Monday, July 19, 2010

Small Secrets

This morning a bolt and a nut reminded me of the importance of small secrets in teaching and learning. I was replacing a blade on a sickle, and for many minutes I could not get the bolt to stay still while I turned the nut. The top of the bolt kept turning, the nut went nowhere, and my temper took some turns for the worse, until – ta-da – I discovered the secret. I simply had to insert the bolt from the other side of the blade so its square head fit into a square space on the handle, and, there you go, the bolt never turned and the nut never stopped turning till all was tight. I had seen the small secret of success, and suddenly the job was just a short and simple one. It occurs to me, now that I think about it, that dozens and hundreds of similar secrets lie in wait for my students to come across in their travels through my English lessons and assignments. Of course, part of my responsibility is to show them these secrets, but it’s fun, too, to let some of the secrets lie concealed so the satisfaction of discovery can be enjoyed. Perhaps a student is reading over a first draft and feeling puzzled as to why the sentences sound so flat and lifeless, when, quite suddenly, she notices that they are all roughly the same length. Presto, the secret of varying sentence lengths is revealed to her, and the happiness of composing a stylish essay is hers to savor. Life – including the repair of sickles and the writing of school papers – can sometimes seem full of frightful twists and turns, but every so often a little secret is discovered, and presto, the road ahead is suddenly straight and plain to see. Starting in September, countless of those secrets will be waiting for my students, and sometimes I’ll dispassionately stand aside and simply observe the searching, and smile.

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