Two Paths

We give a sequence of assignments designed to save the beginning student from crashing. Our method has something in common with giving a child a bicycle with training wheels, confined to a safe course, and letting the child ride. Now and then, in stages, we raise the training wheels and make the course harder. The alternative—giving the child an unmodified bicycle and telling it to go ride in the street—is for most students the path to sure obliteration.

But in each class there are a couple of students who are frozen by proscription (“don’t write about x; don’t begin with y”) and who have a knack for learning activities at a swoop. Their debilities and abilities are inseparable. To such a student, we say, aside, “See that bicyclist? Here’s a bicycle; get on it and ride.” The student falls down fast and often, but, surprisingly, by afternoon can wobble along on the bicycle and can even articulate the principles that guide her riding. Specifically, we give such a student something like the Audubon Field Guide to North American Birds, Eastern Region and say, “See these presentations of birds? Go write twenty presentations that sound like that.” Sometimes the student not only produces passable imitations but also learns the principles of the style.

This second method is not recommended except under a doctor’s orders.

How the Course Works