Monday, June 19, 2006

ON TEACHING: "Trapping and Writing"

This summer I’ve been amazed, watching the World Cup soccer matches, by the ease with which the players “trap” the ball when it comes to them. A ball can come flying at a player at top speed from any angle, and in nearly every case the player successfully drops the ball right at his feet so that he can then do whatever he wants with it. The players do this almost nonchalantly, as if they don’t have to think about it. It seems impossible to us viewers, but to the players this kind of skillful action is “second nature”. To the question, “How did trapping become second nature?” the answer is simple: by endless practice. These soccer players would be hard pressed to count the hours, days, and years they have spent practicing just that one skill – trapping. The practice was probably fairly uncreative and boring, but the results make it all worthwhile. If a player can trap a ball, he is then able to be truly creative in his defensive or offensive maneuvers. Once he has the ball under control (because of the years of practice), he can flash his inventive skills as he moves down the field. All this reminds me of what I try to do in the teaching of writing. Like trapping, there are many individual skills that student writers must learn by endless practice. In my class, they learn techniques for writing orderly sentences and paragraphs, techniques that can seem tedious and boring when the students are practicing them. When they ask, “Do we have to keep practicing these 11-sentence paragraphs?”, it’s not much different from the soccer players’ complaint about practicing their trapping techniques. I doubt if anyone likes to “practice” anything, but it’s a known fact that only through constant practice does anyone become expert at anything. Soccer players get to show their creative, sophisticated skills in the World Cup competition because they continually practiced elementary, tedious tasks (like trapping), and young writers become creative, resourceful, and champion writers in exactly the same way.

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