Using Sports to Teach Literature

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Local English teacher William Tecku will discuss how teaching sports literature positively impacts students’ reading and writing skills. He will also talk about how he uses sports literature in the classroom and his own baseball poetry, which he will read during a presentation at a Mesa public library.

Ted Simons: Former English teacher and author William Tecku has found a way to combine his love of sports and literature to help teach students writing skills and reading comprehension he will present some of his original sports poetry at a program called "hits, runs and metaphors." Here now to talk about sports and literature in the classroom is William Tecku.

William Tecku: Thank you, good to be back.

Ted Simons: Sports literature as a tool, give me a better explanation of what's going on here.

William Tecku: Sports literature, for example, with Bernard Malamud's "Yhe Natural," you've probably read the book or seen the film.

Ted Simons: I've seen the film.

William Tecku: It's based on a 1952 novel by Malamud. In teaching some years ago I found when I brought sports literature in, such as excerpts from that novel or some of my own poetry, even the most reluctant learners -- I can recall one young man who pretty much had mentally checked out of what I was trying to teach in terms of literature and writing. When he knew we were going to read a baseball poem or part of a baseball story, he was on the edge of his seat. He produced more work in not just that class period but during the semester because it was something he was interested in. I saw it the same with young ladies who did not have an interest in sports per se. I think it depends on the material, the story or the poem or the novel. If it's quality literature the kids connect to it.

Ted Simons: How far can you go? Did you diagram sentences from a poem and from a story?

William Tecku: You can, you can. It's good to hear that you mentioned diagramming sentences.

Ted Simons: Hey, I got an education. It's one thing to say I've got your attention, but another thing to find out --

William Tecku: That's a good point you raise, what do you do after you're ready to rock-n-roll with the lesson. In the case of The Natural, I had students watch the excerpt where The Natural strikes out The Whammer, if you recall that. No sound, it's about a five-minute segment. After that, okay, you saw this. Write down what you saw. Oh, this is easy, no problem and the kids would write it. Then they would volunteer to read pieces back. Wait a minute, you forgot this part, you didn't mention the color of the field and what was going on behind, and the lady in black, you completely left her out. So then those first drafts we found were often missing a lot of detail. Pretty much devoid of literary techniques, alliteration, personification, metaphor, simile, et cetera. Then I'd pass out a couple pages by Malamud on the scene and he did not have a video to go off of. We would review his writing techniques, his use of detail from the novel. Then they go into a second draft incorporating some of the writing techniques and literary elements that Malamud did.

Ted Simons: Because it's sports and you're dealing with young folks. Young folks just by nature like to play and sports is a form of play. Can this also work with other genres? Can it work with dance or music or something along those lines?

William Tecku: I think it depends on the individual teacher. But we discussed off air how statistics and sports --

Ted Simons: Yes.

William Tecku: -- can work to be helpful in terms of connecting standards in mathematics. I think that can definitely be done. The English Journal last fall, a September issue of the English Journal focused on using sports literature in the classroom, whether it was baseball, basketball, what have you.

Ted Simons: I remember as a kid, you got to Jack Armstrong and your All-American boy and the previous generation and the Hardy Boys and all this kind of stuff. I remember trying to read the Ted Williams thing from John Updike. As a kid I was thinking, this is a little high and mighty here. Give me some balls and strikes here.

William Tecku: Did you ever -- I know you're familiar with Who's on First?

Ted Simons: Of course.

William Tecku: That's an example where when I was teaching word play, actually teaching parts of Romeo and Juliet with the word play, we worked in the word play that was used by Abbot and Costello in that classic comedy skit, Who's on First. So I mean there's various ways to connect that are not, as you said, highbrow perhaps. And Updike is a fantastic writer but like Faulkner, a lot of maybe high school students, even college students would have a tough time working through some of his literature.

Ted Simons: It's like you can't even tell they are playing golf, in the style. What's the one where they are playing golf?

William Tecku: It's in "The Great Gatsby."

Ted Simons: Anyway, response from teachers on this, are folks figuring this out?

William Tecku: I've been out of feature teaching proceedings for five years. When I was in it I found teachers, once they felt like going into that new area of sports literature, had great results. My own, I did a survey at Skyline High School in 2000, and that was of the students basically saying, we can't name more than a few authors, 20th Century authors that we should know for college prep and so forth but they can name the sports stars in a variety of fields. When it came to teachers in Mesa at least were I taught a class for teachers on sports literature, I want to say they ran with it and took some of my lesson planning back to their classrooms and reported good results.

Ted Simons: It's fascinating stuff and certainly makes sense. Congratulations with this, and good luck in the few. Good luck with your poetry, as well.

William Tecku: Thank you very much.

Ted Simons: Tuesday on "Arizona Horizon" hear about the state budget and other legislative actions, and find out about a study that looks at converting food waste to energy. That's on the next Arizona Horizon. That's it for now, I'm Ted Simons, thanks for joining us, you have a great evening.

William Tecku:English Teacher;

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