The fastest way to cook (and teach) is to improvise. But it takes an expert.

Recipe-Free Teaching

Submitted 2 years ago
Created by
Kristen Downey

It Takes an Expert

I like reading cookbooks. I also like to read introductions and prefaces-- sometimes you miss important context by skipping these. 

I recently acquired "How to Cook Everything Fast" by Mark Bittman. As I read the section called How to Use This Book (don’t laugh), I came across a bit of advice. Bittman wrote,

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The fastest way to cook is to improvise-- or at least be flexible. [...]
Once you become comfortable with the basic framework of a technique
or dish, you can plug in all sorts of ingredients of your choosing, end-
lessly varying the flavors of the dish. (38-39)

This is advice is germane to teachers learning the basics of lesson planning. Experienced teachers are experts; they are flexible chefs and able to “plug in all sorts of ingredients” into their lessons, often without being able to explain the improvisation to a novice. When you understand the essential process of making soup or stir-frying, you are free to improvise and flavor at will. Although the novice cook may be tempted to deviate from the recipe, her improvised soup might very well turn out to be inedible. I speak from culinary experience here.

It should be noted, however: there's much to be learned from the inedible soup. A teacher intern wrote to one of our faculty members: "My lesson was a disaster." Although inedible soup is a bummer, a disaster of a lesson is an opportunity to learn. 

Such is the nature of learning to teach. Until new teachers are very comfortable with the basics of lesson planning, recipe-free teaching might be out of reach. Once the basic frameworks have been mastered, however, new teachers will concoct some tasty dishes on their own. Not every dish will be perfect (the road to mastery is not a straight upward trajectory, but the lessons learned will help to produce an even better dish next time.


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