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Student Questions: Moving on Up!

June 11, 2013

Teacher Musings:

The idea of asking good questions has recently permeated my life from a variety of angles.  I have a three-year old, who questions everything, especially the concept of bedtime.  Last month I reviewed grad school materials which reminded me that taking time to craft the deep and thought-provoking questions has led to several transformative experiences in my life.  Crafting (and revising) good questions is a rigorous exercise which is often harder than seeking the answers.  Most recently, I was reading this blog post, which illuminated the questions that seem to be driving the corporate education reform movement, and pushed the reader to ask some different ones.  It was this blog post that made me start thinking about how to make student questions a cornerstone of my classroom instead of a side activity.

I’ve always believed in the power of questions, and the importance of students asking questions, but I have never built a curriculum around student questions.  That is what I want to do this year.  I want to move beyond simply getting excited when a student bravely raises their hand and asks a question during a lecture.  I want to move beyond answer student questions one-on-one during workshop time.  Even though asking questions while reading is a skill I will continue to teach, I want that to be just one of the ways questioning manifests itself in my classroom. I want to have a curriculum built on student questions.

My thoughts are still a bit vague at this point, and my co-teacher and I will have to meet a few times to really cement our curriculum for next year before anything concrete is finalized.  But one thought I have right now is about organizing the year around thematic units, possibly with very broad themes like “Power” or “Fate.”  Then, for each unit, students would take time to develop a question about the theme.  However, unlike research units I’ve done in the past, students would not come up with a question on the first day or two, and then try and answer it for the rest of the unit.  Instead, the bulk of the unit would be spent with students developing a question.  They would read fiction and non-fiction, discuss these texts, write about what they are reading, reflect on what their readings and experiences teach them about the theme in question, etc.  Through all this time students would constantly asking, and answering, questions, but also be searching for the deep, personal, right question that rings true to them.  The question they want to seek to answer about power (or fate, etc.) in their own lives.  Then, in the last week or so, they would create a piece of writing, multimedia, etc. that shares their question and their current response to it, and explain how both their question and their response have been informed by what they have read, discussed and written.  Now this whole set-up is just one idea.  I’m sure I’ll come up with a different, and better, one when working with my amazing teacher team.  But, no matter what, I want to move student questions out of the sidelines and into the forefront of my classroom.

It feels like, more and more, education seems to be about selecting the right answer, not thinking about a good question.  Some of this is the result of extreme high stakes testing, which is mostly multiple choice, and always has some kind of right answer.  Some of this is about the infusion of more and more computer generated “data” that is supposed to show us which learning targets are being missed, all with the goal of getting us to the “right” instructional answer to get students to hit that learning target.  I’ve been sucked up in this too, especially as a 10th grade ELA teacher whose students take the high school exit exam in my state.  I’ve tried to be creative about my instruction, my curriculum development, my contact with families and community.  But much of this work has mostly been about meeting learning objectives, especially those emphasized on the test.  Now, I’m actually pretty excited by the Common Core objectives that are coming into schools full force today.  For one thing, they emphasize reading and writing across all content areas, something I’ve championed for years.  They also promote questioning and critical thinking (at least in the standards.  We’ll see about the assessments).  But as I watch these new standards travel down the educational pipe, complete with consultants, development workshops, and the crazy high-stakes tests, I’m realizing that I need to re-think some of my own questions.  In this time of transition I don’t really want to ask “How can I get my students to achieve proficiency of the Common Core Standards.”  I think I want to ask “What makes reading and writing exciting to every day people?  How can I give students opportunities to do this?”  Or maybe I want to ask “Why should students care about what they read and write in school?  Why should they care beyond the grade, or getting into college?”  As you can see, I’m still forming my question.  When I get to the right one, I think I’ll be onto something.  Maybe I’ll even do a presentation on it.

Yummy Stuff:

I love Indian food.  My husband and I have lived several different places, but no matter where we are, we make sure one of the first things we find is a good take-out Indian food place.  While I love some chana masala, or dal as much as the next person, my first love is the sides.  Samosa, pakora, roti and naan.  Now, most naan is made with yogurt and butter, which makes it decidedly not vegan.  But it’s an easy substitute to make it with some non-dairy butter and yogurt.  Throw in a pizza stone and you can recreate at delicious naan right at home!  I’ve adapted this recipe to make it extra easy by substituting the yogurt for some non-dairy milk and lemon juice (since we usually don’t have plain non-dairy yogurt on hand).  It may not be quite as tangy, but it is still puffy, toasty and delicious with some yellow split peas or chana masala!

Vegan Naan (makes 6 Naan)

Ingredients:
2 1/2 TB non-dairy milk (I use soy)1/2 TB lemon juice2 cups of All Purpose flour (plus more for rolling)
3/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of baking soda
2 tablespoons of canola oil
1/2-3/4 cup  water
1 TB non-dairy butter, melted

Directions:
  1. Mix the non-dairy milk and lemon juice in a small bowl.  Let it sit and curdle for a few minutes while you get the other ingredients out.
  2. In a medium bowl mix the flour, yeast, salt, sugar and baking soda together
  3. Add the oil and milk/lemon juice mix to the flour and mix until it is a crumbly dough.
  4. Add the water, starting with 1/2 cup, and stir until it makes a soft dough.  You may need to add a bit more water, up to an additional 1/4 cup.
  5. Knead on a floured surface until the dough is smooth. Cover the dough and keep in a warm place for 3-4 hours. The dough should almost be double in volume.

Risen and ready for rolling!
Risen and ready for rolling!

  6.  Put the pizza stone in the second-to-top rack of the oven and heat the oven to 500 degrees (or 550 if it will go that high).  Make sure the pizza stone is in the oven for at least 30 minutes to ensure that it gets fully heated. 
  7. While the oven is pre-heating, knead the dough for about 2-3 minutes.  Then, divide the dough into 6 equal pieces.  On a floured surface roll each piece into a ball and then roll each into a 8-inch oval shape. 

Balls of dough
Balls of dough
That oval shape
That oval shape

8. Next turn the oven to high broil.  You will try cooking the naan on high at first.  If it burns too quickly, you might need to turn your broil setting to low (it’s different for different ovens)
9. Before putting the Naan in oven, lightly wet your hands and take the rolled Naan, and flip them between your palms.  Then place onto your baking/pizza stone into the oven.  The naan should take about 2-3 minutes to cook.  Keep an eye on it – the top should bubble and get golden brown.
10. Take naan out of the oven and brush lightly with melted butter.  Let the pizza stone heat up again in the oven for 2-3 minutes between batches.

Mmmmm . . . warm naan!
Mmmmm . . . warm naan!
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2 Comments
  1. I have been off of my reader for a while (before Google shut me off and then after because I didn’t get around to finding a new reader). However, as I get back into the swing of things, Yours is one of the first blogs to add back in. Hope you keep going.

  2. Thanks so much Dan! I feel you – it took me a while to find something to replace Google reader. Your encouragement means the world to me! I’ve been off this blog for a bit while I was daily blogging at veganma.wordpress.com while on extended maternity leave. However I’m getting ready to get back into the classroom in fall, so be prepared for more posts 🙂

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