Cooking as an educational metaphor

I’m an art teacher, but I think this educational metaphor works pretty well across all subject areas, certainly within secondary education where I work, although I’m guessing also in higher education.

frozen pizza

Firstly, there are the ‘frozen pizza eaters’, they do anything and everything for convenience. The frozen pizza is a meal of sorts, it fits on a plate, it has appropriate shapes and colours, some pupils would say that it fits the requirements. But from my perspective it’s two dimensional and kind of always tastes the same. And these are just the sorts of school assignments that these pupils hand in, it looks like a report, it has the right superficial appearance, but it lacks depth. It is in all regards the easy route and one that as a teacher I want to get beyond.

Then there is a second group, those who rely on the book, the recipe book. They follow it with enormous care. Measuring carefully, working through the step by step instructions and often in the end they have a beautiful produced result/meal, or in the educational scenario, a piece of work. However, there is an important detail that they forget, they never taste their cooking as they go along.

A third group follow exactly the same route as the second, however, they do taste the cooking, make adjustments and add seasoning as required. It’s a small but oh so important detail, for this makes it a reflective process, they are remaining critical throughout the process, alert to what they are doing, aware that fine tuning Is important and that they have an important part to play themselves. In terms of education processes self-reflection and critical evaluation are vital, as is reacting to these sorts of observation.  This is how an assignment can be made their own, and operate as part of an engaged process of learning.

cookerybook

There is a fourth group too. Perhaps not the easiest group for the teacher, but ultimately the most exciting. They are the ones who take a look at the recipe book, read the instructions, close the book and go and go and look what they have in the cupboard. They are the risk takers; they are the creative spirits. They can produce truly surprising, unexpected delights, they can also fail dreadfully. In culinary terms they are the ones who ultimately leave the instructions of the recipe books behind. They are interested in flavours and ingredients and what they can do with them. They too, like the third group, are engaged with the process. They have truly made it their own.

A class full of the creative radicals that are the fourth group would be an extreme and exciting place to teach. But these pupils are very much the exception to the rule. Although the third group does seem to be quite different to the last, maybe it is actually not a bad second choice to hope for. Engaged and critical are characteristics in our students that need to be nurtured and encouraged.

In an educational system dominated by testing, there would seem to be an inherent risk of an over-reliance on the book and simple reproduction skills are perhaps too heavily rewarded. Reproduction is perhaps a first step, but it’s insight and understanding that are the crucial steps further.  In my kitchen metaphor it is important that pupils and students are given the encouragement to taste their own products and the confidence to make the necessary adjustments. Such a critical edge is an important stage towards the creative attitudes that we need to be developing across the board in education to fit into our modern and ever changing world.

 

Fishing from the same pond

Children need a school to go to and a school needs the children just as much. Ideally a school would like exactly the same number of pupils each year and for them all to have the potential to be top class learners. Anyone who works in education knows that the reality is often somewhat different, constantly fluctuating pupil numbers and a huge range of academic abilities.

books_1The school where I work is in direct competition with a neighbouring school and is also effected by the catchment areas of a number of other schools just a little bit further away. There is of course a limited number of potential clients though, we are all fishing from the same pond of children, it is just a question of how they are going to be divided up. As a result of this situation there is quite an intense rivalry and a determination to show just how exceptional your own educational institution is. It’s educational market economics at its best, or at its worst, depending on your point of view. For me there is a lingering thought that education money is being wasted in educationland during this internal competition, but with the income of a school being largely dependent on the number of pupils it attracts is there any other alternative?

It is of course also a little bit of a double edged sword though, because no school would literally want all the children, that would present a whole range of potential problems, even if they could find the space to put them! But that said, the PR circus is in full swing and we have to but our best foot forward and create a good impression to potential new pupils and their parents.

It helps of course if you have something distinctive to offer and offering bilingual education is in our case just that. We are one of about 150 Dutch Secondary schools that offer around seventy percent of the timetabled lessons in English. My role for the evening is to give a number of demonstration lessons to interested twelve year olds and their parents, giving insight into how teaching in a second language (for the pupils that is) actually works. I, like other colleagues will be giving the lessons, but if we’re honest, we’re not the stars, we’re not even the most persuasive element. The real winning element are the children who just one year earlier sat in the room being persuaded themselves. By letting them participate in the demonstration lessons and allowing parents and children hear just how much language acquisition can be achieved in just six months and you have an extremely persuasive formula.

I have an over optimistic view of time – until I discover how long things take to do

I have a very positive, some might say over optimistic, view of time. This is particularly true of making things myself or getting others to be creative in my role as a teacher.  I always underestimate the time it takes to do practical tasks. Generally I’m really pretty good with my hands, I do work fast, in the kitchen, when painting the stairs or making a drawing. But if I’m pushed to pin down how long a given task is going to take I almost always under estimate.

This is also true when planning practical art assignments for the various groups I teach.  The initial idea might have been for say six one hour long sessions. We get that far and the task simply doesn’t look finished to me. Do we stop and move on, well no, almost never. One of the most important lessons I learnt from one of my lecturers at art school was simply that too many good ideas weren’t ever pushed to a conclusion they deserve. So with this in mind the project invariably gets extended. One of the advantages you might say of the art teacher, time has a more elastic quality in my planning, but so does the curriculum.

double portraits

The pupil work shown here is a good example of work time extensions being necessary. Yes it was a fairly complex assignment for my third years (14-15 year olds). Yes I like to push them hard and to build up an image of complexity and yes collage is a working method that kind of invites dithering and hesitation at times. But still I imagine each time that they can do the work in half the time it actually takes!

School Cultural Newsletter December 2014

It is the start of a new month and time again to send out a cultural newsletter to my pupils and colleagues at school in the aim of keeping the cultural profile and interest levels as high as possible.  Sharing it with the online world is of course good also to do.

cult.nes.dec 2014

To read the full version click on the link below:

dec 2014(blog vers.)

If anyone is interested in making use of the idea in their own educational environment I would be only too happy to share my material and format with them, don’t hesitate to get in touch if you would like to.