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Planting Seeds

April 1, 2011

Teacher Musings:
As an English teacher, I hear this a lot from my students: “We do the same thing over and over in English! Why do we have to do the same thing over and over again every year?!” The short answer to this emphatic question is that we are doing the “same thing” (reading, analyzing text, writing persuasively, etc.) because every time we do it we try and get a bit better, a bit more sophisticated, a bit more thoughtful. The “task” might look similar to an “assignment” from last year, but the thinking and rigor that is involved should increase and get more complex over time. Learning about literature, and developing reading and writing skills is not like learning to chop an onion (a pretty basic skill). Instead it about learning how to cook, which is something rich and complex that people develop sophistication around, but rarely every “master.”

I don’t yet know how to explain this to students in a way that they get (or at least admit that they get – sometimes I swear they are just being ornery). I’ve been hearing this quite a bit recently in one of my classes where we are writing persuasive letters. As far as they are concerned, they wrote persuasive letters in 8th grade – why the heck do they have to do it again in high school! They say this after they have learned about pathos and logos, the power of anecdotes and the importance of knowing your audience. They say this after hours and hours where I have not only taught but actually seen learning and I want to yell it at the top of my lungs, because I know that what they are writing is NOT what the wrote in 8th grade because it is already so much more sophisticated than what they wrote for me the second week of school.

But when I started to despair today (didn’t they learn anything??? don’t they know they learned something???) I see the comments they made on each other’s letters. I see one student write on another’s paper and say “Great point, but try to add a story.” I see another student (who needed the concept of “specific examples” explained over and over again two months ago) comment “Good examples on what makes school lunch unhealthy.” When I saw these comments, and when I see the thoughtful revisions my students are making to their letters, I realized something. My students are learning, but they don’t always realize it. In some ways I think I’m stealth teaching (which is not always a good thing). We are reading examples of strong writing, we are practicing with small assignments, and the result is that my students, at some level, own this idea of examples and persuasive stories. They don’t think they learned anything because, maybe in their short-term teenage way, they don’t remember not knowing it. I’m not trying to sound like I did it all. These are smart kids who have five other smart teachers in their lives, not even including the fantastic teachers I’m sure they have had in their past. All of those teachers (and yes, I do include myself in this) planted some seeds that lead to students not only develop new writing skills but truly absorb them. And if that is the result of this (apparently) stealth teaching process, maybe I can’t put up with a bit of whining about what they did in 8th grade. Although I sure wish we could compare their two letters!

What do you think? Do you think you have planted seeds that you didn’t necessarily get to see come to fruition as a teacher? Comments always appreciated and welcome!!

Yummy Stuff:
This weekend we had a wonderful birthday party for my son. I think we are also planting seeds for him during this formative year, but those seeds may be centered more around chocolate! The cupcake for him was a yellow cupcake with chocolate frosting from the fantastic cookbook Vegan Cupcakes Take over the World. But the cupcakes that party goers really seemed to like were my almond adaptation of the Hazelnut Cupcake from VCTOTW (since the G-man is allergic to hazelnuts). So, here is my adaptation

Almond Cupcakes with Chocolate Mousse Filling

  • Servings: 12 cupcakes
  • Time: 2hr with cooling time included
  • Difficulty: hard
  • Print

Ingredients for Cupcakes:
1 cup plus 2 TB of all-purpose flour
1/3 cup of almond meal (almonds pulverized in a food processor, and then sifted into the measuring cup works here).
1 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
2/3 cup almond or soy milk
1 TB ground flaxseeds
1/3 cup canola oil
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
2 tsp vanilla

Ingredients for Mousse filling:
6 oz of extra-firm silken tofu
2 TB plain soy milk
1 TB maple syrup
2 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup chocolate chips

Ingredients for Chocolate Ganache
1/4 cup soy milk
6 TB of chocolate chips
2 TB maple syrup

Directions:
Mousse (make this first so it can chill in the fridge):
1. Crumble the tofu in a blender. Add the milk, maple syrup and vanilla. Puree until completely smooth. Set aside.
2. Pour the chocolate chips in a microwave safe bowl. Microwave the bowl on high for 30 seconds. Stir and continue to microwave for 10 seconds and stir until the chocolate chips are all melted.
3. Add the chocolate to the tofu mix and blend until combined. Use a spatula to scrape down the sides of the blender to make sure it gets all combined.
4. Transfer to a sealed container (we use tupperware) and chill for at least one hour before using.

Cupcakes:
1. Line cupcake pan and preheat oven to 350 F. In a small bowl, whisk together milk and ground flaxseed. In a large bowl, sift together flour, almond meal, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and nutmeg.
2. Add the maple syrup, sugar, canola oil and vanilla to the milk mixture and beat well. Add wet ingredients to draw, mixing till mostly smooth. Pour into liners, filling them 2/3 of the way. bake 22-24 minutes till a toothpick inserted through the center comes out clean. Cool completely on racks before filling.

Ganache:
1. Bring soy milk to a gentle boil in a small sauce pan. Immediately remove from heat and add the chocolate and maple syrup. Use a rubber heatproof spatula to mix the chocolate until it is fully melted and smooth. Set aside until it is at room temperature.

Assembly:
1. Fit a pastry bag with a wide piping tip (or use a ziplock bag with a small cut in the corner). Fill the bag with the mousse filling.
2. Use a clean finger to poke holes in the top of each cupcake. Fill each cupcake with as much mousse as you can. Use a knife to remove any excess cream from the tops of the cupcake. Spread the ganache onto cupcakes (two layers – one heaping tsp at a time) and spread it over the top of the cupcake.
3. Put the cupcakes in the fridge for a bit to set the ganache.

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One Comment
  1. >Why is it always the assignments they remember doing "years ago" that they can't seem to do right. Is that just my students? I'm sure you can show them some of their writing from earlier in the year, right? Or maybe next year make them do the same on-demand writing prompt the first and last week of school… Hmmm… maybe I'll do that this year…Thanks for posting that cupcake recipe, they were SO good!And thanks for hanging out Friday!!!

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