Rethinking Writing Instruction

Karen Pryor’s shaping laws

Karen Pryor, one of the world’s best animal trainers and dog trainers, inspired key parts of this course. Look at what she has to say about reinforcing new skills, in the scanned paragraph.

Though she’s talking about animals, we can easily imagine freshman writing students in this paragraph. Read the paragraph and imagine she’s talking about students.

I am most inspired by the first rule–start with something simple enough that he or she can earn the reinforcement–then raise the standard slowly.  That’s why a long time ago I began to start my semester with “things you can drop on your foot.” Anyone can drop something on his foot. Everyone can succeed at that. It’s a morale booster and gets the semester off to a hopeful start.


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