Wednesday, October 14, 2009


I realized today, in a flash, that I believe in the value of a little “scrambling” now and then in English class. The flash occurred in the middle of a stirring lecture delivered this afternoon to the teachers at my school, during which the speaker (a well-known consultant) mentioned the idea of scrambling. I don’t recall the exact context of the remark, but he was suggesting, I think, that we need to consider scrambling our sometimes rigid approaches to class sizes, age groupings, assignments, and other areas of our work with students. We need to sometimes toss our best and most hallowed ideas into the figurative frying pan, mix them up, and see what comes to pass. For some reason, the idea – certainly not a new or world-shattering one -- turned on a light inside me. I, who have always taught my students the importance of taking an orderly approach to writing assignments, suddenly began to picture what could happen if they occasionally took a rowdy and riotous approach. What if they sporadically wrote an essay by tossing a bunch of disparate ideas into the frying pan and doing a little scrambling? For example, what if I asked them to write an essay about how Chapter 6 in To Kill a Mockingbird relates to, let’s say, a sock, a bird’s nest, and a puffy cloud? Or what if we picked out three random words from the dictionary, and they had to write a paper relating the words to a Shakespeare sonnet? As I thought about it, my scrambling ideas got even more lawless. What if I told the students to write some kind of paper (their choice) about Chapter 6 in Mockingbird? I could give them some very simple rubrics for grading (evidence of deep and inventive thinking would be at the top of the list), but the rest of the assignment would be left to their best scrambling techniques. Soon I found myself picturing me as I'm preparing my occasional scrambled egg breakfast. Yes, it is a rather haphazard, unlegislated process (a few eggs, maybe three or four spices, and let’s see, perhaps some Tabasco and wine vinegar, maybe some smoked cheese, or maybe not), but the end product, as it sits on a flowered plate on my table, is quite wonderful to behold -- and eat. Everything got heedlessly scrambled into a perfectly appetizing delight! Perhaps my students, at least now and then, could do this type of scrambling in their writing – just toss words together, add some spicy ideas, swirl it around, and see what the printer prints out. It might just be as attractive and enticing as my morning eggs – and maybe, in some cases, more appealing than the time-honored, thoroughly arranged, spick-and-span formal essay.

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