Things I Know 311 of 365: Schools need question portfolios

Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question.

– e.e. cummings

I stood in the snack food aisle today, in awe of what we can do to a potato. Beyond ridges or smooth, the modern potato chip can look like pretty much anything we want it to look like and taste like pretty much anything we want it to taste like.

Humankind has mastered the potato.

Take that, blight!

After the awe, I started to wonder. How do we do it? How do we make this batch of potato chips taste like dill pickles and that batch taste like prawns? When I buy ketchup-flavored potato chips, is it because they used ketchup or they found the chemicals necessary to make potatoes taste like ketchup? I had to start looking for the dishwashing liquid because the potato chips were too interesting.

On the drive home, I started thinking about potato chips and how we keep track of students’ learning.

Portfolio assessment has been around for a while and more resources have been devoted to its use and misuse than I care to plumb. What if we’re doing it wrong?

What if, instead of or in addition to student work, we were to keep a portfolio of the questions students asked?

Imagine a question portfolio that followed students throughout their time in school that reminded them and their teachers of the questions with which they’d wrestled as they learned. What would it look like if, attached to each question, was the latest iteration or the lineage of answers the student had crafted for that question?

What difference would it mean to create a culture of learning where parents were encouraged to ask their children, “What questions did you ask today in school?”

I have a suspicion that in valuing questions, we’d have no other choice but to make school into places where students had the space to answer the questions they thought most intriguing. It also seems likely to me that a student who has been taught the value of a good question and been given the support, resources, and space to seek answers will have no trouble learning anything that’s necessary throughout her life.

We do a decent job of telling kids there are no stupid questions, but a horrible job at showing them that the act of questioning isn’t stupid.

Once I got home, I remembered I’d read a passage about the science of potato chips in David Bodanis’s The Secret House. I found it on my shelf and started searching for answers to my grocery store questions.

What questions did you ask today?

One thought on “Things I Know 311 of 365: Schools need question portfolios

  1. “What difference would it mean to create a culture of learning where parents were encouraged to ask their children, 'What questions did you ask today in school?' We do a decent job of telling kids there are no stupid questions, but a horrible job at showing them that the act of questioning isn’t stupid.”Yes – YES!  World = rocked!

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