My posts usually focus on teaching, but today I want to share some of my favorite quotations about learning. Without this side of the equation—people who love to learn—all our teaching is empty.
Last weekend I was hanging out in the kitchen with a friend of my son’s who is just finishing up her bachelor’s degree. She has worked full time while taking classes, and many of them have been online because that fit with her work schedule.
Her biggest complaint? “They’re so boring—just some professor reading slides slower than I can read them. There’s no interaction … no teaching.”
As it happens, just the week before I’d been chatting about online courses with another friend, also in the kitchen over coffee. But she is a professor. Her biggest complaint? “There’s no interaction … not enough chances to really teach.”
The world of online courses is peopled with both skeptics and believers, but whichever side you stand on, education has changed as a result. From my vantage point, I have seen some subjects taught dazzlingly well on video, better than they could have been in a classroom. And I have seen some courses that were so miserable and overpriced that calling them educational makes a mockery of the word.
Earlier this week I was talking about this with Michael Kuzmenko, Manager of Academic Partnerships for Higher Education. He commented that “The market is flooded with online courses; it’s difficult to understand what makes one better than the other.” It’s a great point.
What does make one online course better than the other? Is it the teaching? The sheer availability? How well we learn? I have heard the argument that online teaching is weaker, and therefore so is online learning. In this paradigm, it is only availability that makes online courses worthwhile.
Last August I drove across country with all my household goods in a 26-foot moving van. My inclination is to check the maps frequently, write out directions ahead of time, and triple-check with my GPS.
For him, the most information conveyed in the fewest words is ideal. He prefers “show” to “tell” when he’s learning something. I, on the other hand, learn best when I’ve written something down.
Who was the first teacher to make you like a subject you really weren’t that interested in before or didn’t think you could understand?
Mine was Mrs. Putnam, my ninth grade biology teacher. I was convinced that I hated science and that I wasn’t any good at it. I was wrong on both counts, but it took Mrs. Putnam to help me see through my biases. How did she do it? Through the #9 attribute of a great teacher. But let’s work our way up to that.
If You’re a Great Teacher…
Have you ever seen an overgrown garden? It’s a sad thing. You can sort of see the shapes of the beautiful peonies, coral bells, and unrecognizable maybe-flowers beneath the tangle of dockweed, pokeweed, and random weeds that have eradicated the shape and lines of the bed.
To recover it, you have to weed ever so carefully. Your instinct is to save every plant and get back to the original design as best you can. You must first identify the good plants and then pull away everything around each one. Gradually, the shape and structure of the garden will emerge.
Then plants will need to be moved. Some will have grown too pathetic and will have to be dug out and replaced. Perhaps some need more water, others less, and they’ll have to be regrouped.
Today’s metaphor is about what happens when you’ve written like a maniac and then sat back to discover that you’ve got a mess on your hands. You’ve got words that don’t hang together, that have buried its best points, and that have no sense of pattern or shape.
I pulled out box after box, setting them haphazardly around the room. My organization lacked something — like, say, organization… .”
Have you ever moved? Of course you have. You remember what it feels like to be overwhelmed by boxes and crates crowding every room, so jammed together that you can hardly wend your way from door to door.
I’m in the middle of that right now, having finally dragged all my junk from one side of the country to the other. I can hardly bear the disorder. I can’t find anything. I can’t clean properly. I can’t think.
In many ways, everything you ever write is like having a house packed with boxes of ideas. You know you’ve got all the essential points—somewhere. But they’re hidden in the cardboard of your brain and need to be organized. (Shudder.)
Organization is the framework underlying your writing, the backbone that determines the order and shape of your points, and the way the whole is held together.
The human brain starts working the moment you are born and never stops until you stand up to speak in public.” –George Jessel
The only problem was that he had heard that memorization was the only way to deliver fluidly before a camera. He decided, therefore, to memorize his entire course before we recorded it.
All 130,000 words.
Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.”
So, I can pretty much assume that if you’re like pretty much every other writer, you’re really likely to have very many stylistic tics that very often sneak into nearly everything you write.
Qualifiers, get lost. Let’s try that again, without the qualifiers.
You’re likely to have stylistic tics that sneak into your writing.
Eleven words instead of 33, just by eliminating qualifiers. I learned this rule when I was 16 and my father thrust Strunk & White: The Elements of Style into my hands. Read it ASAP. Buy a copy or read it online (https://goo.gl/ik5h66f). If you could only read one book about writing and rewriting, this is it.
Basically, the rules of style are: Cut the fat. Use the active voice. Get to the point.