Reality Therapy In Writing: Beyond Egocentrism

So, let’s reduce “authenticity” in writing instruction to two simple questions related to purpose and audience:
1. Is the student regularly required to achieve a real-world result, appropriate to context, as a consequence of writing, and learn from the result/feedback?
2. Is the student regularly required to write for specific and varied audiences, so that studying and coming to empathize with ( Heuer Replica that audience is a part of the assignment?

Let us call this approach to writing instruction Writing Reality Therapy. Reality therapy is the only way to escape the inherent egocentrism that makes all writers think that they said it all and said it well””when, in fact, the paper contains only a third of their thoughts, a third of the thoughts is not clear, and the paper’s impact is far less than the writer believes has been achieved. By introducing a real purpose, a real audience””hence, consequences””we get the feedback we desperately need to become good writers.

My favorite example of reality therapy in writing was told to me decades ago by Ted Sizer and came from his wife, Nancy. Her middle school students had to write precise instructions on how to make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich;

Nancy would follow the directions to the letter in class””with predictably funny, unintended results.

Or, consider this great story told by Chip Heath and Dan Heath in Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die about screenwriter Nora Ephron’s journalism teacher:

As students sat in front of their manual typewriters, Ephron’s teacher announced the first assignment. They would write the lead of a newspaper story. The teacher reeled off the facts: “Kenneth L. Peters, the principal of Beverly Hills High School, announced today that the entire high school faculty will travel to Sacramento next Thursday for a colloquium in new teaching methods. Among the speakers will be anthropologist Margaret Mead …”

The budding journalists sat at their typewriters and pecked away at the first lead of their careers. According to Ephron, she and most of the other students produced leads that reordered the facts. . . . The teacher collected the leads and scanned them rapidly. Then he laid them aside and paused for a moment. Finally, he said, “The lead for the story is ‘There will be no school on Thursday.'”

“It was a breathtaking moment,” Ephron recalls. “In that instant I realized that journalism was not just about regurgitating the facts but about figuring out the point.”

The idea that all our learning is incomplete without tangible consequences from our attempts was noted by Thorndike almost a century ago. Good educational design, he argued, involves “the law of effect, which holds essentially that learning, is enhanced when people see the effects from what ( Heuer Carrera Replica they try” (qtd. in Haney 155). William James, even earlier, wrote that effective education requires that we “receive sensible news of our behavior and its results. We hear the words we have spoken, feel our own blow as we give it, or read in the bystander’s eyes the success or failure of our conduct. Now this return wave. Pertains to the completeness of the whole experience”

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