Emerging from my self-imposed summer hiatus from blogging to address a commonplace we often say about our students or even to them:
It’s more important that you know where to look for the information than that you memorize it (or something like that).
Mostly, it’s true. We need to know where to find common knowledge and not be able to rattle off every fact known, although you want to be able to articulate the principles and ideas in your field, and even in your hobbies.
What we forget is how hard it is to reach that level where you know you need to look something up, because if you don’t know that, then it doesn’t matter what resources you have on hand, because you don’t know you need to look there. I’m working on a presentation on instructional rubrics and have been thinking about comments I have made in writing assignments. I know I have given advice about using a writing handbook to assist in revising.
How do you know there is something wrong with a sentence? How do you know what that something is so you can look it up?
My sense of many students is that they don’t know there is anything wrong with a sentence or paragraph, so they don’t even know they should be looking for a fix. All the handbooks in the world won’t help if you don’t know you should be looking for something in them.
I don’t know the solution for this except for immersion in language. Is there such a course if your life experience didn’t provide such immersion? It just seems insurmountable in a fourteen week semester or two. I know a lot of this feeling stems from my disillusion with teaching writing. I’ll file it with my other concerns, but I think it’s significant.