TITLE: Faulkner Teaches How to Study
AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford
DATE: February 03, 2013 11:10 AM
this Paris Review interview
with novelist William Faulkner:
Some people say they can't understand your writing, even after
they read it two or three times. What approach would you suggest
Read it four times.
The first three times through the book are sunk cost. At this
moment, you don't understand. What should you do? Read it
I'm not suggesting you keep doing the same failing things over
and over. (You know what Einstein said about insanity.) If
you read the full interview, you'll see that Faulkner isn't
suggesting that, either. We're suggesting you get back to
Studying computer science is different from reading literature.
We can approach our study perhaps more analytically than the
novel reader. And we can write code. As an instructor, I try
to have a stable of ideas that students can try when they are
having trouble grasping a new concept or understanding a
reading, such as:
One thing that doesn't work very well is being passive. Often,
students come to my office and say, "I don't get it." They
don't bring much to the session. But the best learning is
not passive; it's active. Do something. Something
new, or just more.
Faulkner is quite matter-of-fact about creating and reading
literature. If it isn't right, work to make it better.
Technique? Method? Sure, whatever you need. Just do the work.
This may seem like silly advice. Aren't we all working hard
enough already? Not all of us, and not all the time. I
sometimes find that when I'm struggling most, I've stopped
working hard. I get used to understanding things quickly, and
then suddenly I don't. Time to read it again.
I empathize with many of my students. College is a shock to
them. Things came easily in high school, and suddenly they
don't. These students mean well but seem genuinely confused
about what they should do next. "Why don't I understand this
Sometimes our impatience is born from such experience. But as
Bill Evans reminds us,
some problems are too big to conquer immediately. He suggests
that we accept this up front and enjoy the whole trip. That's
Faulkner shrugs his shoulders and tells us to get back to work.
PHOTO. William Faulkner, dressed for work. Source:
The Centered Librarian.
- Assemble a list of specific questions to ask your prof.
- Talk to a buddy who seems to understand what you don't.
- Type the code from the paper in character-by-character,
thinking about it as you do.
- Draw a picture.
- Try to explain the parts you do understand to another
- Focus on one paragraph, and work backward from there to
the ideas it presumes you already know.
- Write your own program.