Home' Teacher : April 2010 Contents 74 TEACHER APRIL 2010
league will ask, 'So what?' Again, you don't
have to ask that yourself, but if you did and
couldn't answer it, you're in trouble.
6. Remember that your talk or writing
really works on two levels, one where you
make your point and a second where your
'metacommentary' explains to your stu-
dents or colleagues how and how not to
take it, using phrases of the 'What I'm say-
ing' or 'What I'm not saying' variety.
7. Since we can process only one claim
or point at a time, there's no use trying to
squeeze in secondary and tertiary claims or
points -- aka keep it simple, stupid. If your
secondary and tertiary claims or points are
important, make them in due course.
8. Be bilingual. 'Whenever you have to
say something in academese, try to say it in
the vernacular as well.'
9. 'Don't kid you rself. If you could not
explain it to your parents or your most
mediocre student' -- Graff's cute compari-
son, not mine -- 'the chances are you don't
understand it yourself.'
10. You thought there were nine, but let
me add a 10th: Apply the in-50-words-or-
And remember, if you talk with and write
for your students and colleagues in a way
that they understand, there's a good chance
that your words will actually matter. T
Graff, G. (2003). Clueless in Ac ademe:
How schooling obscures the life of the
mind. New Haven & London: Yale
Unive rsity Press.
Graff, G. (2000). Scholars and sound
bites: The myth of acade mic difficulty.
PMLA. 115(5): 1,041-1,052.
This month's Last Word was writte n in
arcane and convoluted prose -- before
being simplified by a harsh subeditor
-- by Steve Holden, Editor of Teacher,
and the 2008 highly commended win -
ner in the Best Columnist category of the
Melbourne Press Club Quill Awards for
the Last Word.
Hurray, an educator from an academic back-
ground has come out and said -- well, written
-- that to be any good at teaching, or writing
for your students or colleagues, you have to
keep things simple, or, put simply, unneces-
sarily complicated talk or writing is poison
to good learning.
Put even more simply, keep it simple.
Put otherwise, of course, for those with
discursive metapedagogical interests per-
taining to the educational subfield in the
field of cultural production and indeed
reproduction, that is as much as to say that
one might attribute an affirming cognisance
to the view that the discourse, or indeed
discourses, of pedagogically- oriented and
need not, or indeed ought not, be inherently
complex or unnecessarily arcane and that
inherently complex or indeed unnecessarily
arcane discourse, or indeed discourses, has,
or indeed have, approximal proxy toxicity
in respect to optimally- effective pedagogic
Keeping it a bit simpler, Gerald Graff,
associate dean of curriculum and instruc-
tion in the College of Liberal Arts and Sci-
ences at the University of Illinois in Chicago,
says, 'Simplification is not only crucial in
teaching beginning students but . . . also a
necessary aspect of any effective intellec-
tual communication, even when we address
other experts in our fields.'
The problem, according to Graff, is 'the
belief -- found inside and outside academia
-- that academic communication is funda-
mentally different from everyday vernacular
discourse.' It doesn't have to be, he argues.
Before you rush off and start teach-
ing everything as though you're doing the
Macarena, though, take a look at Graff's
nine do's and don'ts when it comes to talk-
ing with or writing for your students and
colleagues. It doesn't have to be too simple.
1. 'Be dialogical. Begin . . .by directly iden-
tifying the prior conversation or debate that
you are entering.'
2. Make your claim or point explicit, using
a phrase like, 'My claim here is . . .' As Graff
notes, 'You don't have to use such a phrase,
but if you can't do so you're in trouble.'
3. Periodically remind your students or
colleagues of that claim or point.
4. 'Summarise the objections that you
anticipate can be made, or that have been
made, against your claim.'
5. Explain explicitly why the claim or
point is important. Assume a student or col-
IF YOU REALLY WANT YOUR STUDENTS OR COLLEAGUES TO LISTEN, AND
-- GASP -- ACTUALLY UNDERSTAND WHAT YOU'RE SAYING OR WRITING,
THE FIRST STEP IS TO KEEP IT SIMPLE, AS STEVE HOLDEN EXPLAINS.
The last word
Keep it simple
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