Thursday, August 4, 2011

Teaching by Showing

In my academic and educational training, they spoke a lot about modeling, or "Guided Reading" and "Guided Writing." The idea behind these theories is that inexperienced readers and writers don't really know how to think through their process; they need someone to give them an example.

For instance, a Guided Reading lesson would involve the teacher reading a selected passage (perhaps a page or so long), while students follow along with an overhead or personal copy.  Periodically, the teacher will stop the reading and basically voice his/her thoughts out loud. That commentary that goes on inside our heads is spoken aurally to the students.  The idea is that as they see how an experienced reader makes connections to their reading, students will begin to have that internal dialog themselves.  Guided Writing is similar only a teacher writes/revises and voices the decisions they make as a writer.

I never disbelieved this theory, but its relevance has been made more clear to me recently.

I just recently accepted a teaching job. I am also completing my final class in my Master's program (today was the last day). Thus, my mind has been on both my final essay, and my future responsibilities. As I revised my essay, I made various changes, mostly to wording and some rearrangement of sentences. The revisions I made were primarily ones of taste, but there were still very specific reasons why I made them; they expressed a certain meaning or interpretation that wasn't as obvious with my first draft.

As I went through these, I realized how valuable it would have been for another (inexperienced) writer to be sitting next to me just to see my rationalizations. There wasn't anything technically "wrong" with my writing, but my revisions made it clearer, more concise, and stronger. Isn't that exactly what we want students to be able to do? And how can they learn it unless we who are more experienced explicitly share it with them rather than keep it inside our heads?

Thus, writing is somewhat like an apprenticeship: in order to become a master at the craft, you must learn the techniques from those who have already mastered it.