Inventing super heroes and writing about their adventures

Meet Cassandra Lawrence

All teachers want their students to achieve excellence in school and in life and, in this quest, they often achieve excellence themselves.

How about achieving super-hero status? That is exactly what Cassandra Lawrence (also known as "Book Woman") and her fourth grade class did! This yearlong exercise kicked off with Book Woman walking into the classroom — complete with a long black cape lined with book covers — and ready to use her super powers: Anytime she saw a bored or lonely child she would toss him/her a book that would become that child's new friend.

The next step was to create a class-full of super heroes, each with his/her own name, super powers, and motto. Some students began describing their super-heroes in their native Spanish, but by the end of the year all students had written many English-language stories about their super-heroes, had participated in super-hero collaborations, and had read each other's stories. For Cassandra, many of these super-heroes are unforgettable:

  • Spaghetti Boy: Shoots spaghetti from one arm & meatballs from another (much like Spider Man shoots webs), catching criminals and feeding the hungry.
  • Crayon Girl: Upon opening her crayon-lined cape, she brings color and brightness to gray, drab, or boring places.
  • Flower Girl: Her seeds create beautiful flowers, trees, and gardens, thereby fixing the problem of a lack of green spaces in her community.
  • Chica Chocolate: If you are sad or down, she will give you a piece of chocolate "para endulzar la vida" (to sweeten life).
  • Super Jóven: Holds the incredible power of giving youth back to the "viejitos" (elders — probably reflecting a wish to give vitality to the grandparents he lived with).

The super-hero stories are also unforgettable to the students themselves, as evidenced by an e-mail Ms. Lawrence recently received from Super Jóven, now in sixth grade. He wrote: "Miss, can you imagine what our superheroes could have done to save the people from the hurricane."

This fun exercise was not the only thing that stuck to these children's minds. Throughout the year, they slowly developed increasingly complex writing skills, and learned to enjoy reading as they looked for ways their super heroes could interact and collaborate with each other - an exercise fascinating to watch. "It's truly exciting to teach them to become readers and writers. The students see it is not so hard to do, especially if you make it fun. I love teaching!" says Cassandra.

Cassandra Lawrence, born and raised in New Brunswick, NJ, was an ESL teacher in a transitional program in the Perth Amboy School District for fourteen years. She spent the first seven years of her career teaching students in the first of three levels; these are students with little or no knowledge of English, and their classes are conducted in Spanish. She spent the next seven years teaching students at level two, a transitional program where they start the school year with Spanish-language classes and end with English, in order to go onto the third level, which is all English-language with supporting bilingual teachers. Currently, she serves as a Bilingual Resource Specialist, testing and assessing ESL students in her district. This year, she and one other teacher are responsible for the around 900 preK-4 bilingual/ESL students in her district.

While she misses the classroom, she continues to influence the children she interacts with and can always come up with a story about them. Last year, she assessed a nine-year-old boy who was a non-reader, had trouble writing his name, and had such low self-esteem that he felt he had to explain to teacher that he was not so bright. "Missy, yo soy bruto," (Teacher, I am dumb) were his words. After a year of differentiated instruction; two excellent, caring teachers; and a small group of classmates, he became a completely new boy. When Cassandra stopped to check on him this year, he excitedly called her over by saying "Mira, mira, mira," (look, look, look). He opened his notebook to show her that he had written, in paragraph form, an explanation of how he had solved a lengthy math problem. Surely, these are the first steps towards achieving success!



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