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Guest Speaker: Understanding the Learning Process

06 January 2011

By Kirk T. Bachmann, M.Ed., CEC, AAC

guest_jan11In culinary and pâtisserie arts, assessment should be structured so that the emphasis in practical, hands-on skill development is on cooking and baking skills and their respective applications. Here, Chef Bachmann uses the proper teaching of the classical mother sauces and their derivates to illustrate.

Before students fully grasp the specific techniques involved in cooking and baking, it is imperative that they first develop a thorough understanding of fundamental skills or techniques. In developing meaningful learning activities that leverage behavioral learning principles, dynamic educators focus on increasing the frequency of their students correctly achieving their assigned task or tasks. The goal of any robust learning activity is to facilitate an observable change in behavior.

As a long-time educator with Le Cordon Bleu, I take great pride in developing learning activities for adult learners enrolled in our various culinary-arts and pâtisserie and baking programs. A percentage of our students are cooking enthusiasts, many are career changers, but most are recent high-school graduates. Adult learners are unique. They are interested in academic application that is interdisciplinary in nature and incorporates previously learned proficiencies. “Adults are autonomous and self-directed. They need to be free to direct themselves. Their teachers must actively involve student participation in the learning process and serve as facilitators for them” (Lieb, 1991).

Le Cordon Bleu programs take a cognitive approach to the development of students’ technical skills by integrating both theoretical guidance and practical application into their studies. “When used properly, theory provides a framework to use in making educational decisions” (Schunk, 2004, p. 25). Indeed, culinary and pâtisserie arts are very unique, yet defined, areas of education where learning is highly correlated with the application of practical skills. These disciplines are primarily focused on the fundamentals of food and beverages leading toward the preparation and mastery of skills within contemporary and international cuisines as well as fine dining.

 

A methodical and pedagogical teaching approach within this era of education seems to foster the development of a solid practical knowledge base. In addition, the recognition of unique traits such as strong motivation, desire, creativity and flexibility among students enhances the depth of the overall learning experience. Learning outcomes may be measured by graduates who have acquired an understanding of the theoretical fundamentals, ingredient interplay, various cooking methods and culinary proficiencies through practical applications in real-life working environments (2004).

From a pragmatic perspective, I offer the following example of an appropriate learning activity where students are presented with the opportunity to develop an understanding of the five classical mother sauces of French cuisine. In such a learning activity, students are asked to do the following:

  • Utilize their computers to create a flow chart listing the five classical mother sauces of French cuisine
  • Utilize information provided by their instructors on each of the mother sauces to list one pertinent fact regarding each of the mother sauces
  • Finally, utilizing their text books, students are asked to locate, analyze and list two derivatives of each mother sauce
  • Prepare one of the five mother sauces

Upon completion of such a learning activity, students should be able to:

  • Define each of the five mother sauces of classical French cuisine
  • Articulate one important fact related to each mother sauce
  • List two derivatives of each mother sauce
  • Produce at least one of the five mother sauces of classical French cuisine

Hence, students can leverage learning activities such as this one to assist them in developing a comprehensive, theoretical and practical understanding of the composition of the mother sauces of classical French cuisine and their derivatives. Learning and understanding the classification of these sauces, for example, is one of the most important skills that students must develop early in their culinary educations. These classical sauces are the foundation upon which all other sauces in French cuisine are based. “Sauces are often considered one of the greatest tests of a chef’s skills” (Conway, 1991, p. 295).

Defining learning in the aforementioned activity, involves a “…behavioral change or change in the capacity for behavior” (Schunk, 2004, p.2). Students at Le Cordon Bleu are typically asked to take what they have learned about classical sauces at certain points in the program and to apply enhanced techniques to expand their knowledge and understanding of a higher level of sauces. In order to successfully acclimate to these new levels of technique, students are required to research, practice and apply their new found knowledge to the practical creation of a new product. Such learning activities prompt students to exercise the highest levels of Bloom’s Taxonomy or higher-order thinking skills, which suggests that they “…have acquired supporting information at the lower levels of the taxonomy” (Thorsen, 2004, p. 8).

The framework of this type of learning activity supports the fundamental principles that define the constructivist theory. For example, our instructors “…encourage students to discover principles by themselves.” In addition, this activity supports Bruner’s position that “learning is an active process in which learners construct new ideas or concepts based upon their current/past knowledge” (Ryder, 2004). Cognitive exercises such as the abovementioned will also “…stress the mental organization of information” by students. “The emphasis is on how the learners perceive, store and retrieve knowledge which produces overt behaviors. There is also a focus on how learners accumulate or gain knowledge, the structure of knowledge systems, and how prior knowledge relates to new knowledge” (AIU Online, 2004). Such activities place added emphasis on the importance of problem-solving and the development of new views or approaches to similar situations or challenges.

When discussing learning activities in general, I would be remiss if I did not point out that a clearly visible transfer of knowledge will occur as a result “…transfer [of knowledge] occurs when learners understand how to apply knowledge in different settings” (Schunk, 2004, p. 20). Students transfer the knowledge they accumulate in earlier classes to later lessons; in this particular case, a study of classical French mother sauces. Other factors that will influence the outcome of this type of learning activity include memory and motivation. In order to successfully move through the sequential courses of our culinary or pâtisserie and baking programs, our students rely on memory to process new information. Schunk states that “…information processing theories equate to learning with encoding, or storing knowledge in memory in an organized and meaningful fashion” (2004, p. 19).

According to Schunk, “…assessing learning is difficult, because we do not observe it directly but rather we observe its products or outcomes” (2004, p. 6). Traditionally, most curricula contain an overall assessment policy wherein each subject has its own specific criteria, which is based on specific needs and the desired outcomes. In culinary and pâtisserie arts, assessment should be structured so that the emphasis in practical, hands-on skill development is on cooking and baking skills and their respective applications. In accompanying theory and other supporting classes, subjects should focus on the comprehension of principles and concepts. “Constructivism calls for the elimination of grades and standardized testing. Instead, assessment becomes part of the learning process so that students play a larger role in judging their own progress” (On Purpose Associates, 2001). With regard to the previously mentioned learning activity, Le Cordon Bleu promotes a combination of direct observation as well as written and oral responses to access students’ progress. Through direct observation, instructors are able to gage if students gain additional knowledge and understand the concepts, “…to determine whether learning has occurred” (Schunk, 2004, p. 7). In reviewing students’ completed outlines of the classification of the mother sauces and two derivatives, for example, instructors are able to “…decide whether adequate learning has taken place or whether additional instruction is needed because students do not fully comprehend the material” (Schunk, 2004, p. 8). Finally, through collaborative learning exercises and oral discussion, our instructors are able to “…gauge learning based on what they say” (Schunk, 2004, p. 8).

References:

AIU Online. (2004). Unit 1 - Learning Theory: Retrieved March 23, 2004, from http://mycampus.aiu-online.com/classroom/classmaterials.asp?courseid=237&classid=40680&tid=37&LetterCode

Conway, L. G. (Ed.). (1991). The New Professional Chef (5th ed.). New York, New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold.

Lieb, S. (1991). PRINCIPLES OF ADULT LEARNING. Retrieved March 25, 2004, from http://honolulu.hawaii.edu/intranet/committees/FacDevCom/guidebk/teachtip/adults-2.htm

 

On Purpose Associates. (2001). Guide to theories of learning. Retrieved March

25, 2004, from http://www.funderstanding.com/constructivism.cfm

Ryder, M. (2004). Constructivism. Retrieved March 23, 2004, from

http://www.artsined.com/teachingarts/Pedag/Constructivist.html

Schunk, D. H. (2004). Learning Theories: An Educational Perspective (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, Inc. 

Thorsen, C. (2003). TechTactics: Instructional Models for Educational Computing. Boston: Pearson Education, Inc.

Williams, A. (2004). Interview conducted March 26th, 2004. Le Cordon Bleu: College of Culinary Arts. Miami, Florida.


Kirk T. Bachmann, M.Ed., CEC, AAC, is interim president of Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Chicago