Tuesday, September 05, 2006

ON TEACHING: Building in the Classroom, Part 1

Rummaging around in my favorite dictionary (looking for insights into the mystifying art of teaching), I came upon this definition of the word build : "to form by combining materials or parts", and I instantly realized that this is something my students and I do every day in English class. For instance, in order to read thoughtfully and thoroughly, we must "build" an interpretation of what we're reading by combining ideas together into a unified whole. It's hard work, not unlike the work that real-world house builders do -- putting piece together with piece to create a solid and attractive structure. My students and I also do this kind of building when we write paragraphs and essays. The materials we use are ideas, words, sentences, and paragraphs, and, like any good builder, we try to bring these elements together in a harmonious way. No builder, least of all people involved in writing, can afford to just toss things together. There must be a careful process to the combining as the sentences are hammered into paragraphs and the paragraphs bolted into essays. There must also, of course, be a careful process in my planning and supervising of English class, which relates to another definition of build : "to order, finance, or supervise the construction of, as in The administration built several new housing projects." Each year I actually build an English class, but not in the sense that I do all the labor myself. As the teacher, I "order and supervise" the construction of a year-long class involving the study of English, and then my students and I set out to do the actual assembling and raising. As the year progresses, the building called English class slowly rises -- a building we can occasionally stand back and admire. It's slow, taxing labor, but by June, we should be able to see the entire building in its complexity and harmony.

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