Saturday, February 6, 2010

What Questions Did You Ask Today?


Several years ago a perspective parent called me before school began to see if I was available to talk about our school and the upcoming school year. It was during one of the cherished workdays we get after all of the big meetings and before the students come. I was setting up the classroom, arranging books on the shelves, writing letters to kids, writing curriculum. It was a busy time. But David, my new second grader, was coming from another school and his father wanted to know if we were right for his son. I instantly agreed for him to come in. It was important for me to get to know him as well.

When he got there I was writing letters to my new students. I had saved his because I wanted to put in there how I had met his father. Usually when I meet new parents, it is light, surface level…





David’s dad asked me really important questions. We exchanged backgrounds first. He had two Ph. D.s in the sciences and obviously had an IQ twice mine.

He wanted to know how I teach reading, what emphasis I place on writing, what about children who were advanced? How do I continuously challenge them?

He asked questions that made me think deeply about what I believe. I never felt like I had to convince him that CFI was right for David. But he was asking me to let him in on my philosophy, how I plan, how I make sure each child’s needs are met. He was asking me the kinds of questions every parent deserves to know the answers to. I never felt defensive. But I did feel clearer about my teaching right then. I passed the audition because as he left, about 90 minutes later, he shook my hand warmly and said that we would see David on Monday morning.

I don’t think I ever felt so anxious to meet a new student. In a good way. David’s dad was brilliant and insightful. He asked “deep end” questions and was an engaging conversationalist. David was too.

One late afternoon my students and I were chatting before the end of the day about what parents say when they first see you after school. At the time I got the kids to remind each other about the significant events of the day so they would be prepared for the inevitable question, “What did you learn in school today?” David said that when he saw his father at the end of the day the prompt was, “What questions did you ask today?”

How simple. How brilliant. How elegant.

That was one of those “Ah Ha!” moments for me as a teacher and as a dad. Over the next few days my class and I wrote a song entitled “What Questions Did You Ask Today?”

In our room we have four public journals for kids to write in: Science, Mathematics, Language and Culture. The journals are placeholders for questions, observations and insights about our world. They are conversation starters. Anyone who writes in a public journal gets to share the entry at our next class meeting. They run the intellectual spectrum from, “Why does an apple have a core?” [from when we were studying plants] to “Why are there hungry orphans in the world when we seem to have SO much in our country?” My mom lived in Mexico and our service-learning project that year was to buy chicks, a chicken coop and chicken feed to help support those children.

We sifted through our class journals and came up with the lyrics of this song.

What Questions Did You Ask Today?

Why do leaves have twigs and veins?

Why when we fall do we feel pain?

I want to know why the sun goes down

Why is our weight measured in pounds?

Why do gerbils so constantly chew?

Why are there animals in the zoo?


What questions did you ask today?

To see the world in a different way?

Take an adventure through your mind

Who knows what surprises you might find?

Why do people fight and kill?

Why are there hungry orphans still?

How does the moon stay up in the sky?

How does a butterfly know how to fly?

Why are some rich and some so poor?

Why does an apple have a core?


How does a cheetah run so fast?

Where does the time go when it’s passed?

Why do birds have wings to fly?

Why is it hard to say goodbye?

How can some fish live so deep in the sea?

Why are some people slaves and some people free?


Why do some people live to be old?

Why in the winter time is it so cold?

What makes the daytime sky so blue?

How do you find a love that’s true?

Why is writing sometimes bold?

What is something more precious than gold?


Why ask so many questions?

Why do you want to find out?

To unlock the mysteries of this world

To know what life’s about – what life’s about



Chris Hass said...

Of all the songs your group enjoys singing, this is one of my two favorites - the other being the Ruby Bridges song. Our latest song is kind of dying a slow death because I haven't generated enough excitement around it. Largely, it's my own excitement that is lacking - the kids are always eager to write!

I have to say that David's father asking him "What questions did you ask today?" made me both excited about a new possibility yet disappointed I hadn't ever thought to ask it myself. What a great message!

I've been away from reading blogs the past ten days or so. I'm eager to catch up on what I missed.

Brent and Kristen said...

Just had a conversation with a parent today who said they wanted their child to be more descriptive when answering the question "What did you do in school today?" Amazingly enough I talked to her about how the question was framed and perhaps asking the same old question leads to the same old answer. David's father's question has stayed with me also and I try to relay the message to parents that kids think so deeply, and they rise to the expectations presented to them. Also a great reminder of how great it is to as those thoughtful questions.

Gloria (The Mamafamilias) said...

What a simple yet profound question to ask. Thank you so much for sharing that. Now I know what to ask my grandchildren when they start school. However, right now, asking questions doesn't seem to be a problem with the oldest one! Everything begins with " 'Cause why................" when she has something to ask me. Hopefully, the thirst for knowledge will stay with her.

Kelly said...

that's so awesome that you write songs with your class! that father sounds like the type of parent every teacher dreams of having for the children in their classes. that question does seem one of the most important to ask, but yet, i've never really thought to ask it myself, so this was a really great post (as usual) to read! it seems as though, when you look at history and read about the great lives of men and women who shaped it, curiosity was one of the most important factors in their personalities. sounds like the little ones coming out of your classes have a great shot at joining the ranks of the movers and shakers of future history. (if that makes any sense.) anyway, great post as usual!