I read a short post this morning at Mindshift about visual learning. It’s gist is that, although people may prefer visual presentations, having information presented in multiple ways is best for learning, especially if one of the multiple ways is visual.
For teachers of writing, keeping that fact in mind is important.
To develop a skill, people have to do more than see someone else use the skill. Knowing what to do is just the beginning.
To acquire a skill, people need to actually use it. (If people could learn skills by watching experts, there would be thousands of NFL fans who developed skills to rival Tom Brady or Johnny Unitas just by watching television.)
Ideally, people make their initial attempts to learn a skill under controlled settings where mistakes aren’t catastrophic.
Once they have enough skill not to be dangerous, they need to practice in situations that mimic the actual setting in which they will use the skill.
As writing teachers, it’s well worth remembering that writing is only learned hands-on and it’s learned best in practice settings that mimic real settings.
Writing teachers, unfortunately, often overlook the need for practice in simulated writing situation.
Writing nearly always involves both visual and kinesthetic activities. Sometimes writers use auditory or oral activities as well, reciting a mnemonic to themselves, for example, or discussing a planned piece of writing with a peer.
Most people, including English teachers, do the bulk of their writing in what journalists call “clean first draft” situations. That means that while we run spell check and try to allow at least a few hours between drafting and editing our draft, most of our writing is not rewritten even once: The edited first draft is the final draft.
I know that makes teachers of the process approach to writing shudder, but it makes typical students happy: They just want to get the assignment done.
The more times students get the assignment done—assuming they practice writing correctly—the sooner they develop skill at writing.