How do you teach weaving?

Dear Dr. D',

How do you teach weaving?

That’s a great question and a very difficult one for me to answer because kids seem to cognitively develop into weaving.  Some do it naturally at an early age; others struggle with it even in high school.  The best answer is practice, but let me be a little more specific.  When I first took the workshop, Jane was teaching her program with AP style analysis, and she taught me how to teach students to embed quotations.  That was my first introduction to weaving. 

When you teach the middle school kids the difference between a concrete detail and a commentary sentence, they typically write simple sentences at first.  The best way to teach weaving, after a student understands the required ratio, is to ask him/her to combine a CD with a CM into one sentence.  This works for the high school students as well.  Also, teaching lead-ins seems to help their mind grasp the concept of combining thoughts. Another way I like to work with weaving is to have the high school students take their colored pens while I work with mine under the document camera, and while reading a great essay by someone like Lapham or Mencken or Emerson, we underline CD’s and CM’s.  They realize how and why the best writers weave.  This would also work well with middle school students, selecting essayists whose writing is accessible to the middle school cognitive levels. 

The most important point about weaving, however, is that I would never walk into my classroom and say, “Today, I’m going to teach you how to weave.” Doing so for a kid who is not ready will take you and your student right back to square one.  This is an individual, one-on-one decision.  The best way to tell if a student is ready for weaving is when you are row-running, and you spot a cm in what is supposed to be cd only. Say to the student, “I see a CM word in your CD. Can you point it out?”

If the student says, “Ahh, Dr. Louis, here it is (points to it); I just wanted to make the sentence better.”  That student is ready to weave.

If the student cannot point it out, then you point it out and explain why it is commentary. S/he’s not quite ready.

Here are four examples of weaving: 

  1. from Priscilla and the WimpsWhen one of the Kobras grabs Melvin by the neck, Priscilla breaks the Kobra’s hold with an “enormous” chop to his arm, displaying her physical strength but, more importantly, the mental and emotional strength one must muster to defy bullies.
  2. Non-fiction current events summer 2008:  When U.S. Olympian Michael Phelps won the gold medal in the 100-meter butterfly, everyone watching in the stands, on their television sets, and even Michael himself in the pool, were taken totally by surprise.  We all wondered if he really won.  His win was confirmed, however, when “official timekeeper Omega released a digital photo sequence of the race” (Dampf par. 1), allowing us all to breathe a sigh of relief and to celebrate again the victory by the “flying fish.”
  3. from The Scarlet IbisAfter he abandons Doodle in the rain out of “childish spite” and returns to find his brother dying, Doodle’s brother reveals his guilt and culpability for Doodle’s death in this memoir of confession.  In this sense, both Doodle and his brother symbolize the Ibis:  Doodle, as the fallen and innocent creature of nature; his brother, as the Egyptian god, Thoth, with the head of an Ibis: the scribe of the gods and of moral conceptions, the author of funeral works by which the decease gains everlasting life, and the keeper of the records.
  4. from Narrative:  In Frederick Douglass’s Narrative, the former slave recalls how he felt to find himself in a “free State,” demonstrating an example of a homonymic pun and setting up the ensuing paradoxes of his feelings about living in a free state while his state of mind remained chained.