Saturday, June 23, 2007

Home from Myrtle Beach

At Huntington Beach State ParkWe got home today from Myrtle Beach. Six nights of sand, sun, and surf. Mostly at the moment we're tired and there is a lot of unpacking to do. But over the next few weeks perhaps we'll share some of what we did and a few photos besides this one...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Student Writing: How Do You Make A Sandwich?

Originally published at Suite101

How do you make a sandwich? It seems like a simple question - unless you have to write about it and you have a learning disability. Writing can become a daunting task if you have a disability.

I like writing. (I know you'd never have guessed that.) And I don't think of writing as hard. But for many of my students -- this year and in the past, special education or college juniors -- writing is a monster task. Why? "I can't THINK of anything, Mr. Cruey!"

Thinking: it seems to intimidate half the world. No one wants to do it.

I'm not talking about the profound and philosophical. I'm talking about the "why do you like your dog" or the "describe your favorite food" sorts of thinking. Writer's block sweeps the room like cholera....

My kids think I'm, well, different. Sometimes I lose my sense of decorum in the teaching process. Sometimes I stand on a chair when I read. Or yell "YES!" at the top of my voice when someone gets an answer right. The other teachers have reading blocks. My room is the "Church of Reading" and we have services. I think it was the Irish poet W.B. Yeats that said, "Education is not the filling of a pail, it is the lighting of a fire." But, I digress.

We've talked a lot about a writing prompt in the past few weeks and I've given it once. But I will probably give it to my students again in the near future and see if we can't come up with better ideas. The prompt is simple and concrete. It asks students to write an essay on the question, "HOW DO YOU MAKE A SANDWICH?"

When I gave it the first time everyone stared at me. One of the brave ones said something like, "You know, Mr. Cruey, You (like) MAKE IT." I explained how I wanted more than that....

We discussed the importance of bread. I introduced my students to vocabulary some of them had never heard before. Words like, "Sourdough" and "Pumpernickel." We talked about the difficult choices that had to be made in regards to cheese on a good sandwich - Swiss, cheddar, provolone or sliced munster. (Several said they liked the cheese "with the holes in it.") We examined the pros and cons of vegetable matter (tomatoes, lettuce, onion, etc.) and the value of various condiments (spicy brown mustard, wasabi mayonnaise). We came up with a list of the 42 or so most likely meats to put on a sandwich (bologna, ham, turkey, chicken, salami, left over meatloaf, corn beef, etc.) And we discussed preparation - whether to grill or to toast or to serve cold.

We discussed it with enthusiasm. And, like I said, my kids think I'm, well, different.

The West Virginia Fourth Grade Writing Rubric is fairly demanding. But IDEAS are three-fourths of the challenge. And my kids have ideas (although sometimes they don't know it). The task is getting them to find those ideas and articulate them...