This is one of my biggest guiding principles in teaching: I won't tell my students what to do.
Okay, I will sometimes. Like when I tell them to clear their desks before a test, to get out a piece of paper, to work with their partner, or to stop playing games on their calculator when they're supposed to be working (and I know they're playing because no one uses their thumbs that much when they're calculating).
But that's not what I'm talking about.
I'm talking about when a student asks, "How do I solve this problem?" Sometimes I slip, but more often than not, I answer that question with a question. "What do you know about the problem already?" "What are we trying to find?" "How is this similar to/different from this other problem?"
Yup, I'm one of those teachers.
Even when I do "tell" a little more, it's often with options. "What are the tools we've been using? Tables, graphs, and equations. You could try using any of those."
It's easier just to tell students how to solve the problem. Really, it is. (That's why I slip once in a while.) So why don't I just do it that way?
Because it's not about what's easy ... especially not what's easy FOR ME.
It's about getting the student to the point of doing mathematics independently. And before anyone says most people never use anything from algebra or above in "real life," that's not what doing mathematics is truly about. It's about thinking and reasoning and working out what makes sense.
Like so many things from my teaching life, it carries over into my writing life. People ask for feedback, critique, suggestions. In that case it's peer-to-peer, but that makes me even less likely to say, "Do it this way." I try to focus on giving my reaction as a reader, what worked and didn't, leaving it to the writer to figure out how to best resolve any problem areas—if they even agree that the area is a problem.
Some people give feedback by saying, "What if you did it like this?" and proceed to rewrite a whole paragraph or query letter. I can't say it's wrong and no one should do that. Maybe that works for some people. Just me, personally ... it makes me cringe. Once in a while I throw in a "such as" and give a possible sentence to illustrate my point, but I try to keep that really limited with a tone of "but in your own way."
That's the thing. When I tell someone how to solve a problem, they're not really doing mathematics. When someone is writing, feedback is critical. Taking in that feedback, processing it, and deciding what to do about it (if anything) is a necessary skill. It needs to be their work, their writing, their voice. We can suggest and spitball and yea-or-nay ideas, but when it's our writing, we must do the heavy lifting.
And yes, sometimes I slip in that department, too. But I try. I just want to make people think.
But if I said my way of giving feedback is the only way, that would be telling you what to do.
Have you seen or experienced benefits of the direct-instruction approach? Have you seen downsides to being left to puzzle it out, picking and choosing from more general bits of advice?