Tuesday, October 06, 2009


Most teachers wouldn’t be flattered if someone used the word “wandering” to describe what the students were doing in one of their classes, but I’ve grown to appreciate the value of occasionally allowing my students to wander for a few minutes during class – maybe to meander through some pages in a novel or drift back over their essay drafts. I usually think of the work we do in class as focused and product-driven, but surely there is room for the kind of wandering that can lead to unexpected discoveries. When I aimlessly stroll through a forest, I always come across a few surprises, and from time to time I like to encourage that kind of unhampered, directionless “wandering” in my class. A discussion about a short story, for instance, could be at its best when it rambles among many topics, stopping here and there when a comment shines especially bright, going down any of countless paths when the way opens up. Re-reading a chapter or a few pages could also be done in a winding, roundabout, laid-back way, sort of the way you might wander through a castle you first visited on an orderly guided tour. You have no particular purpose other than discovery. You’re meandering because you want to be surprised. In my classes, we usually do our academic work in fairly straight lines (following specific directions, doing step-by-step assignments, aiming for explicit goals, etc.), but I try to balance this measured marching with a little unregulated wandering now and then. Perhaps the students will stumble on revelations the way I often do when I’m ambling through the woods, or when I’m turning down an unfamiliar but appealing street on a bike ride.

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