“Literacy is Just Like Soccer”

13 05 2011

When my son first began playing soccer as a rambunctious four year old, the rules were simple:  kick the ball, and try to get it in the other team’s goal.  As parents, we stood on the sidelines laughing, as we watched the mob of excited youngsters swarm the ball.  They would surround it in a large scrum, and all kick profusely until the ball somehow managed to make its way free from the madly swinging legs.  Then, all of a sudden, one player would take off with the ball, kicking it, and chasing it, as all of the other members of both teams chased in hot pursuit.  They would try to overtake the player who was in possession of the ball, in order to recover control, regardless of which team they were on.

As the years passed, my son became much more competitive in nature, and started to understand the sport in greater depth.  Now, a “highly skilled” nine-year old, he positions himself on the field as veritable wall of defence.  He has a much deeper understanding of the game, its rules and the strategies he needs to use in order for his team to be successful.  No longer is it sufficient for them to kick the ball, and try to get it in the other team’s goal.  Although, that remains the basic principle behind the sport, the rules have expanded.  They have become more sophisticated, and he is able to think and analyze the sport from a much more knowledgeable perspective. He has developed physical and mental skills that allow him to play strategically and think analytically about the game.

What does soccer have to do with literacy?  The rules of soccer have not changed through the years, only become more sophisticated as my son became more and more adept.  The foundations of the sport remain the same:  kick the ball and try to score.  Likewise, literacy in our classrooms should be based on the foundations of reading and writing.  These things do not change.  From the moment our youngsters enter kindergarten, until they graduate, we are teaching them to read and write.  It is the depth and breadth with which they complete these foundational skills that allow them to develop more sophistication of their skills.  In the same way that as my son’s soccer coaches continue to refine his understanding of the sport, we too, must continue to refine and challenge our students.  Not only from year to year, as they age, but throughout the year, from day to day, week to week and month to month. A  literacy program has many layers.  It must begin with a solid foundation in the basics of literacy.  But, that is not enough.  As educators, we need to continue to provide opportunities for our students to deepen their understanding of the foundations of literacy.  It’s not enough to be able to read and write– although these skills never fade into the background.  It is how we write, what we read, and the ways we think about these foundational skills that help our students to continue to thrive.  In soccer, the simple principles of kicking the ball and scoring do not become unimportant.  They always remain at the forefront of the sport – however the players’ approach and the coaching strategies have definitely changed over time.  In the same way, reading and writing, remain the principles for success in all areas of literacy, but as the tasks become richer over time, students are able to develop and expand their understanding, critical thinking and analytical awareness.

So, as I watch my thriving soccer star, I am amazed at layering his coaches have done to get him to this point, and I wonder if we are doing the same in our classrooms.




One response

13 05 2011

Great analogy Lisa! You’re absolutely right that while we continue to reinforce the foundations of literacy, we must provide students the opportunities to deepen their skills according to their readiness.

A lot of great teaching pedagogy can be derived from sports. Athletes develop their skills through a process that often involves explicit modeling, one-on-one or small group support and timely descriptive feedback from coaches. Groupings are often heterogeneous; as stronger athletes naturally help their teammates develop their skills. Athletes also are provided with TONS of practice time, and many opportunities to demonstrate their abilities through exhibition games. Emphasis is most often placed on the process (how the game was played) rather than the end result (who actually won), and at the end of the day (until things get too competitive), it’s all about having fun! ☺

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