Fifty Minute Classroom

Nov 22, 2017, 6:47
Anything Can Happen on Assessment Friday
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Anything Can Happen on Assessment Friday

Watching students complete a cumulative assignment – completely on their own can be enlightening for instructors and students. 

By Chef Adam Weiner, CFSE

One of my best new teaching (and assessment) techniques came about quite by accident. A few months ago, on a Friday morning I had an emergency request from my administration. They needed a detailed report on something fast. It wasn’t their fault, it just happened like it does in all schools. As teachers we all have had that issue arise. The teacher usually gets stressed out and the class is assigned busy work.

On that day, on the fly, I did something that has now turned into a weekly event in my class. I am addicted to the television sitcom “The Big Bang Theory” and was thinking about a particular episode - Anything Can Happen Thursday. (In this episode the very disciplined characters try and break out of their routines and decided that every third Thursday they should do something new and unplanned.)

As I fired up my computer to work on the report, I told my students that it was “Figure it Out Friday.” First, I reviewed what they had worked on all week. Then I gave them the assignment and told them they weren’t allowed to ask me anything and had to work as a group and figure it out.

The assignment was based on sauce making. They were to take chicken and tilapia and serve each one with two different sauces. That meant they had to make two sauces paired with two different proteins. To be candid, when I gave the assignment, I wasn’t really focusing on them having to use several different cooking methods and make several different sauces. I was focused on writing that report.

At first they were dumbfounded. Students were asking questions they would never have asked on a regular basis. One even asked if he should wash his hands after handling raw chicken! He was clearly testing me to see if I really would make him work it out with his group. To each question I said the same thing—not even looking up from the report I was writing, “Your group has to figure it out.”

After a little bit of a settle-in period, the students actually came to like it. They realized that they were in charge of their destiny. What I didn’t realize the first time I did this was that this was a good form of assessment for what they learned during the week.

When my report was finished and e-mailed off to the administration (followed shortly afterward by a thank you for being the first instructor to get the report done) I picked up my cup of coffee and walked around the kitchen. What I saw impressed the heck out of me. Notebooks were out; teams were debating what sauce to serve with what and how to prepare the chicken or fish to match the sauce. Work stations were clean (for the most part). As I walked around the room several students thought it was now okay to ask questions and started doing so. “Figure it out with your group,” is all that I would say. They smiled and immediately got back into it. The results were far better than I expected.

Figure it Out Friday is now standard in my class. It is used as a review of the week’s materials and it is usually cumulative, incorporating lessons from previous weeks as well. The students are assessed on their work. 

For example, last week we baked cookies during the week. The assignment for Figure it Out Friday was to make a batch of cookies straight out of the formula and also to make a batch modifying the formula to yield a cookie not made during the week and record it. Of course, the second one is the harder one. One group took the chocolate chip cookie formula and made a coffee chocolate chip cookie. Another took oatmeal and raisin and combined it with my lemon coconut macaroon recipe to create oatmeal coconut cranberry cookies. The students were assessed on three different categories:

  1. Following a standard cookie recipe
  2. Creating a new cookie
  3. Writing a basic formula/recipe for the new cookie (which had been covered earlier in the class, making this exercise cumulative of previously taught material).

Of course, since it was Figure it Out Friday I didn’t answer any questions, and was able to get some past due attendance up to date while they baked and wrote recipes.

Figure it Out Friday is good practice for your students who will just be cooking at home, because they won’t have a teacher to ask questions to all the time. It is also good practice for those going on to cook professionally where they will be shown once or twice how to do something and they will be expected to do it working within the kitchen team.

The same skills have greater implication beyond cooking at home or work. The skills of paying attention and then working without direct supervision to get something done will benefit your students in areas such as home and work. Also, this skill set will be a benefit in all areas of study from coding to cooking, from home to professional auto repair, from painting a room at home to become a union painter, etc. Figure it Out Friday forces your students to take personal responsibility for what they and their group have learned and forces them to produce on their own.

Caveat: You still have to be in control of the class. As I wrote in last month’s article about Teaching Culinary Job Titles, a chef is responsible for whatever happens in her or his kitchen even if she/he isn’t there. Likewise, you are responsible for what happens in your kitchen classroom even if you are doing something else. Therefore, I tell my students that even though it is Figure it Out Friday I will intervene if I see any food safety or personal safety issues.


Chef Adam Weiner, CFSE, teaches a 20-week Introduction to Cooking program for JobTrain on the San Francisco Peninsula, and is a frequent presenter at CAFÉ events throughout the nation. He is also a recipient of the prestigious Antonin Carême Medal.