Saturday, October 4, 2014

Connecting the Dots

Despite the dig against Microsoft (and the overarching arrogance) Steve Jobs makes a good point about connecting the dots -- connecting what we have learened or could learn with the experiences we're having now or will have shortly.

Helping my students connect the dots is my goal for the semester as I teach two English 101 courses again at BYU-Idaho.

What I hope to do is help my students see what they learned after writing the first essay translate into comprehension -- or at least an attempt at comprehension -- in the subsequent essay. As they master or come close to mastering one concept, I'll introduce another, so there's always something to be working on. My goal at the end is to see them connect the dots from what they've learned by writing better papers.

The first dot to connect:


We all love details, right? When, for example, the First Presidency announces new temples, we want to know right away where they’ll be built. We get on Google Maps and find the cities and then wish they’d provide addresses so we could see the neighborhoods these temples will be built in. We want to know when ground will be broken. We want to know what the new temples will look like.

Obviously, they can’t interrupt conference to provide such details – but they come out as soon as they’re available.

In the essays we write, we have the opportunity to present the details our readers want right away. If, for example, we talk about how our fathers weren’t able to finish their formal education but we admire how they learned throughout their entire lives, we need to provide the detail – such as that Dad went on to become a bricklayer, built a successful business along with the house we grew up in, read incessantly on the topics of World War II and astronomy, and always pushed us to read to the point when he came home from trips he always brought us books to read rather than toys to play with. (These are all details about my Dad, by the way.)

Adding details takes us a step further from the general: “Dad didn’t have a formal education but learned a lot in his life” to the specific. And it’s the specific we remember. It never mattered to me that Dad’s education got stopped at the 7th grade by World War II. It did matter a lot that I could brag he built the house we lived in.

Details sell the points we try to make.

(Beware: Strong Australian accent in this video.)

This is a pretty simple example of the dots I hope to connect this week, but I hope it gets the point across. The point, which is: You will make stronger connections to your readers if you provide specific examples. That stronger connection will help your readers understand your thesis better. We like to see the application of what we learn and observe – being specific helps your readers see the application you convey.

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