Tuesday, September 22, 2009

John Wooden, Marianne Moore, and the Tradition of Learned Reading

The legendary college basketball coach John Wooden began everyone of his basketball seasons the same way: by teaching his players the most elementary of functions--putting on their shoes and socks. He did it slowly, punctiliously describing his movements. Why take the time to go over this simple action? I imagine that the attention to detail included in it a lesson that went beyond merely how to put on one's clothes.

On Saturday, a former student informed me that my literature classes has helped her greatly since she's transferred to Vanderbilt. She said that my lectures on how to read and how to take notes while reading has helped prepare her for a more rigorous reading schedule (apparently Vanderbilt pushes you harder than community colleges do). She also said that my daily quizzes got her used to reading and looking for details. (My favorite reading quiz question of all-time remains "What was Marianne Moore's favorite baseball team?") The answer requires the student to not just read the assigned poems but to have the discipline to read the biography section on the writer. (The answer is the Brooklyn Dodgers.)

I enjoy the quizzes because they show students that reading can be a leisure activity, but when doing it for school, a focus and seriousness should accompany it. Earlier this semester, my Experiencing Lit class read "Teenage Wasteland." One of the questions was "a version of the song 'Teenage Wasteland' is the theme song for what tv show." A student wrote on his paper, "that was not in the reading." I marked the answer wrong and wrote back, "it was in the footnotes." Detail. Fastidiousness. Focus.

Now, I'm no Vivian Bearing (look her up), but I do want to push my students, not for the sake of simply being hard and definitely not to give myself more work to grade but to show them that meticulous work brings forth its own rewards, whether in a work setting, on a quiz, or at Vanderbilt. Good luck, Jess!

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