Sunday, October 16, 2011

Why and How I Teach Writing, Part 5: Materials

When I first became a writing consultant, I worked for someone who encouraged me to use gag handouts, usually malapropisms, spoonerisms, palindromes, anagrams, and other such nonsense. Her theory (and that of many trainers) was that course participants want—no, need—to enjoy themselves to learn. Out came her diagrams showing how by stimulating those fun-loving endorphins, we would spur the learning experience exponentially.

So why do I call such handouts nonsense? Because they are. I keep away from them, as well as silly koosh balls, slinkies, and other toys of the day. I simply do not buy into the theory. I have a great time teaching, and I want people in my courses to enjoy themselves too. But companies pay a lot of money and participants put a lot of their work time into my courses for one reason: to improve their writing skills. So if anything I do detracts from their learning, out from the course it goes. People still have fun in my classes because we consistently seem to find our common sense of humor through looking at the relevant topic discussions and writing activities. Life and the language we use to express our experience are funny enough without wasting times and money on foolish jokes and toys. We’re obsessed by our smartphones as it is—do we need more distractions?

Relevance, interactivity, collaboration, challenge: these are my core four training deliverables. If I give participants these four, then the fifth deliverable, enjoyment, falls naturally into place—even for the greatest of workaholics or loafers. In planning my courses, materials are supreme in enabling me to achieve the core four. I generally use the following course materials:
  • manual – which includes the course outline, resource list, learning points, writing models, and practice activities, all laid out in chronological order
  • book – a related resource that reinforces all the learning points in greater depth
  • articles – essays other authorities or I have published that support the learning
  • job aid – a bookmark listing the key takeaways and my contact points
  • presentation – a PowerPoint deck keeping time of the teaching points and activities by presenting a visual representation of the most important ideas
  • timeline – for my own use only, a minute-by minute, sequential breakdown of the course timing
One more point about materials. Some trainers feel that they should not hand out materials until the point in the course that they’re used. I disagree. The more you give participants, even weeks before the course the more involved they become.