Thursday, 24 November 2016

Learning Destinations and Making Dinner

I have been thinking about Carol Ann Tomlinson's column in the October 2016 issue of Educational Leadership for weeks. I know October wasn't that long ago, but I usually read Tomlinson's column the day the magazine arrives and then work my way through the rest of the articles as the month unfolds. I can't stop thinking about these two quotes:

"To create real learners, teachers have to reach the hearts, souls, and minds of students. Teaching a list of standards won't get us there."

"Right now, we often dish out raw ingredients when we should be making dinner."

Making dinner. Never have I heard a metaphor so perfectly describe what we do as teachers when we create an authentic and meaningful learning destination. When I create learning destinations for my students and think of myself as "making dinner",  I accept these things to be true:

  • Pre-packaged meals are never as tasty as those made from scratch. They're just quick and easy. They can't possibly meet all of the individual needs and preferences at my table.When I carefully craft learning destinations to meet the needs of my students, the learning is robust. Fine dining, not fast food.
  • If all you are serving is carrots, it doesn't matter how fancy those carrots are, how much fun we had curling them into strips, or even if they are organic and pesticide free... they are still just carrots and would make a better meal in a stew. A learning destination is more than one outcome taught in isolation. I need to thoughtfully select outcomes and group them together in ways that will nourish my learners. 
  • Everybody is coming to the table and we are all going to eat. The learning destination is for all learners. It's my job to clearly identify the learning destination and provide the samples, criteria, and feedback necessary for all learners to be successful.
  • Children can be picky eaters. Our learning destinations must engage our learners in meaningful ways. We need them to run to the table and pull up a chair.
  • The recipe is just the starting point; every good chef puts his or her own spin on macaroni and cheese. As teachers we use our professional judgment to enhance the curriculum - grouping curricular outcomes into big ideas, including the competencies, beliefs, and learning approaches found in the front matter of the curriculum documents, incorporating the ideas of noted experts, reflecting on past practice, and considering student needs and interests - all to create learning destinations that engage students at the highest levels of Bloom's taxonomy. 
Making dinner is always more fun, less work, and even more likely to be great when you share the work with others. My friend, colleague, and co-author (Lesson Study: Powerful Assessment and Professional Practice and this post!) Ruth Gaurvreau and I could have made this a very long post, extending the metaphor and appreciating the truth (and the humour!) in the connections. Instead, we decided to invite you into the conversation. 

In what ways are you "making dinner"?

Brenda and Ruth


Augusta, B., Gauvreau, R., and Hector, G. 2013. Lesson Study: Powerful Assessment and Professional Practice. Courtenay, BC: Connections Publishing.

Bloom, B. 1956. Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, Handbook I: The Cognitive Domain. New York: David McKay Co Inc.

Tomlinson, C.A. 2016Lesson Plans Well Served. Educational Leadership, 74(2), pp. 89-90.