If you want students to learn, you have to make them value the material. You must present the material creatively, you must show them the relevance of the lesson to their lives, and you must inspire them with your passion for the subject matter. Or you can bribe them with candy. While I do my best to adhere to the more noble principles offered, at times I take the low road when I simply want to generate some enthusiasm for something as mundane as proofreading. I call these activities proofreading races, and from them I’ve made some insightful observations about competition among teenagers that fall into three categories.
First, you have the Brain Cells Matter category. My composition students know the drill. As soon as I announce a race, their eyes narrow as they wait for me to assign partners on this fateful, academic endeavor. And unlike a sporting event where kids cross their fingers hoping that they’ll land the oversize brute nicknamed Bulldozer who can slam dunk a ball because he’s got seven inches on everyone else his age, kinesthetic prowess no longer matters. Instead, they want the person who knows the difference between a colon and a comma and actually knows how to stop a modifier from dangling. In this dramatic turn of events, those who have only provided an increase in bench temperature now become the hot item. For the three glorious minutes it takes to scour the page for grammatical mistakes, those with linguistic skills are the alpha males.
Category two is actually what drives category one: The Acquisition of Spoils. The whole reason for needing a partner capable of locating a gerund is because of the tangible prizes at stake that are far too precious to risk. Last week I opened the Tupperware coffers to reveal Lifesavers, Jolly Ranchers, and some leftover silver chocolate coins that leave a gag- inducing waxy aftertaste. The boys were ecstatic. I’ve often wished I could get them this fired up over raking their own papers over the coals for errors, but who am I fooling? Those are just grades at stake, measly letters of the alphabet that only impact your high school transcript – nothing that you can pop in your mouth to freshen your breath. So as they hovered over the paper that was face down, waiting for the signal to Go!, I heard one of my boys confidently say, “Those chocolate coins are ours!” And then they dug into that paragraph like a surgeon after a malignant tumor.
Our final category to govern teenage competition is The Last Word. This category kicks into play once the timer has sounded and the answers have been revealed. As you sit there with your tally points listening to another team proudly pronounce that they have bested you by a margin of two, then nothing remains but to do the honorable thing: accuse them of cheating. It doesn’t matter that the accusation is groundless and that the other team legitimately knew that the names of ships should be underlined, no sir. Your duty is to hold your head up high and take them down a peg or two right before they lay claim to a Werther’s Original. It’s the only decent thing to do.
So for those of you out there reading, you may not engage in proofreading races, but I think the categories are still applicable to real life in other ways. Looking for an accountant to manage those taxes? Refer to category one. Lose a promotion to a co-worker clearly more qualified than you? Number three will work. And as we all know, anything you learn from teenagers will always offer you a mature and reasonable approach for handling life’s little difficulties.
© 2013 – Traci Carver