Having Your Cake and Eating It Too, Workshop Model Style

Jose Vilson Education

cakeAfter an intense review of the test that my kids bombed, and running around the school trying to get the school ready for Penny Harvest, I had a nice lunch with my fellow teachers, and we were discussing, amongst other things, the crazy Boston Red Sox vs. Cleveland Indians game, why Yankees’ fans carry their 94-year tradition like they physically won them all, how Mets’ fans react to that in a really obnoxious way, and of course, Joe Torre. As we started talking about his contract and his rejection of the merit pay system, it made me think aloud the kinds of things we have to do to earn our 2% pay cut.

Of course, someone mentioned something about baking a cake, and I laughed because I was already imagining how the metaphor would work if the workshop model was about a cake. At least based on how they want us to work it …

(insert dream sequence here)

[on the board]

Objective: We will learn how to bake a cake.
Do Now: What is a cake? Describe 3 characteristics of a good cake.


Mr. V: “OK, class, let’s look at the Do Now. A lot of you put down characteristics about what a cake should look like, and that’s great. Now, let’s look at this cake.”

[puts up cake]

“What do you notice?”

Student1: “It has pink frosting on it.”
Mr. V: “Yes, what else?”
Student2: “It looks good.”
Mr. V: “OK, you’re getting there. Anything else?”
Student3: “It’s cylindrical about a y-axis.”
Mr. V: “Hmm, OK. I’m glad you’re thinking about it. Now, I need a volunteer.”

[volunteer comes up]

“OK, try this cake. Tell me what you feel.”

Student4: “Mr. Vilson, this tastes really good. It has good texture, and it’s soft. Mmmm. Can I have some more?”
Mr. V: “No, time’s up. It’s been only a few minutes, but we have to keep it moving. They don’t call it the workshop model for nothing. Now, for your assignment, you have materials in the middle of your desks. Take those materials, and using what you learned today, bake a cake.”
Student1: “But Mr. Vilson, I don’t get it.”
Mr. V: “You’ll get it eventually. Use the characteristics you noticed, and think about how you would make that using the manipulatives in front of you.”
Student1: “Uhhh …”

[15 minutes later, Mr. V walking around the room]

Mr. V: “OK, Table 1, what did you notice?”
Student1: “I noticed my cake wasn’t very tasty. The actual cake was a little too hard.”
Mr. V: “Well, what do you think would make the cake a little softer?”
Student1: “Uhhh …”

[Mr. V moves to Table 2]

Mr. V: “What did you guys come up with?”
Student2: “Our cake is really sweet, and it came out too clumpy.”
Mr. V: “Think about the characteristics of a good cake, and the things we discussed during the mini-lesson. How would you improve on your methods to ensure you have a better cake?”
Student2: “Ummm …”

[Mr. V moves to Table 3]

Mr. V: “Wow, what a beautiful cake!”
Student3: “I know. Made it all by myself, and told everyone else in my table how to make it.”

[Mr. V goes to the front of the class]

Mr. V: “See? Why can’t everyone be like this kid? He used the same materials you did, and made a very beautiful and unique cake!”

[Student4 raises hand]

Student4: “That’s no fair! His father’s a baker!”
Mr. V: “Now, I know it’s unfair, but so is time, and time for the group work is up.”

[Mr. V looks out into the class of long faces, dirty baking powder, and clumps of dough]

“For your journal, I want you to write about what you learned today. Don’t just give me the title, but everything. What did you learn? What was most important? How did the characteristics of baking a cake help you make your own?”

[As the day closes, Mr. V reads the journals and begins internal monologue]

“Man, how did this happen? I followed the workshop model so well. I didn’t show them the answer directly. I tried to have them come up with the answers themselves. I mean, that one kid got it; why can’t the rest of them get it? The higher-ups tell me that this system is the best for the kids, but the research shows me that this only works when kids are already self-motivated and high on task intelligence.

I love asking intriguing questions, and love it when the kids get what I’m talking about. I also like when I have a little more flexibility to control my lessons and go over what I need to. This workshop model’s rather restricting. I mean, these kids aren’t telling me anything in this journal that I haven’t already written for them.

I wonder how Socrates taught without all the gadgets we have. And why is it that those who were schooled under the rote method are more critical thinkers than the kids we have now? And isn’t it important to model how something’s done before actually doing it at least sometimes and then let them venture off? I mean, even artists of all kinds imitate before they venture off into their own spheres of influence, right?

Am I crazy for having an internal monologue in a public blog?”

jose, who used to feel invisible, but now knows he’s invincible …