaris, you start with this part”. Enjoying the step-by-step nature will become part of the fun of playing Polaris. And when you teach it to new folks, you won’t have to change how you play; just play as you always play, starting at the beginning.

Interlude: Pithy thoughts on Appreciative Progress for Agile Teams

Several Ideas on a String

I twittered some of these things and got a request to bundle them up into a blogpost; I usually use twitter- for my half-formed ideas, but I’ll still give this a go. The amount of background I need for the “roadmap” for Agile team proficiency has grown larger than I expected, so I have had fun working through all the details. Some ideas that seem pretty feasible to me:

Idea #1:  When an Agile team improves proficiency, they must refactor their role to the rest of their company. As in code, so in Life.

Breakdown: Once we have a roadmap of proficiency, I believe we can better work on the implications of improved proficiency. At Novice level, an Agile team will need a certain relationship with the rest of their organization. They need a certain kind of support, and they have certain products they can easily deliver. At Intermediate this changes; their improved skills mean something tangible, that their relationship with the rest of the organization has changed. This continues on as they move through the levels of proficiency.

Idea #2: Agile teams that move through fluency levels, while refactoring their relationship to the organization, will inevitably transform the organization.

Breakdown: This essentially refers to the fractal nature of change; you can see this within a single team. One team member that improves their feedback skills, will begin to shift the work processes of the team. One team member that improves their ability to run Stand-up meetings, will accelerate the learning of the whole team in this manner. I believe that in a WAYK-style fluency paradigm, where skill equals ability to mentor that same skill, this deepens the viral effect of an already observable phenomenon. So extrapolate this to the whole organization; at some inevitable point, a highly proficient team begins to intentionally mentor the organization on how to relate to them. This mentoring will begin to virally change the rest of the organization, not just where it links up with the team. The culture itself will shift.

Idea #3:  No more “forming, storming, norming, performing” (or its ilk); now just try “performing”: “Novice performing, Intermediate performing, Advanced performing, Superior performing…”

Breakdown:  Rather than looking at the lifecycle of the team, or looking at a team as going through a series of development stages (like a fetus) before emerging as a “real team”, think of the team instead as always operating at a particular level of effortless proficiency. What does the team do fluently, right now? This will always speak to what the team needs to work on next to grow, but it will also make clear the nature of what the team can provide. When I explain the roadmap of “Where Are Your Keys?”(keeping in mind that the WAYK language fluency game represents one application of the larger Fluency game paradigm – this thinking applies to all skills and knowledge sets), and say “Novice means Barney conversations, Intermediate means Sesame Street, Advanced means Larry King Live, Superior means Charlie Rose”, each of those proficiency levels contains active, vital, fun, and productive conversations (well…I don’t really consider myself a fan of Barney the dinosaur, but pick your favorite children’s show of that fluency level, and you’ll get my point). The conversations have life, color, and effortless competence at the level of activity appropriate to their proficiency level.

Idea #4: What do children do really well? They play. What do teens do really well? They take risks. What do Adults do really well? They produce. What do Elders do really well? They remind us. All performing, at different fluency levels.

Breakdown: Now looking at “performance level”, rather than “development stage”, we automatically look through the lens of appreciative inquiry. At every stage of human life, we excel at what we do, if given room to do so. Think of Novice, Intermediate, Advanced, and Superior in this way. Each stage produces a markedly different product, really, really well. In a sense, each stage simply has a different role to contribute to the community. So you never have a malformed, vestigial, or incompletely developed team, if you look at them in terms of their fluencies: what they do effortlessly well.

Idea #5: You can’t remind if you haven’t played, risked, and produced. You can’t produce if you haven’t played and risked. You can’t risk if you haven’t played. Each stage builds on the other.

Breakdown: So now we see the “nested hierarchy” I keep referring to, in action. More foundational fluencies set the stage for the emergence of more finely-grained fluencies. All humans must know how to play;  not all humans need to have the life experience with which to remind us of what has worked in the past. We have Elders for that! The rest of us need to focus on improving our play, risk, and producing.


Can we see teams, family, community, in terms of their fluencies? Can we see everyone as performing at their particular level of fluency? Their level of “performing” tells us more about where to take them next than their ignorance; after all, people know far less than all that they don’t know, correct? We have a much smaller amount of knowledge, than we do have ignorance (probably an infinite commodity). If we keep looking for what a team can’t do or doesn’t know, we could essentially fill in the calendar of the rest of our working lives.

Knowing what someone doesn’t know, doesn’t help me. Knowing the edge of their fluency tells me exactly what to do, pedagogically. We have to ask questions to find that edge, not to find out what they don’t know. We’ll drown in the ocean of what they don’t know, directionless; if we can find the island of what they do know, and walk to its edge, then we can start fishing, make little trips out from shore in our canoe, free-dive for some deep-water adventures; we have a foundation to work from!

An Agile Roadmap: The First Iteration

I’ve saved the real zinger to kick this off; I haven’t seen anyone mention this, so pardon my ignorance if this has already come up in the dialogue over useful Agile learning models.

But I have to ask: why do I mostly see in Agile culture the two learning models, Dreyfus and Shu-Ha-Ri, that both specifically apply to individual progress?  If we see Agile as a model of team collaboration (for the most part in the environment of software development), then don’t we need to measure the fluency/competency of the team, rather than individuals?

I think one can apply some Agile principles to one’s own track of personal growth, but as a team methodology, I think we must look at Agile as happening, or not happening, on a team level. The team sinks or swims together.

This means that we have to step further back from individual-mastery focus of Dreyfus and Shu Ha Ri.

We also have to separate Agile, as a software development methodology, from the goals it enables the team to accomplish more quickly and efficiently. Think about linguistic fluency; I won’t quiz you on your ability to name and employ all the different pedagogical tools your French teacher used to teach you French (flash cards, conversation partners, worksheets, quizzes, etc.). I’ll quiz you on your ability to speak fluent French. As we have seen, I can differentiate this fluency into different levels of proficiency.

How on Earth do we do that with an Agile team? We need to measure Agile success not in terms of fluency in Agile, but in terms of the work group’s fluency in software development.

I’ve started poking around the internet for how folks measure the success of a software development team. I noticed Scott Downey, a Scrum Master at Myspace, uses the following metrics:

Velocity, Burndown, Work Capacity and Commitment Accuracy.


  1. They are Hyper-Productive (>240% higher targeted value contribution)
  2. They have completed three successful Sprints consecutively

As I understand it (not having used Agile in the software development world, but rather in the outdoor recreation world), a “successful Sprint” means that the stories that the team committed to finishing in that Sprint, have gotten to done/done; finished, tested, integrated, with customer approval. Shippable code.

Also, just as a fundamental skillset, every work group must express some level of skill in their ability to plan their work as a team, to give feedback and improve their work, to run effective meetings; all these things too must act as milestones, in some fashion, on their way to consistently producing shippable software.

So, can we weave all of this into a whole, differentiate it into four (or so) levels of proficiency, with an embedded Appreciative Inquiry tack? We want to know what the team can do fluently, at every level, in addition to what they may struggle with.

What does any software team do competently, at Novice proficiency? What directly observable behaviors? What can we tease out, and say, “yeah…I would call this set of basic fluencies a Novice level”?

What does any software development team do fluently, and competently, at Intermediate? Empirically, what do we see? What seems to fit well here?

At Advanced?

At Superior? How much experience do we have with Superior-level proficiency, in software development teams? We may have too much information on what we expect to see at this level, and too little for the others. So, what do we see at this high-performing level?

The ACTFL proficiency roadmap took quite a bit of development, back in its day. I think we can shake out a good roadmap from basic fluency to high-performing fluency pretty quickly, if we can dig out of our experience those consistent milestones that will help show us the route. Unfortunately, all of us probably have plenty of experience in what the team couldn’t do, but tried anyway, thus masking their level of fluency with the aura of struggle and failure. We don’t necessarily want to know where the team failed; we want to know, at each step, what the team could do competently and effortlessly, so that as Agile coaches we know exactly what to work on next. We have to create that nested hierarchy, so that every level the team has a solid grounding in success and fluency to take them to the next level of proficiency.

Any ideas? Looks like we may need a Part III.

An Agile Roadmap: Using the Fluency Paradigm to take A Fresh Look at Shu-Ha-Ri and the Dreyfus model


A Summary

I’ve done some reading lately on models of learning out there in implementing some of my favorite process tools, and I’d like to put a puzzle together connecting all the pieces. In the Agile software world, the common learning models I see go by the names “Dreyfus Learning Model” and “Shu-Ha-Ri”. In the “Where Are Your Keys?” world we have a similar, but different learning model. This apparently small difference has huge implications in practice, for both speed and depth of learning. I call this fundamentally different experience of skill acquisition Fluency.


Agile Teamwork refers to a culture of collaboration, mostly practiced in the software world (and mostly practiced there by those comfortable with innovation), that embraces the following priorities:

* Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
* Working software over comprehensive documentation
* Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
* Responding to change over following a plan

I recommend, for further understanding, reading the Twelve Principles of Agile Software. Though I have little experience in the IT world, I have used the Agile priorities and many major tools (Stand-Up Meetings, Iterations, Retrospectives) in the context of outdoor education, with quite satisfying results. It also tickles me that Christopher Alexander’s Pattern Language book inspired some of the founding work in Agile; I have gotten a lot out of his work, so it doesn’t surprise me that Agile attracts me so.

Now, “Where Are Your Keys?” refers to one application (that of learning a foreign language) of the general principles in the Learning Fluency Game, created by learning innovator Evan Gardner. Ever since meeting Evan and working with him over the past two years, I’ve had a paradigm shift around learning; I now understand why some of my teaching methods work so well, some don’t, and how to make them work even more deeply, powerfully, and nicest of all, more quickly. “WAYK?” has a unique structure, which can teach us a lot how to take Agile Teamwork adoption to the next level, along with any other skill we want to take to mastery. We have had such tremendous and revolutionary success with building fluency in other languages with “WAYK?” that I almost immediately began to think about other applications.

A Fresh Look

This brings me to learning models and roadmaps. When we first meet a new skill, we need a Roadmap. “WAYK?” uses the ACTFL (American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages) ‘levels of proficiency’ roadmap, a schema developed in the 1950’s by the US State Department for diplomats and others in foreign service.

Anytime a “WAYK?” instructor runs the game, they first present the roadmap. I usually frame the roadmap thus:

“I want to share our roadmap with you; I call it Travels With Charlie. As we gain fluency in [insert target language here], we will pass through four broad levels of proficiency.

The first, Novice, will sound a lot like an episode of Barney the Dinosaur: ‘We are singing, we are playing, we are laughing…”-type conversations, all in the present moment, about what occurs around us that we can observe. We see a lot of “what”/”who”/”where” questions.

The second, Intermediate, will sound a lot like an episode of Sesame Street: “Where are you going? -I’m going to the store. What are you going to buy? -I’m going to buy candy!”. We begin to see past and future tense involved, along with “when”/”how”/”why” questions added in.

The third level, Advanced, sounds a lot like an episode of Larry King Live: “When you look back on your life, what are your proudest moments?” “How did you feel when that happened? Why do you think that? Would you do it again?”. Lots of personal storytelling.

The fourth level, Superior, sounds a lot like an episode of Charlie Rose: “If you had advice for a new president, what would you give? How do you think presidents should behave? If we didn’t have a president, how would it change the world? Do we need them?”. We have moved beyond the personal, and into the world of society. We no longer tell our own stories, but the stories of society and how we think about economic, social, and political issues.

At any time, I will fish for your current fluency level, and then match our interaction to working on things just past that level. If you try to exceed your fluency level by using tools that lie farther away than ‘just past’, I’ll say ‘Sorry, Charlie!’, and we’ll drop back down to the level that your current fluency can absorb.”

Why do I love the “WAYK?” roadmap so much? Because it tells you exactly what to do, in any moment. It doesn’t abstract the learning process; it gives precise flags of where a language speaker stands and what help they need. Yet it allows for a lot flexibility and tailoring to the particular student/teacher. If I interact with an intermediate-level speaker of English, and ask them a few simple questions (“What’s that?” -“Oh, that’s my pen my mom gave me. I love it! I’m sorry, but you can’t borrow it, it has too much sentimental value; I got it while overseas and homesick.” “Wow! Really? Do you think pens work better than pencils? Would people improve their local economy by using pens?” -“I don’t know. I like pens.”), they will zoom to their level, I will test that indeed we’ve butted up against their fluency limit (a lack of fluency in economic/social/political discourse), and they will affirm it by their response.

Now, the “WAYK?” roadmap has a lot in common with Shu-Ha-Ri and the Dreyfus model. Let’s talk about Shu-Ha-Ri first. I like Alistair Cockburn’s articulation of Japanese traditional culture’s model of learning, which runs thus:

People who are learning and mastering new skills pass through three quite different stages of behavior: following, detaching, and fluent.

Lovely! This really echoes my experience.

When I combine this with my past experience creating fluency with “Where Are Your Keys?”, I realize I would refine the middle step: rather than ‘detaching’, I would call the Ha stage ‘contextualizing/connecting/interweaving’. ‘Context’ actually comes from the Old English root for woven material, “text” (as in “textile”); speakers of Old English loved poetry, riddles, and song, and saw all those activities as “word-weaving”, and so referred to the contents of books as “texts”, or “word-fabric”. Hence why I equate “context” with “interweaving”: connecting concepts to each other and through each other.

I would not call this stage “detaching” or “finding when the rule doesn’t work” or “breaking the rule”, because the ways in which things don’t work far outnumber (by many orders of magnitude, if not actually stretching into infinity) the ways in which they do work. I take a decidedly Appreciative Inquiry tack, as cued by the Fluency game methodology. We could talk all day about how not to do something. The more we focus on the relatively few ways in which you can interweave different concepts successfully, the more efficient our time together. I see this as a speed and efficiency issue. Some folks prefer to find the many exceptions to rules; I prefer to find the few successful application of rules. I will spend far less time practicing and mastering successful application than someone exploring the many unsuccessful applications of a tool. Hammers apply well to nails and a few other things; anything else they damage. How much damage do we need to do before we focus on mastering what a hammer does well (and very few people know how to use a hammer well, letting the weight of the tool do the work)?

I do notice something else about Shu-Ha-Ri; “WAYK?” employs this model at the small-chunk level. When we have Barney conversations, we acquire full fluency in Barney-level proficiency. Each step within Novice/Barney, we work to individual fluency in each particular tool. We pass to Ri (fluency) about a hundred times over in an hour of “WAYK?”, as we master each individual piece of language, first following, then interweaving and contextualizing, and then speaking fluently without hesitation, over and over and over.

Let’s accent those two points. I suggest we’d increase our speed of fluency by terming the Ha, in Shu-Ha-Ri, as contextualizing the successful use of the tool (rather than breaking or finding exceptions). I also propose that Shu-Ha-Ri doesn’t describe a big picture roadmap, like Travels With Charlie, as well as it does the small-chunk acquisition of fluency in specific skill tools.

But that last statement contains 90% of what you need to know about why “WAYK?” works so efficiently. It fractally contains all of its pedagogical philosophy; fluency of skill comes by progression through a nested hierarchy of skills, first more broadly applicable skills, to the finer- and finer-grained level. Think about making a sundae. You have to get the container, then scoop in the icecream, then the sauce, then the whipped cream, and only then the cherry on top (so much for my paleo diet…now I want a sundae!).

Let’s move on to the Dreyfus model. It actually has a lot in common with the Fluency roadmap. It has some of the same language (“Novice”, “Intermediate”, etc.); it may even actually derive from some of the academic understandings that inspired the ACTFL roadmap. I do see a divergence; it seems to also go the Shu-Ha-Ri route. It has more levels, more clearly defined, but it still takes a small-chunk understanding of gaining fluency in specific skills, and generalizes that to a roadmap-sized schema, unproductively, I think.

Though pointing out a useful progression at a small-chunk level, because of its small-chunk use the Dreyfus model actually makes gaining fluency in these sub-skills (aka patterns) look a bit more complicated than it actually works in practice (at least in the context of “WAYK?”). I like Shu-Ha-Ri because it reflects the potential speed of small-chunk fluency with three short, one-syllable steps. Additionally, I don’t think students or teachers need this understanding, necessarily, to efficiently move through these little fluencies. I think, whether they know it or not, they want a big-picture road map, with road signs of physical events and empirical behaviors to mark their progress. The Dreyfus model mostly refers to reflective or internal events within the learner, and to a more abstract picture of their general behavior. But what real, observable, empirical behaviors indicate progress through a roadmap? I’ve given you the road signs for “WAYK?”; actual words used at different levels of fluency, specific grammatical skills, and specific cognitive skills.

So let’s make the leap. As a thought experiment, I will apply the Fluency Game principles to a hypothetical Agile Teamwork adoption and see what happens. I haven’t tried this before today; this marks iteration one! But I think we’ll still see some surprisingly good initial results.

Stay tuned for Part II, An Agile Roadmap: The First Iteration

What does Family mean?

Our connection to our own Family remains our greatest treasure, and our greatest challenge.

Whether you choose to embrace this modern culture, and follow the values of material success, or you choose to rebel against it, and follow seemingly new values, you will almost certainly enact the same story: fleeing to another city, or even another country, in pursuit of the ghost of these values, abandoning your connection to family and your birthplace.

Why do we all seem in such agreement, that we modern people value Family least of all things? That we consider it an inconvenience, a hindrance to our goals, whether counter-cultural or not? We regard the opinions and attention of Family almost as we would an annoying mosquito.

And yet to this day, we can find people who have a much different opinion of Family, and who would die to protect it. Why?

Family holds all wealth, all health, all wholeness, and all holiness. A connection to a grass-skirted lake as a mothering being, reflects our relationship with our human mother. A connection to a windswept mountain shoulder as a fathering being, reflects our relationship with our human father. While on the hunt, to call a brown-eyed doe your sister, means you must look to your relationship with your human sister for guidance. If we see the life all around us as our relatives, then how did we first experience this, but in the embrace of Family?

And if we have left them far behind, how can we possibly embrace them anew?

Our Family tests our human skills, more than any other environment. Our ability to listen, to empathize, to forgive, to give and receive gifts, we practice these most deeply and truly with those who gave us life and walked beside us as we matured.

The care freely offered by Family comes very expensive when we seek others to provide it. Nurses, storytellers, teachers, mentors, cooks, Family filled all these roles and many more. Now that many of us have abandoned our families, we must find substitutes, often toxic ones. In the end, what can substitute for love and feeling known? Not the finest meal in the best restaurant, nor the most skilled storyteller, nor the most expert teacher. We seek family-for-hire so often it has become a way of life.

Once we begin the work of healing our tattered Family bonds, and see the first fruits of it, only then do we truly discover what it means to live in the vast community of Life, and see the kinship in all things.

What does the College of Mythic Cartography mean?

The College of Mythic Cartography exists wherever Peers gather to tell meaningful Story about their relationship with the Land.

College indicates a society of Peers, and peers-in-training, who prioritize communicating and collaborating on what they feel passionate about. Colleagues, working together in an egalitarian way, to caretake that which they love.

Mythic refers to meaningful Story, the kind of stories and spoken traditions (riddles, dreams, mythtime tales, and so on) that carry a deeply practical instruction for relating to the community of life in an ever-more-successful and maturing way. This kind of Story stands in stark contrast to that which we call entertainment.

Cartography points to a language of the Land, and the human method of carrying this language. Though certainly humans can do this visually, they have an even stronger heritage of doing this through rhythm, song, poetry, and dance. We have embodied maps for far longer than we have drawn them on paper.

Any intact, animist, indigenous culture carries a college of mythic cartography amongst its members. For us children of modern civilization, the work to rebuild colleges of this kind, in rapport with the particular Land which reclaimed our heart, beckons to us. As adult children, we can now consciously choose the parent made of Land over the parent made of metal wire and bottled milk.

EPISODE 25: The Vision Thing

In this seemingly tangential podcast, I further explain the use of the sensory tune-up game, and talk about how every game we play has both diagnostic and therapeutic properties. I speak a little bit of the history of Vision Therapy, the improvement of eyesight without corrective lenses, tell my own story of recent radical vision improvement, and offer up a method for those living in a similar context as myself; i.e. improving their health, changing their lifestyle, gaining self-clarity.

Of course all this relates to Evan Gardner’s “learning how to learn game” methodology in a wonderful way. I hope you’ll listen on in; whether you have 20/20 vision, or very blurry vision, you can still learn to continuously improve the clarity of your vision so that one day they may call you “hawkeye”!

Sensory Tune-up Game

Dr. William H. Bates and the “Bates Method”

Brian Severson’s Vision Freedom method

“Where Are Your Keys?”, The Language Fluency Game

[UPDATE WINTER 2012: For my most current thinking on language acquisition and fluency, please see the free eBook at and explore the website at My language work has changed significantly – I’ve moved on from my former partnership at WAYK and am opening up thrilling new frontiers in this work!]

Evan Gardner, a learning technology innovator, developed the language fluency game “Where Are Your Keys?” after observing for several years the teaching techniques that seemed to work most effectively for the greatest amount of students.

This game creates fluent speakers in a language more quickly than any other method out there, without resorting to conventional homework or textbooks. You can play the game anywhere, anytime, with anyone, as long as you have a single fluent speaker of the target language, preferably with no conventional teaching experience.

Educators have employed many of the game’s techniques in classrooms for many years, but no one has used them all at once, in one place, consistently. Nor has anyone ever created a seamless whole in which these techniques operate, subject to constant refinement and development, in partnership with the students, continuously increasing the effectiveness of the game. As students and teachers discover new teaching and learning accelerators, they can and do add them to the game, in a modular fashion. They game accomodates ongoing innovation pioneered by new students and teachers; in fact, it relies on and drives this kind of initiative.

This collaboration between teacher and student makes every student a trained teacher, once they gain fluency. The game thus spreads virally, changing the way we teach and become fluent in languages.

“Where are Your Keys?” represents one application of a larger set of principles, the “Learning How to Learn” game, applicable to any targeted skill, whether mechanical, scientific, linguistic, or artistic. The “Learning How to Learn” game essentially creates a language of learning, accelerating and expanding our learning capacity.

Evan describes one inevitable result of this transformed learning/teaching paradigm as the “twenty language child”, a child of parents so steeped in the culture of the learning game that they transmit their language skills effortlessly and easily to a child who sees all this high-performing education as a normal way of life.

We see another important byproduct of this learning revolution in the creation of Language Saviors; by teaching this game to the youth of Native American and other indigenous cultures with endangered languages, they then can go back to their hometowns and play this game with the few remaining speakers of their heritage language, learning and resuscitating traditions that otherwise they may have lost forever.

Fluency: Changing Our Paradigm of Learning

[UPDATE 2012: Out of my time at WAYK emerged the evolving craft of language hunting, which I continue to work on at at the 501(c)(3) non-profit Language Hunters, along with a growing community of staff and volunteers. I no longer work with Evan Gardner.]

I’d like to prepare you for the next podcast interview with Evan (please help with my archiving and equipment struggles by contributing to the podcast Nest Egg) by further articulating the paradigmatic leap Evan has asked us to make.

We seek Fluency, not Knowledge.

We belong to a culture of “knowledge”, a culture of certification. The self-taught genius, the high-performing maverick, though we may regard them with awe and envy, we don’t encourage our children to follow that risky path. We see the safe route as a plodding journey of toil along a well-traveled path, jumping through hoops placed low enough for the perservering questor to finally gain that piece of paper that says “I sat in that seat; I listened in that classroom; I read those books.”

We call this “learning”. We see the intelligence quotient as a mark of the size of your internal encyclopedia, the sheer amount of facts you carry around. We applaud this kind of intelligence. In fact, intelligence, of the high-forehead brainy variety, in no way connotes competence.  Expertise, and competence, diverge in our cultural mythology here, in a rather bizarre way. An expert in an academic field may still not know how to have a simple conversation, or tie their shoes, or cook a meal.

From an animist point of view, we only measure your competence, not your intelligence. We measure it in many ways.  By the grace in which you do things, your comfort in challenging situations, and by your sheer curiosity. The more questions you carry around inside you, the shinier the glint in your eyes as they dance around, the more respect we have for you as a thinker and doer.

Notice the distinction there; in our modern culture we value the amount of facts you carry. In an animist culture we value the amount of questions.

In a modern sense, to “know” something means to have an intellectual understanding of it, though the execution of it may elude you.

In an animist sense, to “know” something means you feel comfortable in your skin about it, that you can implement this knowledge easily and gracefully.

Essentially, this underscores the difference between learning a language, and gaining fluency in a language.

Evan Gardner’s “Where Are Your Keys?” language game trains fluency, not learning. It prioritizes grace and effortless command of fundamental skills, over sheer accumulation of vocabulary. It won’t turn you into a walking dictionary of your target language; it will turn you into a graceful speaker of the fundamental adult speech of your target language.

The “Where Are Your Keys?” game, as a sub-game of the “Learning How to Learn” game that umbrellas it, merely expresses this fundamental priority of fluency.

You can achieve fluency in any skill, for any skill essentially expresses its own language. Not a spoken language, necessarily, but a language of what to do when, of what questions to ask, of how things work, of relationships to (and use of) tools and space.

Fluency, in this sense, means what it suggests:  fluidity, flow, grace. Fluency means you can “enter the flow” in a certain skill, without fear or hesitation. It means you know just where to start, and where to go after that.

Fluency, in the “Learning How to Learn” paradigm, means you don’t learn, you teach; either you teach yourself, or you teach others. In doing so, you achieve a major animist milestone: all your skills and knowledge “come alive”, because they can readily jump from you into others. As living skills, they can spread throughout the people in your extended Family and Village. And your fluency in one skill signifies a fluency in self-teaching. With any new skill, you know just where to start, and where to go after that.

As fluent self-teacher mixes in a growing culture of other fluent self-teachers, the exponential increase of the relationship network (two people have one relationship between them; five people have far more than just five relationships, because they each relate to each other, you’ve increased to ten individual relationships, and so on) accelerates the learning of the group to presently unimaginable levels. Each fluent teacher teaching everyone else, and receiving teaching from everyone else.

This in fact, marks a sea-change from our former notions of the lone individual striving for mastery in their area of endeavor. It means we move as a group into ever-more challenging and exciting areas, increasing in speed of fluency continuously.

It marks a renaissance in community learning; a revolution of fluency over knowledge.

Animist Language

[Warning to sensitive e-prime ears; I use a lot of “to be” language in this article to make a point.]

Animist language, otherwise known as intact, indigenous language, differs profoundly from all modern languages. Each belongs to an entirely different sphere of endeavor.

Modern languages occupy themselves with encouraging their speakers to disassociate from the world and all its phenomena, by encouraging its speakers to think and speak in terms of strict cause-effect logic, abstract notions of roles, possession and time, and a noun-based illusion of factuality. Modern speakers like phrases such as “that’s just the way things are”, “time is money”. They see human beings (and the world itself) fitting into rigid unchanging roles. A President is one class of human; a janitor another. Natural resources (everything but human beings) are dead things; Human beings (and usually American or first-world human beings) are alive things. Except when they’re “criminals”. And except for the parts of their body that don’t count; like intestinal flora, the breath in our lungs and blood, the calcium in our bones. Okay, maybe everything except the human brain is dead. The human brain in law-abiding first-world citizens. With white skin?

Yeah. Yuck.

As an option to this relationship-killing language, to this world-killing culture of thought, we have the language of our distant ancestry.

Rather than nouny-ness, and factuality, animist language prioritizes verby-ness, and perceptual flux. Each person sees differently according to their own nature; and when they articulate what they see, they describe, rather than define. They observe, rather than adjudicate.

I’ve heard more than once a modern speaker of an animist language reflect, “I can talk all day without saying a single noun.” Think about this.

This kind of culture of language and thought matches quite well with emerging quantum scientific notions of nonlocality, flux, and vibration.  Unlike in English, where scientists struggle to productively speak about quantum mechanics, animist languages come equipped to speak about this deep nature of reality. Of course, right? Human beings observe the world, and have always done so. Human beings experience joy in this observation and mimicry of what they see out there, in Story, in Tracking. We only changed to accomodate a civilizing culture that reprioritized why we spoke, why we observed. That prioritized abstraction, rigid roles, and disassociated relationships, in the name of pyramid-building.

We call animist thinkers, speakers, and trackers “primitive”, when in fact they represent an apex of thought, speech, and true scientific observation. Their languages assume nonlocality (change this thing, and it affects that related thing far away, instantly), flux (everything changes constantly – one moment light ‘particles’, the next it ‘waves’), and vibration (everything verbs constantly, everything does something – thus rocks, sky, water, all think and co-create our world with us). All of these, quantum understandings.

Much of where modern language went wrong, occurred when the verb “to be” took over more and more of our idiom and thought. No fully intact animist languages have a verb “to be” (nor do they have a word for “time”).”To Be” according to Alfred Korzybski, developer of the General Semantics movement, creates fundamental errors of thought, such as the “is” of identification (Joe “is” a plumber), such as the “is” of predication (Joe “is” stupid).

Thus we have begun experimenting with ways to remedy English’s modern biases; e-prime, English without the use of verb “to be”, and e-primitive, a more verby and observation based version of e-prime.

The Development of Language

I have refined a ridiculous theory based on pure speculation, concerning the development of language.

I believe humans belong to that group of animals that we call “mimics”; the australian Lyre bird, the Parrot, the Mynah bird, Corvids (Jays, Crows, Ravens, Whiskey Jacks, Magpies), Octopi, Cuttlefish, Chameleons, Coyotes, all these animals specialize in a specific kind of intelligence that involves mimicry of sound, behavior, or of color and visual patterns.

These animals think about the world in a special way. They reflect the world back, with great delicacy. For some of them, they experiment with different strategies and lifeways even, borrowed from other animals.

I believe humans emerged as a primate specializing in this kind of mimicking intelligence, and when we first told stories, when we first really began to tell complex stories to each other, we did it with imitative sound and movement. We danced and sang what we heard and saw. Why did we do this? Because, as we began to experiment with team hunting, communicating to our team-mates both to stay in accord, and to bring back intelligence of animal movements, exponentially increased our success. Tracking made us mimics; Story made us mimics; collaboration made us mimics.

Our first words, then, sounded like what we described; either literally, as in whistling a birdsong,  or more figuratively, as in using sound to imitate the pattern of movement, much like saying “boink! boink! boink!” when describing a stotting deer.

Over time these sounds became more symbolic, more abbreviated, so that we could layer even more complexity into our language. At this time I believe we moved to polysynthetic language; language composed of a one or more root ideas, bookended by prefixes and suffixes that qualify relationships and characteristics of that root idea.

A good example of a polysynthetic word, and just darn entertaining, comes from Mohawk. First a couple examples; in a polysynthetic language, specifically an intact indigenous one, a word like “teacher” will translate thus:

shakorihonnyennis: “he teaches them”

How about a policeman?

shakoyenahs: “he catches them”

This theme continues with places. For example, kitchen:

tsi yekhonnyatha: “the place where one cooks”

Or, store-

tsi yontaterihonnyennitha: “the place where one sells”

The best example of polysynthesis in Mohawk, comes in the lowly form of stove polish:

yontenonhsa’tariha’tahkwatsherahon’tsihstatsherahstara’the’tahkwa: “the stuff that makes shiney that one puts on the thing that is used to heat the house”

Okay, you get the picture. Polysynthesis allows you to have a self-sufficient language with an infinitely expandable vocabulary, something we have lost somewhat. English borrows heavily from other languages to create new words, languages with more capacity for polysynthesis (like Latin and Greek, with their plethora of prefixes and suffixes).

In polysynthesis, you build concepts piece by piece, syllable by syllable, and a word can run as long as a sentence, and give more information more compactly. I imagine this makes you more aware of the meaning of each part of your language too; how many everyday English-speaking folks can really explain what “dis-” means, or “trans-“, or “tele-“? A polysynthetic speaker has an intimate knowledge of how speakers put words together.

So I believe all languages, in an intact indigenous culture, really fully form and mature into a polysynthetic stage, and additionally, have no nouns. Because, if you think about it, up till this point we just “mimicked” the pattern and sound of the world, and then tightened things up a bit to support a more complex and layered language. But we didn’t need nouns yet (I should add that Mohawk does have two classes of nouns, one of which corresponds more to the idea of a “verb phrase”, and the other more in accord with how we think of nouns. They have relatively few of these “formal nouns”. I’ll address this later).

I believe as we began to experiment with sedentary Village lifestyles, that our language began to reflect this. I believe that the first long-term settlements partnered with the emergence of nouns. Nouns mean stability. Nouns mean firm foundation. Nouns justify themselves, by meaning themselves. Nothing connotes that, to me, like a Village. Nomadic hunter-gatherer life takes advantage of dynamic flux. In a Village, you put down stakes, start having more and more specific roles for Village members. Village life can actually offer much more work (I almost would say “toil”, but let’s wait for the emergence of cities and civilization to call it that) than a more flexible semi- or fully nomadic life, but for the members to continue it, they must see the life as its own justificaiton. And, honestly, Village cultures produce amazing aesthetic worlds that still inspire me. The life does have it’s temptations! Certainly I don’t consider Villages as better or worse than nomadic life. Just different.

Hopi, Mohawk, Chinuk Wawa, these kinds of Village-based native languages have an emerging class of nouns, some to a greater extent than others, and none as extremely as modern languages of civilization. The peoples speaking them had begun to heavily invest in the Village lifestyle. It makes sense that their language would reflect the rhythms of such a lifestyle; but this lifestyle still heavily accomdated the dynamic flux of the community of life to which they belonged. I want to accent this. A few nouns doesn’t mean they’ve taken up civilized modes. A language that worships nouny-ness, factuality, and the logic of linear cause-effect rests a long way from these cultures.

So, as the power structures of emerging civilized cultures need more efficiency from their social networks in the adventure of pyramid building and agriculture, they need a language that could encourage culture members to view themselves in ever more rigid roles and relationships.

This endeavor progressed until we have the extreme situation of today, where few modern people truly know how to talk, listen, converse, collaborate, or decide in accord with another human being. We have a poverty of social technology and thought when it comes to really nourishing relationships, and this impacts our work, family, land, and village.

So. My rampant unfounded speculation has ended. I have little proof for this, but I see it in a similar way to the spherical-planetary model of an hydrogen atom. It doesn’t really look like that, but thinking about it in that way produces useful things.

This I believe about this progression of language. More to come – next, Pattern Languages!

Building a Podcast Nest Egg

I’d like to keep the podcasts coming out, but I’ve already run up against the archiving limit at liberated syndication, the podcast hosting service I use. I downgraded the archive size over the winter, due to me thinking I wouldn’t put out more podcasts. Now I don’t have the funds to up the hosting again for the recent revitalization of the College.

Additionally, I have far more ambitious plans than even the old plan would cover.

If you really love the podcasts, and get a lot out of them, help me keep them coming and making them even better (perhaps getting a second microphone for interviews…but first things first, archiving!).

I’ve started a new account so I can keep putting podcasts up, and to secure storage for the next year. Contribute at:

The College of Mythic Cartography’s Podcast Nest Egg

-If a part Two to Evan Gardnener’s interview excites you…

-If you look forward to regular Riddling segments…

-If you look forward to hearing more real-time Dream Interview examples…

-If you look forward to more on Storyjamming and communal storytelling…

-If you want to hear more about emerging social technologies that support the Learning Revolution and the Rewilding Renaissance, such as “Where are Your Keys?”, Open Space Technolgy, and Clarity Skills…

Please Contribute today!

EPISODE 24: The Learning Revolution

[UPDATE WINTER 2012: For my most current thinking on language acquisition, fluency, and learning, please see the free eBook at or the-almost-free Five Rules of Accelerated Learning and explore the website at My language work has changed significantly – I’ve moved on from my former partnership at WAYK and am opening up thrilling new frontiers in this work!]


Evan Gardner and I will do another interview soon, but in the meanwhile I wanted to underscore and flesh out some of the really startling insights that Evan threw out there. I’ve put his perspective together with mine, and felt the earth quake. What did Evan say that has caused me to completely rethink teaching and learning? Listen in and you’ll find out.

Tom Brown Jr.’s Tracker School

Jon Young

John Holt

John Taylor Gatto

Daniel Quinn

EPISODE 23: “WHERE ARE YOUR KEYS?”: an Interview with Evan Gardner

[Please note: after a couple of years working with Evan Gardner, in 2011 I left our partnership and am now working on the Language Hunters project with a gifted team of new colleagues. Please check out the ebook the Language Hunter’s Kit, and the language hunters youtube channel with loads of free language game videos and help us build this emerging community!]

I promised this podcast to some very supportive folks, so I will post it. But just give me a second here.

Evan Gardner addresses some pretty big stuff in this interview. Big stuff. “Where Are Your Keys?” covers far more than you think. You’ll need to really listen closely, and perhaps multiple times, to catch it all (and we haven’t even made Part Two yet!). When he talks about the emerging role of the Language Savior in revivifying indigenous languages, or the Twenty Language Child, or the emerging cultures of WAYK-style teachers, really think about what this means. As a mentor and self-identified “coyote teacher” myself, this has got me looking at and reexamining everything in my toolkit, and seeing a whole ‘nother side of the rewilding renaissance; a rebirth and revisioning of coyote mentoring culture itself.

I think I have a new motto. “WAYK UP AND LEARN, REWILDERS!”. Enough of schooling; let’s truly take back our own ability to learn anything in the world, as easily and quickly as playing a game!

The original podcast description, for new folks:

“Where are Your Keys?”

Evan Gardner, who rewilds in Molalla, OR, has made a breakthrough. But does anyone even feel ready for it? Over a period of years, he pieced together all the most effective language-learning techniques into one, seamless whole; a game called “Where are Your Keys”.

Everyone knows about the epidemic of endangered indigenous languages, all over the world, and yet linguists and teachers continue to use old, academic and schooling methods, that for those many of us who studied foreign languages in school and college, we know they don’t work. We never achieved fluency, and we struggled to learn them. For those that did gain some mastery of their chosen language, they did it by actually traveling to its home and immersing themselves in the culture.

But how do we do that for languages on the edge of extinction, with one 90 year-old fluent speaker left? How do we create the experience of immersion, as best we can?

Evan has the answer. So far, he has struggled with getting the message out there. Since “Where are Your Keys?”, by its very nature, creates not students, but Teachers, he knows in only a matter of time the game will spread like wildfire, as Teachers make more Teachers. But will it happen in time to save the endangered native languages where you live?

Rewild Camp with Urban Scout

Chinuk Wawa at the Confederated Tribes of Grande Ronde

American Council on the Teaching Foreign Languages (ACTFL) Proficiency Testing

Agile Teamwork

Revitalizing Your Language, by Leanne Hinton

A Pattern Language, by Christopher Alexander

Tom Brown Jr.’s Tracker School

The Rosetta Stone

Early Adopters

What does Storyjamming mean?

The only way back to life-affirming Story, lies in taking back the responsibility to tell it.

I coined the word Storyjamming to refer to a specific style of collaborative storytelling. When jamming Story, the performers fill the role of the audience as they weave a story together, using one of very many story games to structure and guide their participation.

This doesn’t differ much, if at all, from musical jamming, especially as expressed in Old-Time music gatherings, where a circle of fiddlers, guitarists, and others will crank away at tunes for hours, purely for their own satisfaction, riffing and playing with the form.

Storyjamming has some very specific techniques to pull a group together and warm them up for the challenging and thrilling exercise of their intuition and surrender to group creativity; Viola Spolin’s Theater Games method inspired the use of most of these games. For the actual structure of the story, we often pick up the work of indie story game designers, a culture that includes many creators with ‘zine’ style sensibilities.

When we jam story, we, the tale tellers, share a vivid waking dream, and participate by each representing a character in that story, and drive it with these characters’ wants, needs, hopes, and fears. Sometimes we jam epic Myths, sometimes Horror, sometimes we jam everyday Soap Opera. But always the stories that come from skilled players carry a great meaning and potential for healing for their daily lives.

Storyjamming roots itself in many great oral traditions. It owes a lot to Flyting, the scottish poetic contest of boasts and insults. It owes a lot to the story-bards of India, who heal sick cattle with the just right story. Pick the culture, and you’ll find storyjamming occurring somewhere, in some unique form.

We storyjammers see this as the revival of a folk tradition long in need of a dusting off. We’ve just begun to relearn the licks – and we have lots of room in the circle!