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Mostly, they stick to the basics: tacos, spaghetti, an occasional lemon chicken with sticky rice.
So I knew I was climbing the Mount Everest of parenting when I decided to make Cilantro Chili Lime Glazed Salmon and Green Beans.
I’m no fortune-teller and I don’t have a crystal ball, but I was fairly sure there would be much wailing and gnashing of teeth when my kids saw their plate.
I could picture their wrinkled noses and, in my mind, I could hear the cries of, “What is THAT?!?”
Sometimes I drink.
So, I dug deep.
“Who wants to play ‘Chopped Junior’ with me?” I called up the stairs to where the boys were playing.
(If you’re not familiar with Chopped Junior, it’s a fantastic little show on the Food Network that invites 4 kids to prepare appetizers, entrées and desserts for a panel of judges. Each round, one contestant is “chopped,” leaving one child crowned as the “Chopped Junior Champion.”)
My boys ran down the stairs, eager to join the fun.
I laid the ingredients on the counter and, using my best Ted Allen voice, exclaimed, “In the entrée basket today, you will be asked to use salmon, cilantro, brown sugar, and green beans. The clock starts now.”
Carson scrambled for the saucepans, cutting boards and knives while Brady
played the role of “time-keeper.”
(Which means he pretty much just watched us and screamed things like, “5 minutes! 5 minutes left on the clock!”)
Carson and I cooked.
We talked to our make-believe camera.
We chopped, diced, sautéd and stirred.
In the end, we plated four perfectly-seared salmon filets with a green cilantro glaze, sautéd green beans and a salad with oranges and tomatoes (folks, we even made our own freaking dressing).
When we sat down to eat, I stayed in character – offering our entrée to the “judges.”
I cleared my throat.
“Today, we have prepared for you Cilantro Chili Lime Glazed Salmon and Green Beans with a red leaf lettuce salad.”
I took a deep breath and waited.
You guys, a miracle happened.
At my dining room table.
My kids dug into the salmon and declared it “delicious and perfectly cooked!”
My husband and I could only stare in amazement as they noshed on salad (salad!!!), crunched green beans (seriously!!) and finished every last bite of salmon.
I don’t think they even noticed they were eating vegetables and salmon.
They were just playing.
As the meal ended, I looked at my husband and uttered one word.
Why am I telling you this?
It could be that I’m wanting to relive and soak up my exceptional parenting moment.
Those are so few and far between.
But, I think there’s a greater lesson to be learned here.
Children learn through play.
They learn through purposeful experiences.
They learn when we come alongside them and engage in the process with them.
Let’s face it: most 3rd graders are not naturally motivated to learn and master Standard W.3.2.A.
(Okay…NO ONE is naturally motivated to learn and master Standard W.3.2.A.)
But, those same 3rd graders might be really motivated to create a brochure for incoming Kindergartners (and their parents). The brochure could highlight important things to know about their school. And, in writing and planning and publishing these brochures, those 3rd graders would be learning Standard W.3.2.A. (and a whole bunch of other standards, too, by the way) They might not realize that they’re learning Standard W.3.2.A. They might just think they are writing.
To actual people.
For an actual purpose.
And, it might be fun.
When I was playing “Chopped Junior” with my kids, my goal was not simply to get through that night’s dinner without any crinkled noises or whines. My goal was to introduce them to new and healthy foods so that the next time someone slaps a salmon filet with strange green sauce on their plates they won’t freak out. They’ll think, “Oh. Salmon. I’ve had that before and you know, it wasn’t half bad!”
So, too, our goals as teachers of writing shouldn’t be to simply nail that dang standard but rather introduce our students to the real world of writing and all of the qualities that make writing powerful and purposeful and poised. Maybe they wouldn't grow up to hate writing so much. Maybe they would think, "I've done this before and you know, it's not half bad!
After writing and publishing the brochures, we could surely explain to students all that they did and how they did it. We could say, “So if someone asks you to “introduce a topic and group related information together; include illustrations when useful to aiding comprehension,” no sweat! You’ve done that! Just remember all we did when we created our brochures.
So, instead of assigning a piece of standards-based writing and telling kids to do it because it’s good for them, invite them to play – to have some fun with writing and thinking and drawing. Allow them to have a purpose for the words and phrases and sentences they are creating.
Being aligned to standards doesn’t have to include wailing and gnashing of teeth. (for students or teachers) It can be joyful and purposeful and playful.
I agree with Regie Routman: “The standards are neither rigorous or non-rigorous. It depends on what the teacher does with them.”
So, dig deep.
And then sit back and be amazed.
Oh. And for those of you who are now dying for the recipe, here you go:
Cilantro Chili Lime Glazed Salmon and Green Beans