Thursday, February 23, 2006

Reduction to Practice

Well, my application is in for the New Jersey Writer's Project. My thanks to those who let me use their names as reference, and to anyone who wants to direct a little mojo my way (hint, hint).

Coincidentally, the latest Teaching Artist Journal arrived last week. I haven't completed it yet - always takes me a few weeks to nibble and digest, nibble and digest. This issue seems to have play and the application of play as its theme. A good subject, as TAs need to use fun as a motivator, at least at start. In "In Search of Serious Play", David Wallace makes the point that the rules of play have to be firm and clear yet enticing. Its a good article, but it trips over one of my peeves in the following excerpt:

"Virtually every form of play has rules of some sort - consider how many rules there are in baseball, chess, and other favorite pasttimes, In our lessons, two or three simple rules can provide structure for creative exploration."

I know what he's saying (and the rest of the article says it well), but the use of these examples seems to me to be missing the point a little. Sure these are complicated games, but they can be simplified in practice to be much less intimidating. It's not so much the rules of chess, for example, but the execution of its strategy that is daunting. Yet chess strategy 101 can be boiled down to three rules: 1. Take the center. 2. Make his king move. 3. Follow his king. Why can't we reduce our teaching of writing that way?

At the last Warren County Poetry Festival, Peter gave a great exercise, which (If I may simplify) was to answer three seemingly unrelated questions and put those answers into a poem. The reason it worked was because it provided specific, short, actionable steps. It turned "Write a poem" (cue scary music) into "Fill in the blank".

The article does go on to talk about ways to playfully but seriously engage students as a TA. But I fear that examples like this do an inustice to the things the engage in comparison. Baseball need not be more complicated than running, readiness, and the happiness of getting a hit. Chess, like creative writing, can be allowed to feel intimidating, or it can be presented in a way that makes it inviting, attaches to it some manageable goals, and welcomes play.

{Sorry, connection problems, links to come later}

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