"When physical trainers take their pupils in hand, they instruct their followers in the postures which have been devised for bodily contests, while the teachers of philosophy impart all the forms of discourse through which the mind expresses itself. Then, when they have made them familiar and thoroughly conversant with these lessons, they set them at exercises, habituate them to work, and require them to combine in practice the particular things which they have learned, in order that they may grasp them more firmly and bring their theories into closer touch with the occasions for applying them..."
Learning is for the most part habit-formation, and a direct result of goal-directed practice and feedback. Over the past 20 years, I have seen such learning take place in diverse contexts, from Professional Communication classrooms, where students learn to entering disciplinary discourse, to professional development workshops, where faculty learn to align course outcomes to instruction, and even in soccer practices, where players learn to execute a tactical combination play. I have been on the “teaching” end in all these contexts, attempting to awaken possibilities to my students, so that they learn how to apply the skills they have mastered (or are in the process of mastering) in appropriate situations. For such a model of mastery to be enacted, a good understanding of the relationship between principles that govern the discipline or activity and their localized application is necessary, which is exactly where my formal training in Rhetoric has been critical: having the tools to analyze audiences, purposes and contexts allows me to help students learn how to respond to a diverse set of complex problems. Perhaps this is why I find it equally fascinating to be teaching Proposal Writing, Public Oral Discourse, Professional Communication in Finance or Human-Computer Interaction Design: at the heart of it all is my desire to help students learn how solve problems using words.