To become a better teacher, become a better writer

Read The Sense of Style by Steven Pinker to become a better educator.  To be honest, read anything by Steven Pinker to become a better teacher. 

Almost immediately upon reading The Sense of Style I found myself substituting “writer for teacher”.  For example:

Good writing starts strong” but as I subvocalized my mind read “Good teaching starts strong”

Or another:

Good writing is understood with the mind’s eye” but I read “Good teaching is understood with the mind’s eye”.

It became obvious that the book on writing that I was reading was going to help me more with teaching than syntax, vocabulary, and grammar.

I learned a new perspective on teaching.  It is summarized with a passage:

“A writer (teacher) of classic prose must simulate two experiences: showing the reader  (learner) something in the world, and engaging her in conversation.  The nature of each experience shapes the way that classic prose is written (taught).  The metaphor of showing implies that there is something to see.  The things in the world the writer is pointing to, then, are concrete: people (or other animate beings) who move around in the world and interact with objects.  The metaphor of conversation implies that the reader is cooperative.
“… implies that there is something to see”… I love that line.  Pinker says that a writer must approach writing from a conversational standpoint.  The goal of the conversation is to SHOW the reader something in the world that THEY ARE FULLY CAPABLE OF SEEING, they just haven’t yet.

He changes the frame of writing from 'I have something to tell you' to 'check this out'.  The first frame has a condescending tone to it.   'I have something to tell you' implies privilege or superiority.  'Check this out' acknowledges that the information about to be shared is fully knowable to anyone, they just haven’t seen it yet. 

Picture a youtube video.  “Have you see the youtube video of…” is now a commonly uttered phrase.  Anyone can view a youtube video because it is accessible to everyone.  There is no privilege to the video, you simply have to take time to watch it.  Watching before someone else does not make you better; it simply means that you watched before the other person.

Writing is like a youtube video.  Pretend that you have something to share that is accessible to everyone.  The only reason you are sharing it is because you saw it while everyone else was seeing something else.  Teaching needs to be approached in the same way.

Your students don’t know the information covered in your class because they have not YET seen it.  It is your job to direct their gaze to the subject and show them what there is to see.  You are not in a place of privilege or superiority.  You have seen something before them, and would now like to show them. 

'I know something you don’t know' is how a lot of us approach our content.  I would encourage us to change our perspective to: 'take a look at this!'

Thanks for reading.

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