Recipe or Creative Cooking?

by Jean Tower

Remember those standardized test questions of the type – A is to B as C is to blank, and the test taker has to select the missing element? They tend to be written like this –



Well here’s one to think about:




Here’s why I think this analogy is true.

I sometimes have the opportunity to observe an expert teacher in action, and then to talk to them about how they plan and carry out a lesson. From these interactions, I am impressed with all that expert teachers consider and balance in their work. The process includes as almost constant stream of micro-decisions as they juggle many balls.

I liken the differences between a novice teacher and an expert one to a beginning cook versus an expert one, with many years of experience.

The process of planning and cooking dinner for a beginning cook could be characterized as finding a recipe, buying the exact ingredients, and then following that recipe exactly. An expert cook’s process is not so linear. They look at ingredients – what’s ripe, what’s fresh, what’s in season, what’s on sale. They contemplate who will be dining and their preferences and tastes, and they keep in mind recipes and dishes they have created before. They balance such considerations as the time they have and the cooking process they feel they might want to use – do they feel like grilling or roasting or braising? They juggle all of these elements at the same time and make multiple decisions throughout the planning and cooking process. An expert cook seldom follows a recipe faithfully – they rely on past experience, personal preference, and knowledge of spices and herbs, and they adjust. The result is a unique and individualized product that reflects the cook, diners, ingredients, preferences, season, and more.

So it is with great teachers – their teaching reflects their style, knowledge, experience, the students, the curriculum, local and state assessments, short and long-term learning goals, and tools and resources  available. They teach while keeping in mind the abilities of students and with an eye toward future lessons and goals.

I contend that a cook cannot be considered an expert if they are missing some critical component or skill – if they can grill but not braise, for example, or they are comfortable with an oven but not a stove, or they can cook steak but not fish. With teachers, true expertise also includes mastery over many areas of knowledge, tools, and domains. In this century, a teacher who is not adept at using technology for teaching and learning is not a totally expert teacher. They may have many skills and talents and a font of knowledge, but if they cannot effectively weave technology into the process, then they are missing a key element. A teacher who is “missing” technology, is comparable to a cook who is “missing” knives – technology is a critical tool in effective teaching.


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