I’ve been teaching at University of Detroit Mercy this semester, with a great small group of students in a class dedicated to academic writing. That means, I’m trying to teach college freshmen how to argue effectively.
It’s no small task. They have to take this class, so they begrudgingly show up and muscle through the assignments, lectures and in-class activities I throw their way. I have lost count of how many times I’ve asked a question – about their paper progress, about their writing, about their lives – and received only blank stares in return.
The other day in class, as I was helping them madly work toward successful final research papers – the biggest assignment of the semester – the proverbial light bulb shone bright above my head.
Why do we leave the big, hard, counts-more-than-anything stuff until the END of the semester?
In theory, it’s because we build the learning all semester long to culminate in a significant assignment that they are finally ready to handle. BUT, by semester’s end, they are so burnt out on school – plus they have final exams, and other final research papers all due pretty much at the same time.
So it occurred to me that perhaps we should begin next semester with the research paper – slowly, if we must – and progress to a simpler, more personal writing by the end. Perhaps come full circle to what we started with but on a smaller, less pressured scale.
I’ve heard this type of approach in philosophical circles, you know. What is poison in the beginning, is nectar in the end. And it works both ways. Anything easy, sweet, and immediately satisfying ends up killing us in a way.
Think of exercise – who wants to do it? When you first get started, you’re tired, sore and sweaty. Keep with it, and you lose weight, build muscle and feel great. Have more energy. Feel eminently healthier.
Same thing with food: eat a piece of cake, ice cream sundae or chocolate bar and yes, at the time you’re eating it, heaven. But not long after – sugar crash, extra pounds, lack of energy, nutrition dungeon.
This is my new approach. Start with the hard stuff and let the easy stuff come next.