Sunday, May 17, 2015

Eat and Be Merry

We are not quite at the end of the year yet, but one of my high schoolers returned to his homeland last weekend and so last Thursday was his last day in ESL class. In preparing for his last week, I had planned to make #FoodFriday the topic of our weekly Show & Tell, but when I got word that he would not be in class on Friday, we moved it up.  There was no way that I was going to give up an opportunity to present food, and most importantly eat.  I love to, I live to eat.  I will try anything that's edible and unfortunately have the figure to show for it. 

You may have heard the line "a way to a man's heart is through his stomach".  In reality, it's a way to anyone's heart and certainly works wonders for students.  Eating isn't merely nutritional intake, but it is certainly a profoundly social activity.  Generally speaking, food is shared.  We have family mealtimes, we gather with friends and coworkers for lunch and/or dinner. When a neighbor stops in, we offer them something to eat or drink.  Food is therefore symbolic of friendship and belonging. Likewise, school is extremely social.  In order for students to excel academically, we cannot ignore the social aspect of the school experience and since food brings people together, why limit it to the cafeteria.  Snacks, even candy, serve as a wonderful extrinsic motivator. Sharing a meal as part of a lesson will not only motivate, but it will capture their hearts and minds. Now I'm fully aware of the sanitary reasons why it's better to eat in the cafeteria. Nevertheless, food encourages peer interaction and builds camaraderie, all the while covering essential academic standards.

In a culturally and linguistically diverse class as ESL, food can also serve to unite the students. As we sent our student off, each class member was asked to bring a typical food to share with class. Because it was our weekly Show & Tell activity, learners stood up and presented the item/dish, ingredients, preparation and any other relevant fun facts.  I often make my presentation a day or two prior in order to model what is expected, but for this one, I waited until the day of.  As in other presentations, students were expected to ask questions-and there were quite a few-but they were very eager to eat, so most of the questions came during and after the food consumption.

In sharing our favorite dishes and tasting new ones, we learned much about one another and also ourselves. In learning about the ingredients, spices and preparation, we ventured into the unknown only to discover the familiar in what appears so utterly different.  Tasting foods we ordinarily would have never tasted enabled us to find many common threads. For example, as different as Laotian, Indian and Mexican foods appear, many of their dishes are very spicy and some of the ingredients are the same.

I brought in some delicious guava and cream cheese Cuban pastries which were perfect for an early morning snack.  I don't eat those much anymore and sharing them with my students, brought back childhood memories of grandfather's visits on Sundays with a box of pastries in hand.

This was one of the best days this year and I can't wait to do it again. Lesson learned: the way to a student's heart is through his or her stomach.  So let's eat and be merry!


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