Teaching the Martians to Make Apple Pie

Teaching the Martians to Make Apple Pie: Points to consider when writing about practical skills 

By Lucy Lepchani

A book or an article that seeks to explain and teach skills to adult learners, needs to be considered as a teaching and learning situation. You, the author, are a teacher in the setting of printed media. If the work is boring, muddled, or if the instruction is inappropriate for the skill level of participants, your publication will fail on at least one level.

What is not so important, is your ability to spell, or to reproduce nuances of grammar. If you are writing an instructive book, you are clearly capable of some degree of mastery, so it is relatively unimportant that you understand rules about apostrophe use, the Oxford comma, or other such detail. Authorship concerns other matters; copy editors and proofreaders will nit-pick your punctuation and grammar on your behalf.

Adults learners do not all learn in the same way. We have different aptitudes – for example, some are quick to learn practical things, others are afraid to risk, or are cack-handed; some people have trouble listening to instructions and others need to feel secure in detailed knowledge about procedures before they even begin. Some people are physically strong, dextrous or rhythmic, others are less able. We all have different strengths and challenges.

Some experts have recently ‘proved’ that the concept of learning styles don’t exist, but I have yet to meet a fellow Adult Education teacher who has not had a student who struggles with spoken instructions, or organising physical materials, or lacks the ability to read confidently.

The information provided in your book will reflect your own learning insights and enthusiasm, and is likely to reveal, although not address, your blind spots. This is the way of all teachers and why self-reflection is part of any teacher’s practice.  The following is a simple aid for reflection on some points to consider, and how to organise your material to best effect.

The analogy of teaching Martians to make apple pie is a useful way of seeing the familiar through unfamiliar eyes. Consider your craft as the apple pie, your readers as Martians. You will have some sort of idea about the Martians’ skills and abilities: for example, the fact that they understand how to orientate objects and understand simple instruction; that they speak your language and have most likely eaten apples but might never have experienced pie before, or, that they might have eaten plenty but have never made it.

First, Martians need to know what apple pie is: how it is meant to look, taste, and how it fits into our culture, or daily life. 

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