A short blog in which I offer a cake: fondant ratio as a metaphor for good teaching.
Back in the day the sky was bluer, children played out in the street, and small individual sponge-based treats were known as fairy cakes; a nice name evocative of mythical creatures and a sprinkling of magic. Nowadays, the skies remain blue, children still play out but also have an abundance of electronic distractions; and small cakes are somewhat larger and less imaginatively called cup-cakes. I have nothing against cup-cakes but as a fan of sponge I feel that the cake: fondant ratio of the cup-cake has shifted to the detriment of the core ingredient – cake. There is nothing wrong with fondant topping and I certainly have nothing against the addition of decoration. It’s simply that I prefer the old-fashioned fairy cake balance of mostly cake with a little topping.
By offering this metaphor what I’m trying to illustrate is the need to keep a balance of cake and topping in our teaching. If we take the cake away then our icing, sprinkles and cherries have nothing to adorn. Topping alone does not make a cake. That is not to say that our children should be given a diet of cake without topping. Even the best educational cake would become bland without icing and cherries from time to time. It is the fairy cake rather than its modern cousin the cup-cake that I think we should be trying to replicate in our classrooms.
To help you manage the balance balance between cake and topping I’ve drawn on previous Primary English blog posts in, I hope, a suitable cake: topping ratio:
Mixing the cake:
One of the easiest ways to slip into adding too much topping is to lose sight of the end-goal of your teaching sequence. In the post Planning a Learning Journey I talk about the need to know exactly what you want children to achieve to avoid adding superfluous lessons or finding yourself using a lovely resources you’ve found on the web that don’t quite meet the learning needs of your class.
Another classic teacher topping terror, is caused by our fascination with creating beautiful laminated resources which look simply divine but don’t necessarily need to be made. The Primary English post Post-it note pedagogy provides lots of advice on how to use post-it notes as teaching resources, meaning that you focus on the cake and leave your energies for altogether more important topping.
Ensuring that basic pedagogic approaches are in place and used regularly to support learning is an essential part of teaching cake. Modelled and shared writing are essential teaching strategies that are sometimes neglected. My Modelled Writing post is full of ideas for how you can make the most of modelled writing and so improve the consistency of your teaching cake. In a similar post I list strategies, such as knowing the purpose and audience of writing, which can be used to creating better writers.
Adding the topping:
Visual prompts are a great way to stimulate writing and in my post Write on! Using Visual Writing Prompts I suggest some ways that this can be done. You may also want to provide images with opening lines or accompanied with questions. Whatever you choose to do, don’t just provide a picture and expect results. Remember, you need to model and scaffold so that the children are supported in using the image as a stimulus to write.
Providing children with rich and engaging texts is an essential part of the literacy cake and there are many places on the Primary English blog where you will find inspiration such as our posts on children’s books and Picture books . Quality texts are an important part of the literacy cake topping but like all topping they need to be applied to good quality cake so that their magic has a supportive structure on which to work.
All this talk of cake is making me hungry so I’m off for a slice of sponge: with topping. Oh, and a cup of tea; and how I like my tea is a whole other blog post.
Rachel Clarke, Director – Primary English Education Consultancy Limited.
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