I had the chance to attend a mini-conference today to learn about a number of techniques which could be used to teach writing not only as a formal, five-paragraph essay, but integrated throughout the curriculum. The presentation location, and speaker were both fine...but I couldn't help but think about the Dilbert strip as I sat and listened all day. Some of the ideas were things I already agreed with, such as not correcting every single mistake on a paper but instead selecting a few target elements to master, or requiring students to perform some self-reflection by reading the paper out loud and marking down mistakes. Many of these things I already do, or have done, though I didn't have the fancy title. Other things I heard today...were ridiculous. I'll spare the details so not to offend anyone in particular, but these ideas essentially boiled writing down to a behaviorist Pavlovian response, devoid of thought, intent, and ideas, and focused solely on grades and rewards. In essence, we learned a writing program today which consisted of five parts...which all contradicted each other. One could say it was a waste of time for me to listen; the speaker either agreed with me...or was saying dumb stuff.
Is this to suggest that listening and sharing as teachers is a bad thing? Not quite...but I'm more and more skeptical anytime anyone tries to "sell" me a method of teaching, reading, writing, or listening. People have been trying to figure out the best way to master these skills and practice these arts for...all of recorded history; I highly doubt there's any "new" techniques out there. If you're ever tempted to learn about "Rawlings' Writing" or "Smith's Listening" or "Jones's Reading"...ask yourself if you actually think you'll learn anything new. Odds are, it's already something you're doing, or something you've rejected for good reason.
Of course, don't tell the "gurus" that. They won't listen to you. As Dogbert might say: