The most exciting time of the year for Kansas Jayhawks and
other intense basketball fans is the annual NCAA tournament.
65 university teams are invited or automatically qualify
for this single-elimination, winner takes all, three-week
climactic event of the college basketball season.
The championship team evolves over the course of the
three weeks, learning from each new challenge as they
survive close games, overtimes, foul trouble, turnovers,
missed free throws, etc... The team which wins six
games and the NCAA championship is never the same
group of individuals who started in the first game.
Each of the team members has sharpened his skills,
improved his mental agility and risen to the challenge
of going beyond what were previously the limits in
terms of endurance and composure.
Teams which depend on one or two individual players
rarely make it to the championship game, because
basketball is unlike any other sport (except soccer)
in its definitive quality as a "team sport"
which requires the members to think together,
build momentum together and force each other
to raise the level of their game together.
As a team works it way through the NCAA tournament,
its members learn from opponents and circumstances
which have challenged their very survival. The
surviving team takes on some of the best characteristics
of the team they defeated. The NCAA is, from this
perspective, an intense three-week race among the
best teams and players in the country to learn faster
and better than each other. It is a learning marathon
like no other, because basketball is the ultimate
interplay of mind and body.
Good basketball coaches are like good teachers in
any other realm. They encourage their players to
learn and grow; they strive to instill a mental
discipline which their students can carry with them
beyond college. If you want to understand how to
teach your students to work together effectively
and learn from each other in groups, spend some
time with the basketball coach at your school.
There is no higher authority on the subject.
Ludwig Wittgenstein isn't very popular in
American linguistic circles. We're all marching
to the beat of Chomsky's baton and M.I.T.'s
directives. But Wittgenstein--who started
philosophy of language, pragmatics and
discourse analysis--hit the nail on the
head when he compared language to a game
in which a ball is passed back and forth.
Watch the NCAA Final Four and championship
games this year if you want some refreshing
motivation to take back to your ESL classroom.
Your students will be very happy if you start
to challenge them to function with English
the way those basketball players handle
the ball, dribble, make pinpoint passes
on the run, hit threes, and, of course,
once in a while enjoy the pleasure of
making a "slam-dunk." It could be a whole
new way of looking at classroom dynamics.
By Robb Scott
2002 ESL MiniConference Online