Show rather than tell -- this is a distinction that’s really important to readers of TPSs. They all tell us that. However, very few take the time to show us the distinction. They let us know in no uncertain terms that telling will result in a TPS that is vapid, insipid, generic, empty of meaningful content, devoid of personality, disappointing, and destined for the trash can. What I think they mean is that ‘telling’ relies on adjectives to describe what our teaching is like, while ‘showing’ is like opening a little window through which the reader can see what’s going on. The best way I can show you what I mean is through a story.

When my Mum was a young bride, Dad took her home to meet his Mother. Grandma Hellman made great Finnish coffee bread. If you haven’t had the pleasure, it’s like a buttery, sweet Challah (braided egg bread) heavily spiced with ground cardamom. My Dad loved it, so my Mum was determined to find out how to make it.

There were several barriers to this learning. Grandma was first generation Finnish and lived amongst Finns, so that even though she’d spent most of her life in Canada, she spoke very little English. Mum spoke zero Finnish. Dad could have translated Grandma’s recipe, but there wasn’t one. She knew all the ingredients and how much of each was needed, but she never measured. She baked by taste & by feel. Finally, Mum hadn’t ever made bread so had no idea how that worked.

Because Grandma couldn’t tell Mum what she did, she showed her. I still remember Mum’s description of the baking lesson -- particularly the part where Grandma was pouring flour out of the sac and mixing it into the wet ingredients in her giant bread bowl. She took my Mum’s hand, punched it into the dough, and said to keep adding flour “until it feels like this.” If Grandma hadn’t found a way to show Mum how to assemble the ingredients and what each stage was like, even with a recipe, Mum wouldn’t have been able to visualize the process. She’d never have tried baking bread.

Last modified: Monday, 26 November 2018, 4:24 AM