Tuesday, April 29, 2008


Day 138, Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Today I attended, with about 1000 young students, the annual Children's Concert by the Coast Guard Academy Band, and, oddly enough, I learned something about teaching English. The narrator of the concert talked to us about the importance of improvisation in jazz, and, as she spoke, I began thinking about writing essays in my classes. When my students write an essay, they are, in a sense, improvising. They choose a thesis, or main idea, for their essay, and then they improvise on that thesis, trying to generate ideas of all kinds that are somehow related to the main idea. In a way, writing an essay should be as playful an activity as improvising with a piano or a clarinet. My students should feel free to 'mess around' with their thesis, to amuse themselves with it so that it leads to some truly interesting sentences and paragraphs. Of course, in the end there must be some overall order in the essay, some structure that holds it all together, but the same is true, I'm sure, in jazz. The jazz musician freely plays with the main theme, but ultimately brings the music back to where it started, just as my students must do with their essays.

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