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Weaving: Moving Beyond the Structure One Student at a Time


Dear Dr. Louis,

How do I teach weaving?


Dear Scott:

"Weaving" is Jane Schaffer’s integral step of blending concrete details (CDs) and commentary (CM). When a student demonstrates his/her ability to identify and understand CDs and CMs and when he/she is able to apply the concept/ratio correctly, then you should expect him/her to move beyond the structured format to weaving. You'll notice that in the previous few sentences, I spoke in the singular case for the student. That singular case was intentional because you would never (and I mean never) see me walk into a room of thirty-five students and say, "Today, I am going to teach you weaving." One of the difficult aspects of teaching writing is that it requires an individual approach at various junctures of the process. Teaching weaving is one of those junctures.Sometimes, depending on the grade level and the special needs of students in your classroom (SPED, ELL, G/T), teaching the fundamentals could take three weeks, three months, or three years. If I were to present weaving to the entire class while some of the students hadn't mastered the ability to differentiate between CDs and CMs, then I would lose all of the time I had spent, and those students would be back to square one. For that reason, you want to spot the students who are ready for weaving and then have individual conversations with them.In the beginning, however, you teach them to separate the CDs from the CMs for multiple cognitive reasons. Here are three: (1) the students do not truly know the difference between evidence and analysis until they have been required to separate them; (2) the students learn how to embed quotations much more easily with plot than with commentary at the beginning; and (3) the students learn that in literary analysis, a 1:2+ ratio gets higher scores.How do you spot the students who are ready to weave and those who are not ready to weave?In one-to-one conferences or when you are "row-running" (walking up and down or around the physical or cyber desks while reading their work), you'll see students who have written their CD sentences but have intermixed CM words or phrases within their CD sentences.Let me show you two examples from two different students:Prior to reading a certain section of Sue Monk Kidd's The Secret Life of Bees, we give students a prompt to write a one-chunk short answer (1:2+) that analyzes how the Mary archetype shapes Lily’s understanding. With a short answer, a concluding sentence is not necessary. If I asked for a paragraph, then we would need a concluding sentence.Student #1 wrote the following short answer:Lily’s world is shaped by the symbol of Mary.  Mary was perplexing “[. . .] mix of might and humble all in one” (70). Lily wants to be like Mary.  She wants to make her own decisions.So, you're row-running, and you spot a student who has written the above sentences. You say, "I see Commentary in your Concrete Detail sentence." The student looks up at you, and she gives you the following response:

First Response:

"No, m'am. I do not have CM in my CD sentence."

"Yes, m'am, it's there." 

"I don't see it." 

You show her the word "perplexing" and explain how that is a CM. Mary was a perplexing “[. . .] mix of might and humble all in one” (70). 

Student #2 wrote the following short answer:

Lily’s understanding of the world is shaped by her understanding of the Mary archetype.  When Lily recognizes that Mary “[. . .] was a mix of might and humble all in one” (70), Lily begins to see the power in herself.  Though she is only a child, there is within her the power to have might as well.  Lily can have power and make her own decisions.

You say, "I see Commentary in your Concrete Detail sentence." The student looks up at you, and she gives you the following response:

Second Response:

"Yes, m'am, Dr. Louis, I put it in there because I think it sounds better."

"Show it to me. Highlight it." The student picks up her green highlighter or green pen and highlights or underlines the sentence correctly:

When Lily recognizes that Mary “[. . .] was a mix of might and humble all in one” (70), Lily begins to see the power in herself.  I smile and say, "That's exactly right, and you know what? It is better! You are ready to weave. You have intention. You know what you are doing and how to manipulate the fundamentals to create voice and style and purpose. Go forth and conquer!"

Other Ideas:

  1. In a one-to-one conference, ask the student to combine her CD sentence with one of her CM sentences into one sentence. When she asks, "Do I need another CM," you respond with "Yes, get it from your leftover WOW page."
  2. Then, after she proves she can do #1, have her combine thoughts and sentences  as she "moves and improves" from her t-chart to a second draft and then a final draft.  The shaping sheet might be removed at this point, but do not remove the requirements you have set forth for revising and editing (my 15 rules, right?). These are decisions for you as her writing coach to make. You know her strengths and weaknesses. Guide her accordingly. 
  3. She will write all of her weaving papers in black ink for all drafts (first draft and final), but sometimes I'll have these kids highlight or underline in color the words and phrases in order to make sure they still adhere to the mode's ratio and to make sure they do not return to bad habits.
  4. In any order, teach these possibilities:
  1. Add 1 or more CM words to the CD sentence (sentence #2) wherever they fit best (beginning, middle, end -- all OK).
  2. Do a weaving one-chunk paragraph with 4 to 6 sentences.
  3. Flip the chunk (CD-CM-CM) so it is CM-CD-CM.
  4. Weave back and forth and back and forth.
  • To periodically check that they know what they are doing, have students underline or highlight in color after they write it in black (for a grade).

(Note: The Secret Life of Bees unit is in our featured guide this week: Biblical Allusions: Christian Scriptures.)

Keep writing and reading!

Dr. Louis

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