Jamie Oliver’s teaching lesson

[This is a guest post by MLC lecturer Nicholas Crouch]

So it has to be said that I do like what Jamie Oliver does. I have always liked watching his shows and some of the messages that he aims to get across to the community are ones that I believe in. However when it comes to following his recipes and repeating what he does on television, well I figured it was like any other cooking show: the steps are there, but it required being a competent cook to begin with before you would get anything edible from doing what he said to do.

With this in mind when I saw his show on how to make pasta, I was keen to give it a try as I have always loved the idea of making my own pasta. In fact I <em>had</em> given it a shot in the past. My pasta took a very long time and really turned out rather ordinary (and for 3 hours of cooking there was about 5 mins of eating).

This time, however I listened carefully to what Jamie told me, created myself a mental list and believed that he was not going to lead me astray (and when I listened carefully, he did say pretty much don’t bother trying unless you have a pasta machine, which might be a lot of the problem with my first attempt). I followed his instructions and in very little time at all I had beautiful pasta which those who tried it all commented on in a very positive way. So why was this attempt so much more successful than the first?

Well in thinking about that question I felt there could be some lessons that all who aim to pass on their knowledge could learn from. Jamie’s shows could be considered like a lecture, where he can talk about a topic, but there is no opportunity to give feedback on what the student has done. What did he do that was worthy of note?

Firstly he was clear about what exactly to do. Most cooking shows are, but often get distracted by other less important details. He told me just what to do.

Next he sign-posted. “If this is the situation you find yourself in at this point, this is your problem, and this is the solution.” Or “Do this until these conditions are met”. For example, I think he mentioned that if your pasta is too dry you can add more water to make it softer (but not too much). However, do not over complicate it with all possible cases, just the important ones. He also gave some explanation as to why we would do something in that way.

Lastly he inspired me to believe that I could do exactly what he had done and achieve a similar result.

So what are the lessons about teaching?
Firstly, be clear, don’t overcomplicate something. You probably know a lot more than is required about your topic. It can be very difficult to cast your mind back to a time when you didn’t know that topic extremely well. However this is what you need to do to distil the essences of what you are trying to teach.

Secondly, signpost (OK I should know the proper pedagogical term for this but I don’t). By this I mean, talk about the reasons for making the decisions that you have, not just the steps that need to be taken! For a lot of what I do, this comes down to trying to state the connections between what is being asked and what I am doing. Even to the point of listing my options and then saying why I would chose this option.

As for inspiration, well that can be hard to give people advice on. I personally sound excited when talking about certain topics, and it is infectious. Other things that work are giving your topic some historical significance, or talk about how it is used.

The last part is keeping the goal in mind. In Jamie’s case, we want to eat what we are working on. In the case of teaching we want the student to have a greater understanding. So look back at what you have done. (I know about this term — the cognitive closure) But this also can be a time where we talk to students about how they could re-order the concepts for themselves so that they don’t just have the linear connections in their head. The way the material has been presented to them, we want them to do more than that with it. So perhaps connect the dots for them, even mind map it for them if you have to!

So next time you are in front of a class, sound excited and have pasta!

If you are the student in the class, create your mental list and have confidence in your instructions!

Thanks for your time

Nicholas Crouch

This entry was posted in Being a good teacher and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.