Having Your Cake and Eating It Too, Workshop Model Style

Jose VilsonEducation13 Comments

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 …

Comments 13

  1. hmmm. interesting post my dood. i had an interesting conversation with a colleague the other day. we were talking about this whole ‘learning through inquiry’ thing. i feel it. i mean, i think its great (and valuable) for students to gain knowledge on their own accord. however, i think sometimes these young souls need some major pointing in the directions we want them to be in- no?

  2. Bakeshop/Workshop — an instant classic! You caught the typically lousy-if-done-poorly discovery-orientation method perfectly.

    Socrates was a great teacher, but the Socratic Method is anything but easy.

    I also loved the quip about the cylinder around the y-axis…homage to math teaching?

    Yer not crazy, mon amie, this is literature. :)

  3. Jose, the word “racism” is like a cake. It is not immediately apparent what the characteristics of it are. You have to break it down if you are going to understand it and make it better.

    Unfortunately, the use of the word “racism” itself is based on the assumption that the characteristics of the phenomenon are self-evident. How often do we say that something is “racist” without stopping to analyze the behavior as you have this cake to say what, specifically, are the characteristics of “racism” that are present in this individual case of “racism”? And so nobody really learns anything from the discussion, any more than they learn about cakes by saying “that’s a cake.”

    Compare the term “racism” to the term “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.” Among the elements of the term PTSD, the word “Post” tells us “after-something.” The word “traumatic ” tells” us that there must be a “trauma” present. The word “stress” tells us that the trauma has caused “stress.” and the word “disorder” tells us that the traumatic stress must have caused a disorder to “make” this definition. So, if you have experienced trauma and stress, but it has not caused a “disorder,” as is the case with many people, then you do not have PTSD.

    The word “disorder” invites us to wonder what the symptoms of this disorder are. Who can tell us what they recognized and generally agreed upon symptoms of “racism” are? The fact is, we rarely discuss what these symptoms are, because the term “racism” again encourages us to believe that the individuals symptoms are self-evident. They don’t need to be discussed, just like what makes a cake good is self-evident and doesn’t need to be discussed with specificity, right?

    The next time someone tells you that someone else is “racist,” ask them two questions:

    (1) Is the racism a mental problem and, if not, what kind of problem is it?

    (2) If the racism IS a mental problems then what are the specific symptoms of the mental problem of “racism” that are present in this particular individual?

    Believe it or not, everyone would benefit from leaving the gross generalizations behind and engaging in this level of specificity, just as your students benefited intellectually by being asked to state with specificity what makes a cake “good.”

  4. Post

    @ BK: Yeah definitely. Someone during the conversation actually said, “Imagine if instead of having all these experts telling us what was best for our kids, we just asked them ourselves.”

    @ Hugh, yeah I do what I can. Thanks. Honestly, it’s funny what happens when 3 pissed off teachers get around a table and eat.

    @ Frum: because they’re not interested in what we have to say.

    @ Francis: does racism taste good? And secondly, I didn’t see the relevance of that link you slyly attached to the bottom of the comment. :: shrugs::

    @ am: huuuh?

  5. Post

    Touche on the conscripts!

    And if it’s done right, then yes, it does have a place for those, but frankly, even when it’s done like let’s say in an observation, some administrators would argue that modeling and, more importantly, taking the time to demonstrate more explicitly what you’re trying to convey, is not a tenet of the workshop model.

    Frankly, it was more satire, and I would never personally do the workshop model like this, but your comment definitely gave me food for thought. Peace.

  6. Bouncing off your comment, Jose, to BK, Black & Wiliam, first in 1989 (Inside the Black Box, Phi Beta Kappa Magazine) and then in later follow ups, confirmed that student-involved classroom assessment is our most powerful tool in the quest for greater student achievement.

    Don’t wait for a green light to involve the kids, go for it! :)

  7. Pingback: The Jose Vilson » Our Own Conductorless Orchestra

  8. This goes back to teachers knowing their students. The workshop model is a framework and not the “only” way to teach our kids even though that is what we are told by the powers to be. As I read through your workshop model lesson about “cake,” I could not help but chuckle as I envisioned the “conversations” among those whom would observe said “lesson.” Would they understand the sarcasm? Hmm-I wonder. Then again, they would have to have a sinister mind like ours. We can speak the jargon and with a smile on our faces simply say, “Fuck you very much.”

    As educators, we are thrown the “new” solutions to fix the problems in our urban school settings. Who is designing these structures for us to follow? What data are they using? Are their variables fixed or not? But I do know that “the researchers and studies have shown and/or demonstrated that …” Right. Thank you. I can also write the solution to our educational program if I had the time to sit and ponder about it. But many of us don’t. We are right in the middle of the fight day in and day out. We are quickly modifying the “workshop model” in order for our kids to have a chance of being “successful” in their learning or at least their attempts of trying. It boggles my mind when I hear the following from colleagues, “I know the workshop model. I am an expert in the implementation of this model.” My inner thoughts: Wow!!! Great!!! But can you please tell me how the “workshop model” can be successful in a classroom in which there aren’t enough books to make-up a library, 15 kids with IEPs, ELLs at different levels of language acquisition, and a handful of students below grade level? Better yet, “SHOW ME!!!!

    Thank you for the post. Got me all hot and bothered-as always.

  9. From my daughter’s 8th grade science class, here is a project she had to do. The D = M/V below refers to Density = mass/volume.

    “Prove D=M/V:

    “Calculate and graph the densities of at least three substances using at least one liquid and one solid (Some suggestions are rubbing alcohol, water, cooking oil, clay, and aluminum). You must have at least three different sizes for each substance to measure and graph. Using the calculations and graphs, prove that D=M/V no matter what the size of the sample. Your proof must include:

    “Include a typed explanation of density; Define density, explain how it is calculated
    and explain why it is a characteristic property of matter.

    (I omitted the rest to save you wear and tear).

    My daughter was stuck on explaining why density is a characteristic property of matter. So was I. So we looked up what the teacher told her are characteristics of matter. Matter has mass and volume. I reasoned that since matter is characterized by mass and volume, then density represents these characteristic properties. My daughter got it marked wrong. The “correct” answer was that for a particular type of matter, density remains the same regardless of the mass or size. That’ll teach me!

    Of course, requiring a “proof” of a definition raises other questions, but I gave the teacher the benefit of the doubt and assumed the question was ill-posed.

  10. Pingback: The Jose Vilson » Take a Bow

Leave a Reply