See One, Do One, Teach One

On the job training is a valuable tool. You learn exactly what you need to accomplish, and focus on the details that get it right. While focus is good, let’s not underestimate the value of practice.

We get it for sports, but not for basic writing skills. Image: HowToImproveGolfSwing.net

“See one, do one, teach one,” is becoming a more popular way of learning. I used to teach 2-day writing seminars, then it was one day, and now, I’m often asked if I can teach people how to write in half a day. Well, no. The other day, I was told that the “see one, do one, teach one” method works for “so many things,” why wouldn’t it work for writing?

If you are asking that question and are serious, I can’t begin to explain it. If you are willing to spend more than 10 seconds reading, I’ll try. Here’s a short answer: would you like your heart surgeon or neurosurgeon to go to medical school for six weeks, on the “see one, do one, teach one” path? How about your dentist? He’s seen a root canal done once, and now he’ll do yours. Changed your mind yet?

Almost all skills–writing, engine repair, hair cutting, car towing, cake baking–need practice. By practice I mean doing the same basic thing, then variations of it, over and over. Making mistakes and solving problems as you go. Not for days, not even months. Years. Ask any writer, chef, doctor.

When I’m teaching those half-day writing classes, I focus on a few skills. Something that is easy to understand. That makes a difference in clarity. Then we practice with exercises. When my client tells me that “exercises are ‘nice’ but not ‘necessary’ I fight for the right to have participants do exercises. “You can’t get it by hearing about it, you have to try it,” I say.

In these short-cut classes, I try not to mention that it took me 20 years of practice before I became a good writer, and I’m still working on it. What I think is important, though, is that I never tell someone they are wrong, or their writing is horrible. Instead, I focus on one thing they are doing right, and praise them. If I tell them they are wrong, they will ignore what I have to say. They will spend the rest of the class thinking they are stupid, or dumb. When I praise them, and am specific on the thing they did right, they will do it again. And that may be all I can do in a four-hour class. Encourage a few writers to keep doing one thing right. Over and over. Because encouragement works much better than punishment, much better than “constructive criticism,” much better than “feedback.”

-Quinn McDonald is a writer who teaches writing. Her book, Raw Art Journaling, is available for pre-order at Amazon.

10 thoughts on “See One, Do One, Teach One

  1. absolutely! positively! i totally agree, quinn!!! practice, practice, practice, experiment, practice, practice, practice and play all the time.
    when i work with people with anything i always focus on the positive as well – and ask lots of questions, show them all sorts of alternative ways to achieve what it is they are trying to figure out and encourage their creativity. this approach is also more fun for me.
    enjoying your posts, btw. thanks so much, vicki 🙂

  2. I’m in agreement too! Our schools have been dumbed down to the lowest common denominator, so our children don’t get put off learning, has resulted in the number of instant experts who post tutorials on Youtube. The old adage of “practice makes perfect” still holds true for most vocations, otherwise we would all be instant millionaires. No-one expects to have to work towards acquiring a skill set these days, they need to be spoon fed, and the arts and crafts sector is a prime example of this. Sticking 2 bits of paper onto a third does not make it art, or you an artist, and being fast at texting does not make you an author. Finding the right balance between encouragement and honesty is hard, and I do not envy you this task. But if even one student per class listens and understands what you are saying, and is inspired to go on to study further, then you have done well, even in 4 hours!
    I, too, enjoy your posts, a spot of practicality, common sense and inspiration in a world that gets more unreal by the day!

    • It sounds like you teach kids. Right there, you have won a spot in my heart. I think teachers get blames for a lot of lack that belongs on the heads of parents. Luckily, I teach adults in businesses, which has its own problems. I also teach art workshops, and am disappointed at the expectations people have for classes–they must leave with a product of such quality that it will make a great gift. It’s sad.

  3. As a craft teacher and as a writer, I would totally agree with your article, but I think you stop short.

    I would also protest against the see one, do one, teach one, as many unscruplulous people use this method to take your years of hard work and skill, then use it to earn themselves cash. It also degenerates us all , as they are no good at teaching without the years of skill!
    Can you can tell that I’ve had classes stolen from me?
    Anyway, I love your writing, and I wish I was near enough to come to class
    thansk

    • I can tell you’ve had classes stolen from you. I think there are a few people who go to class to learn what to teach. But teaching is more than just a skill, it’s an art. And no one can steal the ability to be a good teacher–which, incidentally comes from years of careful practice teaching original material

    • I can tell you’ve had classes stolen from you. I think there are a few people who go to class to learn what to teach. But teaching is more than just a skill, it’s an art. And no one can steal the ability to be a good teacher–which, incidentally comes from years of careful practice teaching original material

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