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Restaurant Profile Writing as PBL, by Max Hanson

Guest post by Max Hanson, Middle School Dean of Operations and Student Life, Grades 7 and 8, Mount Vernon Presbyterian School. Posted from an email originally sent to parents of students in Mr. Hanson’s 8th grade English Language Arts course.

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Dear Parents,

Last Fall, my 9 year-old daughter was studying Greek Architecture at school and brought home an assigned project calling for her to recreate a smaller-scale version of the Supreme Court building in Washington D.C. By the end of the project, my parents, who put forth quite a bit of labor, and I noted that my daughter’s project was quite taxing on the adults both in terms of time and the messy clay. I vowed never to assign a project requiring such parental involvement.

I write to you today dripping in hypocrisy.

We have embarked on our final assignment of the first semester, and when we return from break, we will welcome the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Food and Dining Editor, Ligaya Figueras, to our classroom. Our final assignment calls for each student to write a full restaurant profile. The assignment prompt is attached. After having completed a mini-profile of Chick-Fil-A as practice and having studied several of Ms. Figuera’s stories, the students are primed for her arrival and the inevitable writing of their stories. Ms. Figueras will share her background and talk about making a career out of writing, but then she will help prepare our students for their writing. She will discuss restaurant observation, food evaluation, descriptive writing and more. I’m very excited about the prospects of an industry expert coaching the students.

Here’s where my request for support comes into play. We could take a field trip to a restaurant and execute this process as a class, but I’d like for each student to tackle this on an individual basis and make this project his or her own. My hope is that over the course of the next two and a half weeks (November 16 – December 3) your family could turn one of your dining out experiences (breakfast, lunch or dinner) into this restaurant profile information gathering experience for your son or daughter.

The process, which I explained in class to the students and will continue to discuss and develop, looks like this…

  1. The students and parent(s) discuss potential restaurants and potential dates for a visit. Hopefully, a place and time works. Please note that the restaurant does not have to be fancy or popular. One of Ms. Figueras’s profiles was of a take-out only joint in a run-down strip mall. Any restaurant your family enjoys or wants to try is fine!
  2. The student reaches out by phone to the restaurant to make a connection with the owner, manager or chef. The student explains the project and schedules a time around the family’s visit to interview the owner, chef or manager. Please note that while a face to face interview is ideal and a great experience for the student, if the family’s visit is at a peak time, the restaurant representative may not be able to conduct the interview. The student can schedule a phone interview in that case. I have discussed with the students the importance of coming to that interview with prepared questions.
  3. The family and student visit the restaurant for the interview and dining experience. The student takes detailed notes (they have a packet) from the interview and from the dining experience. Observations will include: food, atmosphere, the menu, the architecture, the decor, etc. We’ve been studying all of these things!
  4. The student will bring the notes from this experience back to class to write the profile. I am hopeful that we can compile all 20 our our profiles into a “Restaurant Dining Guide.”

This experience is intended to promote student growth through the interview, the observation and, ultimately, the writing. That said, I also hope this is an experience that will be something fun for you and your son or daughter to do together. I do not want this to be stressful for you or your children. With memories of my clay-hardened hands, I say to you… if it’s stressful, don’t do it. The alternative would be having a student think of a restaurant he or she has been to often, making notes about those experiences, and then setting up a phone interview with an owner, manager or chef there. We can definitely make that work.

Please allow me to thank you, in advance, for any time and money that you invest in this experience. Of course, I am happy to entertain any questions you have.

I wish you the happiest of Thanksgivings,

Max

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