What are the teaching strategies used in Pat Conroy's book The Water Is Wide?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When Pat arrives at the school at which he is to teach, it becomes immediately apparent that conventional methods of teaching and pedagogical strategies are not going to be of any use here.

His charges consist of sixth, seventh, and eighth graders; some of whom do not know the alphabet and are unable to count. Their knowledge of geography and current affairs proves abysmal, and Pat quickly realizes that in order to teach these children, he is going to have to leave educational conventions far behind him.

Instead of books and classrooms, Pat starts his educational journey with these youngsters by sharing his love of music with them. By turning geography into a game, he makes this subject matter interesting and appealing.

Later, Pat's students travel to the USA with him, experiencing their first Halloween and taking an educational trip to Washington DC.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Water Is Wide, Conroy utilizes many unconventional techniques (for that time) to make meaningful connections with his students and to engender academic progress they had never previously achieved. In stark contrast to many of his colleagues, who incorporate recycled textbooks and physical and emotional abuse in their “training” of the children, Conroy pioneers an early approach to the multiple modalities pedagogy, offering his class a more tactile educational experience. Conroy champions classical music as a tool for instruction, which helps increase his students’ participation in class assignments and their willingness to engage in meaningful dialogue.

Another example of Conroy’s unorthodox teaching style is his planning of a Halloween field trip to Beaufort. Originally mystified by the Yamacraw students’ ignorance of Halloween customs, Conroy was not content just to explain them to his class or to have the students read about them. Conroy wanted those boys and girls to experience Halloween traditions firsthand, so he decided to organize the educational excursion under much opposition and skepticism from his peers and (initially) the island parents. Conroy’s use of alternative educational practices provided a voice for and an identity to a group of students whom traditional academic practices of the day had long kept silent and anonymous.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The teaching methods Conroy employs are unconventional to say the least. The students whom he encounters were unfamiliar with standard written and spoken English, thus he had to adjust his methods accordingly. Rather than utilizing outdated textbooks, or corporal punishment, Conroy offered his students an experiential education. While the students were won over by this approach, their parents and the administrators at the school were far from pleased.

Ultimately, Conroy's approach challenged the divide between the islanders (the students) and those who lived on the mainland because he dared to question the power dynamics at play. One of the most liberating examples in the text happens when Conroy had his students memorize significant classical musicians and their compositions, and then invited inhabitants from the mainland to the classroom so that the students could explain what they had learned. Such an unorthodox approach proved to be successful in that the students were encouraged to enter into a dialogue with otherwise inaccessible people. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial