Tuesday, November 21, 2006

I would like my students of English to be many things, but "agile" might be close to the top of the list. Of course, I'm thinking only of mental agility here -- the ability to think quickly, adroitly, and precisely, whether reading a difficult novel or constructing a complex essay. In a sense, I want my students to perform like mental athletes, able to do any mental trick or exercise or routine with confidence and aplomb. Gymnasts perform in the gym on bars and beams; my students perform in Room 2 with pencils and chapters. To do this, they must, first of all, be able to operate with a fair amount of speed. I don't emphasize this in reading assignments (because I want them to read slowly and thoughtfully), but in writing and other activities, they will be better students if they can complete activities fairly rapidly. To help them with this, I often put them "through their paces" by requiring them to write an essay in class on a surprise topic in a limited period of time. Of course, if they want to be agile in their English work, my students must also be supple -- able to efficiently adapt to new and strange challenges. This is why I often present them with a somewhat baffling topic for a writing assignment -- a topic that will challenge them to adjust, alter, bend, or re-fashion their thinking. Like athletes, they must be ready to cope with anything the opponent (English class) throws at them. They must be agile enough to perform successfully, come what may.

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