Good teachers work to build a common vocabulary for instruction. But it's not always obvious how to do this. On Wednesday, I learned a great technique for teaching one element of common vocabulary for writing instruction. When students are developing writing skills, they often make the mistake of taking a writer-based perspective rather than a reading-based perspective. In other words, they're writing for themselves (no surprise, as many of our students have not yet had their own Copernican Revolution)- in shorthand, or with unclear connections between thoughts. The text makes perfect sense to the writer, but the reader struggles to make heads or tails of it. This is a problem for effective writing, so students need to understand the difference between reader-based writing and writer-based writing.
But it doesn't really work to just teach those concepts. We've got to have a good example. So here's one, courtesy of DeLacy Ganley, the Director of Curriculum and Advancement at Claremont Graduate University's Teacher Education Program.
DeLacy begins by asking one of the teachers in the audience if she'd be willing to do some grocery shopping for DeLacy, because she's just not feeling that well. The teacher agrees. DeLacy puts this list up on the board:
The following conversation ensues between DeLacy and the group of teachers (who are from Jordan, Azerbaijan, and Tajikistan - part 2 of our exchange program this year):
DeLacy: "So, the first thing on my list is fruit. What are you going to buy for me?"
DeLacy: "Ugh! I hate bananas!"
DeLacy: "Red or green?"
DeLacy: "But I wanted green! Okay, how about the milk? Are you going to get regular or low-fat?"
DeLacy: "How big?"
Teachers: "A liter."
DeLacy: "But I wanted a gallon! How about T.P.? What's that?"
Teachers: "Toilet paper?"
DeLacy: "No! I wanted toothpaste!"
The lesson here, of course, is that this list is writer-centered. If DeLacy had taken the list to the store, she would have known to buy green apples, a gallon of regular milk, toothpaste, etc. But the reader doesn't have the same information, and so is left to guess at the author's intention. Or fill in the blanks. A reader-center list would be different. It might have more details. It might also be better organized - fruit and vegetables might be next to each other on the list (as they are in the store), to make the trip to the store more convenient for the shopper.
What I like about this example is that it illustrates the concepts of writer-centered and reader-centered writing without simply teaching the terms a-contextually. Nicely done!