Slice of Life: Cake, Anyone?

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Last night, I baked a cake for a luncheon we had at school today. I’ve been baking for almost as long as I can remember. When I was growing up we lived next door to my Grandmother, and I spent a lot of time at her house. When she baked pies, she always sprinkled the scraps of dough with cinnamon and sugar, added a few raisins and butter, then rolled them up and baked them. I don’t remember if she had a name for these little treats, but they were delicious.

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Coconut cake with raspberry filling

When my own children were little, we baked all the time. So I was quite surprised when I started teaching and discovered how many of my students had never baked anything. Children’s books are filled with inspiration for heading to the kitchen. So we started baking.

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After reading Daniel Pinkwater’s Irving & Muktuk: Two Bad Bears (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt 2001), the story of two blueberry muffin loving polar bears, we made blueberry muffins.

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We read Deborah Hopkinson’s Fanny in the Kitchen (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2001) and made griddle cakes (pancakes).

ImageThird graders love Patricia Polacco books and Thunder Cake (Philomel, 1990) was one of our favorites. So was the cake!

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When fifth graders were reading Joshua’s Song, by Joan Hiatt Harlow (Simon & Schuster, 2002), a novel that culminates in the historic explosion of a molasses storage tank in Boston in 1919, many had never heard of molasses! Molasses cookies were whipped up in short order.

Cooking and baking with students may seem like a luxury in this time of Common Core Standards and high-stakes testing. But there are actually many benefits for mixing up some literature-related recipes.

  • At Teacher’s College Reading and Writing Project Saturday Reunion last month, Elizabeth Moore shared ways to use class experiments and demonstrations in science as a springboard to writing. (Read more about that session here.) Shared experiences in the kitchen could also be the basis for how-to books and cookbooks.  (Writing Anchor standard 2)
  • In a recent blog post, James Paul Gee reminds readers that “Humans learn through experiences in the world (using their minds, bodies…and interactions with others…)” All sorts of skills are learned through cooking, including reading recipes and doing the math to double or triple ingredient amounts.
  • First hand experience with different foods provides students critical background knowledge they need to successfully meet many of the Common Core reading standards. Knowing what molasses is will make learning it easier to learn about triangle trade in history class.

Cooking with students is nothing new. What is new is the pressure teachers feel to teach earlier, teach faster, teach more. Let’s remember to teach what’s important in meaningful ways. Adding a little spice to our lessons increases the chances our students will actually learn.

Thank you to Stacey and Ruth at Two Writing Teachers for hosting this weekly Slice of Life Challenge!

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5 thoughts on “Slice of Life: Cake, Anyone?

  1. I love this post,Catherine! I completely agree that cooking and baking can teach SO many skills. We had students half a batch of cookies as a fraction assessment a couple of years ago and my daughter had a bake-off as a bday party. Close to Famous is another great book with a lot of baking in it, even some recipes. Thanks!

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  2. So, so, so agree with you. Cooking teaches lots and lots of valuable skills, but it’s also lots and lots of FUN. And somehow, we have forgotten that kids learn best when the learning is FUN! !

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  3. I LOVE this post. You are so right. Children (and adults for that matter) learn through experience. One wise teacher once told me, “Students won’t remember the lesson you taught where they listened and absorbed. They may remember the lesson where you baked a cake together.” Great learning builds memories! Thanks for sharing this post.

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