Friday, August 26, 2011

Show and Tell

I read the saddest thing this morning. It was just a sentence or two but it broke my heart a little.

[Mood and tone] are often confused and middle school students can't seem to find a way to differentiate the two, no matter how many times they are told that tone is what the author/narrator's attitude is towards the text and that mood is the reader's attitude toward the text.

Wow. That attitude just takes my breath away. "No matter how many times they are told" seems to me an expression of frustration. How often do we as parents and educators share that feeling? "I've told you and told you...!" Or, as my mother often phrased that same exasperation, "Do I have to jump up and down on your chest to teach/remind you to breathe???"

If nothing else, I've been very forcefully reminded lately that only the smallest portion of learning comes from being told something. And yet as adults we persist in believing that if we tell someone a thing enough times it will sink into their [presumably thick] heads and they will finally learn it. Stop and watch children convey information to one another. They use their entire bodies, miming actions, sketching pictures, holding up finished products, imitating sounds. Remember the old school assignment where you write instructions for a simple task such as making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich? I don't know how that assignment played out for others but in my class the teacher proceeded to demonstrate following our directions to the letter and made a huge mess. Because telling conveys only a small part of the experience. Imagine if we had been allowed to make the sandwich while describing our actions. Imagine if we had gotten to add a diagram of the steps or even a picture of a completed sandwich. Teaching incorporates so much more than telling, telling, telling.

What have you been telling your kids that you could express in another way?


  1. This reminds me of going through school myself. I always loved to read and write. But analyzing literature was BORING and sucked the joy right out of it for me. Reading is such pure pleasure and so transporting, and breaking it down into individual elements for forced analysis changes it into a science rather than an art.

    I really need to work on how I approach the fact that my son's room is always a mess! I keep telling him that the easiest way to keep your stuff clean is to have less stuff, but it's not working. :P

  2. My girlies and I are right there with you on hating literature analysis. It does provide some useful tools, though, for reading and writing. Which is why I'm hitting the highlights with the girlies. Our lesson on mood and tone, for instance, centered mainly around YouTube where we watched trailers for movies or shows we've seen and then watched "recut" trailers for those same things which change the mood and tone (search for "Scary Mary trailer" if you have no idea what I'm talking about). Then we tried writing our own paragraphs, changing the mood or tone for the same paragraph.

    Oh, and the "less stuff" lesson? If you figure out how to teach that one, please drop a line. One of my kids needs it taught in a new way too!