We went bowling the other night to blow off steam after a day of National Writing Project meetings. There’s a place nearby that serves great drink and dinner offerings laneside. Jean told us she’d never bowled before and was somewhat hesitant that she’d injure herself. The rest of us assured her that despite the contact made between the ball and the pins that bowling was not a contact sport. She agreed to try and then proceeded to clean our clocks. Beginner’s luck met our incompetence brilliantly. She nearly doubled everyone’s score.
I was largely untroubled by this as no one would attribute great skills in this arena to me, but after a run of no contact at all between the aforementioned ball and pins, I noticed that the computerized scorer was calculating the speed of my throws. While I had little control over where my ball went after it left my hands, I did know how to throw it faster, and so this became the object of the game for me. I’d announce how many miles per hour I’d throw and then do my darndest to make that happen. If some pins fell down too, all the better. A guy a few lanes over was trying to do the same thing apparently. His throws were largely twenty-five mph or better while mine hovered in the mid-teens, but I did knock down more pins than he did. I’d say we were having equal amounts of fun.
Struggling readers and writers attempt to change the rules of our games some times too. Copying quotes without attributing them might be a sincere effort to cheat or a sincere effort to be done. When their comprehension lags, they might power through novels too. “I didn’t get a lot out of it, but I finished before you” one might say. Or they might skip the book altogether at the first instance of frustration and go directly to Cliff notes. How do we alter these behaviors? There are many answers, but one of them has to be explaining what we do when we hit roadblocks in our learning and what we do about them. No one will win the game unless we do.