Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Put me in, Coach!

One of the notes in the first chapter of Inside Out by Dan Kirby, Dawn Kirby, and Tom Liner says, “My primary role as a teacher of writing is not to make assignments or correct papers but to ‘coach practice.’” My mind immediately flashed back to my high school volleyball practices. How do sweaty hours in a gym compare to the writing process? Actually, the more I think about it, there are a lot of similarities!
  1. During practice, our coach often demonstrated what skill we should be targeting, and then sent us on our way to practice. This is similar to a mini-lesson in a writing workshop. The teacher demonstrates a new style or reviews a previously taught concept, and then students disperse and work on their writing.
  2. We often did drills where one at a time, we would each try a new passing technique or block at the net as the rest of the team watched, just like a student would do when sharing their work with the class or a small group. The nerve wracking experience of having all eyes upon you as the rest of your peers watch you demonstrate your skill is the same in both situations.
  3. As a freshman we often watched the varsity team practice and we were required to watch their games. They served as our mentor texts. Because they were more advanced than we were, we observed what they were doing right (and wrong) and tried to mimic that during our own practices.
  4. Our coach supervised the team in ways that mirror a writing teacher’s role in a writing workshop. We were always given a task, and when that task was finished, there was always another skill to work on. The coach modeled the skills she wanted us to practice and master, and was available to provide constructive feedback as needed. We learned volleyball by practicing and playing, the same way writing skills should be developed. Expecting students to learn to write by only focusing on one type of genre (the expository essay, for example) is the same as expecting to win a volleyball game when the team has only practiced serving. Sure, the serves will be good, but a team can’t win a game without developing a well rounded skill set.

This was an unlikely metaphor to consider, but as I thought about it, the coach vs. teacher comparison is actually a very fitting description in a writing workshop setting.

1 comment:

lindsay said...

Nice thinking, Ashley. I'm impressed that you not only registered your initial skepticism of the coach metaphor but also pressed on it to see if it would hold up to scrutiny. You have recorded a few of the ways that the metaphor does work. I'm glad that you have this rich experience with sports to draw on as you think about the learning styles and needs of your students.