Facilitator of An Innovative & Dynamic Autistic Support Classroom

My classroom aid and I find ourselves laughing with and often at each other. We agree that in Room 435 behaviors are wildly eccentric and enlightening. While giving our students the tools to navigate society, it is important that we can also preserve each student's intricate personality and autonomy by nurturing their strengths, interest and abilities.

Each day, we are able to enjoy the gifts our extraordinary students present. I'd like to share these gifts, hopefully opening a window in the world of students with autism. It is my goal, to let others see that students with cognitive variations have insight and abilities far beyond what many may imagine. Enjoy.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

The Sandwich Approach

I didn't realize how funny this story was until I was nonchalantly explaining today's lesson to a colleague.  

In an effort to develop writing ability, I decided to emphasize proof reading skills in the classroom.   This year, the task analysis for any writing assignment always ends with:

-Proofread your own work and
-Have a classmate proofread your work

The first time I attempted to implement this, there was an immediate problem.   Loud pronounced comments such as, "This is wrong! You spelled persevere wrong. It's on the board!"  and, “Lam, you forgot to capitalize the first letter of your sentence,"  filled the classroom.  

I stopped all peer proofreading immediately. Though, it was me that made the mistake. I never taught them how to give feedback to each other.

"Let's have a discussion about how we should critique each other’s work."  I explained to the class that a critique was when we give feedback about our work.    "We all work very hard in this classroom and while we would like to know how to make our writings better, we don't just want to hear negative things about our work, right?  We also would like to hear good comments about our writings."  

I introduced the Sandwich Approach by drawing a picture on the board of what was supposed to resemble a sandwich and explained the positive-negative-positive model. Next, to make this abstract concept more concrete, I told my students,  "After you read your classmate's work, start off by saying something positive about what they wrote.  Did they stay in sequence? Did they follow the four, focused-on grammar rules?  Was their paragraph creative, informative, persuasive etc.?  Then, explain the things they need to change in order to make their writing stronger.  Do they forget punctuation marks?  Are there too many thoughts included in one sentence? Finally, finish the critique by again noting something positive about their writing.  

I wanted make sure everyone understood what I was saying while providing an opportunity to practice using this approach through a fun activity.  I started with Vit, who loves to dance.  "Vit, critique my dancing using the Sandwich Approach." And so I danced...like it was nobody's business.  

"Well, Ms. McKeone," my diva-licous Vit began, “you obviously have rhythm.  You could use a little more footwork in your dancing, but I really like your little shimmy."

Excellent. He got it…and he liked my shimmy ;)

Next was Maj. Maj is famous for creating birthday cards that include stick figure portraits to accompany his birthday wishes, which typically include a wish for a large amount of money, a trip to an amusement park and a dinner at the Grand King Buffet.   "Maj, critique my self-portrait using the Sandwich Approach."  I went to the board and drew a stick figure with big curly, frizzy hair, which is how my hair might typically look on the days that I do not tame it with the flat iron. 

"Um, that's a nice picture, Ms. McKeone, it’s a nice picture. But, but your hair, your hair don't look like that today.  You should change the hair because it don't, it don't look like that.   But, it's a nice picture. You did a good job." 

Not as specific, but Maj got the concept and we can always work out the details with practice.

I had the students each come up and perform while students in the 'audience' went on to critique each performance using the Sandwich Approach.   It was Lam's turn to come up and perform.  Lam is a HUGE fan of pop culture. He loves wrestling and all things hip-hop.  Lam will write a dissertation on De La Soul and Africa Bambaataa any day, especially in an effort to avoid what the actual assignment is asking.  As such, Lam is himself, an all-star rapper.  I should mention that Lam is in fact classified as non-verbal.  He does make utterances that can be understood in context and to a trained ear, but not while he is in the midst of free-styling.  

In this instance (while he is rapping), it's probably more appropriate that one can not make out his utterances, because while Lam is a sweetheart and will steal your heart any day of the week, he is in fact,  gang-stah.  Chances are, you may not be able to understand what he is rapping about, but you can be pretty sure he just called you a punk (or worse) and said something about your mamma. 

So Lam gets up and begins his rap.  He went on and on, feeling the flow, throwing his hands up in the hair and finally ending with two fingers to the crowd and what anyone could recognize as a, "PEACE!"  Everyone clapped and I called on Detective D to use the Sandwich Approach to critique Lam's performance.  This would be no easy task for most students, but Detective D is clever and insightful.  He is the type of student who can recognize the social dichotomy of the classroom and turn it into a murder mystery (more on that later). 

"Ok. Detective D. Use the Sandwich Approach to critique Lam's rap performance."

Detective D had a thoughtful face on, but did not hesitate for a moment as he presented his critique. "Well first thing, the lyrics were great."

Yes! In case, you missed it, this is where you laugh. I have fallen out several times since the first time I retold this story, though sometimes others have not been so quick to pick up on the humor and beauty in this moment.   Even for me, it did not initially register while working with the students in the classroom.  Perhaps it was because I was so caught up in the assessment process, making sure that everyone was grasping this concept.  After all, immediately after his initial comment, Detective D went on to say that Lam could have had more eye contact with the audience, but had great body language when using his hands during the performance.  He gave a very appropriate critique, demonstrating his comprehension of the Sandwich Approach.    

However, what Detective D has truly demonstrated was his ability to empathize.  Detective D had assessed this moment prior to his response and in his choice of words, he chose to be supportive and encouraging to his peer.    

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