Doing isn’t necessarily understanding

The last two weeks, I’ve worked every day to learn how to create document templates in OpenOffice that contain everything I need for a project I expect to go on for several years.

The effort has reminded me daily of the difference between being able to do something and understanding what you’re doing.

In certain academic areas — writing and math come to mind immediately — being able to perform operations without understanding what you’re doing is as bad, if not worse, than not being able to perform those tasks at all.

The problem is even more serious in non-academic settings.

Imagine a pilot, accountant, surgeon, or cashier who knows how to perform certain actions but doesn’t understand the consequences of those actions.

You may not have to imagine the cashier. You might have seen that person on your last trip to the superstore.

If someone can’t explain:

  • what they are doing

  • why they are doing what they are doing

  • what the previous action had to have been to get them to this step

  • what effect their action will have if it’s done right

  • what effect their action will have if it’s done wrong

  • what the effect of not doing that action at all would be

  • what the next action must be

that person doesn’t know what she’s doing.

Do you make sure your students know what they are doing?

Teaching: Those who can, do

You’ve heard it said with reference to writing that "Those who can [write], do, and those who can’t [write], teach [writing]."

However, it’s is often true that those who do write, can’t teach writing.

And it’s sometimes true that those who can’t teach writing, do.

And it’s always true that those who can’t teach writing, shouldn’t.

About the five paragraph essay

The "five paragraph essay" is rarely presented as an essay outside of schools and even less rarely has just five paragraphs, yet even in 2018 it flourishes unnoticed as the organizational skeleton for most expository nonfiction that’s not presented as a narrative.

Consider this: Revealing a skeleton ought to require a serious surgical operation. When you can see a skeleton beneath someone’s skin, that means the person has a serious deficiency. That body is undernourished.

When you can look at a piece of writing and spot the five-paragraph structure at 50 paces, the problem isn’t bad bones but malnutrition.

The "five paragraph" skeleton needs to be fleshed out well enough that the bones don’t stick through the skin.