Monday, June 2, 2008

Reliving our learning

When I sit down to the piano to compose, I am with the counterpoint assignments I handed in too late to my college theory professor; with the pieces once brought to joyous fruition and with those I abandoned or completed badly; I am with my father, my mother, my sister, my brother tuning his violin, my piano teacher on a Saturday at home in her Chinese dressing gown; with the Mozart concerto I learned at sixteen, with the Berg Piano Sonata, with the Fugue in C Sharp Minor of J.S. Bach. When I am on a train heading into a tunnel, I am engulfed by images of death and darkness, as if pinned beneath a giant calamitous wave. From moment to moment we relive our learning and build upon it.

Allen Shawn, Wish I Could Be There: Notes from a Phobic Life (New York: Penguin, 2007), 140
This passage has me thinking about the frame of mind in which a college student might sit down to work on an essay. Does the student bring to the task a history of accomplishment that fosters confidence in the face of difficulties? Or does he or she relive a history of failure and near-failure that fosters a hopeless fatalism?

What many of my students need to do (and what I try to help them to do) is to unlearn some of the lessons they have been taught and continue to relive: that they're "terrible at grammar," that they "can't write," that they're simply "bad at English." No one sits down to write an essay with the intention not to succeed. But many students acquire along the way the belief that that's the only kind of essay they can write.
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The inverse power of praise

comments: 1

Jason said...

Yes! And too many students have already formed the opinion that writing is not fun. So, not only do they believe that they can't write, but they don't want to spend much time doing it because they've learned to dislike doing it. This makes our work that much harder -- but that much more rewarding when we can help them see that they can write and that it can be fun!