Lessons in Teaching from “The Great British Baking Show”

I’m a fan of cooking competition tv shows. I don’t know why, but I love them. Perhaps it’s the fact that no one really gets injured, it isn’t typically painful to watch, and the episodes don’t exactly hinge upon one another for continuity, so if I watch them out of order, or only watch the ones that look the most interesting, I don’t feel as though I’m missing the plot (other than the arc of who gets eliminated each week if that show has the same contestants for the whole season). Some of my favorites have been “Cupcake Wars” and “Cutthroat Kitchen,” but tonight I watched “The Great British Baking Show” for the first time, and was struck by how completely different it is from the others I’ve seen.

At first, I was simply shocked by the fact that contestants willingly shared kitchen tools, such as a strainer. Then I was flabbergasted when contestants looked genuinely happy for one another when others did well. During the first episode I watched, when a second person in a single round was told that their cake was perfect, the first person who had been told that very same thing minutes before looked on with pride and happiness for their competitor. I wondered for a minute whether I had missed the fact that this was a team competition and that was his partner.

It was when I noticed the difference in how the judges spoke to the contestants that I realized that while this show is a competition, it’s also structured like a differentiated classroom, and the judges are teaching and coaching¬†the assessments, using each task as opportunities for feedback. When assigning a task, it’s often given as “bake your best fruit-flavored cake,” or “bake your signature dish.”¬†The judges’ comments were largely positive, and they at times gently joked with the contestants about the obvious failures to lighten the mood, nearly always giving specific constructive feedback. When they don’t give specific feedback for improvement on a dish, that’s because that dish has been declared perfect, and the ways in which it is perfect have been spelled out for them. This cake is perfect! It has the color, flavors, texture, density, and cake-to-frosting ratio that are all just right. This sounds a lot like when you overhear a student making amazing connections and you repeat their insights for the class to benefit from. (Or lie through your teeth that you heard some people saying the connections that you were hoping they would make when they turned and talked with their partners…not that I’ve ever done that.)

Overall, my takeaways on how “The Great British Baking Show” models great teaching are:

  • Differentiate; it’s possible to give a topic and let everyone show their abilities on it in different ways, at least some of the time.
  • Be positive and build relationships, especially before giving constructive feedback.
  • Giving critical feedback is important if you want your students to improve, but it can be given gently and maintaining the student’s dignity.
  • Celebrate others’ victories; it means you get to celebrate far more often than if you only enjoy your own success.
  • A competition does not need to be cutthroat; it can be low-key and fun, primarily motivating students to do their personal best, and for celebrating the biggest successes of the day.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have new episodes to watch…



Sharing Hyperdocs: Canvas vs. Google Classroom

One tool I love for its versatility is the hyperdoc. They can be made using Google Docs or Google Slides, and it’s essentially a combination of content resources and a place for students to create their own work, all in one file.

I’ve shared them with students both by the force copy trick on a link in Canvas, and by sharing in Google Classroom so that each student gets a file. Both methods have their benefits; when sharing in Canvas (or another LMS), I can circulate the room while students are working, asking questions and giving feedback as they go, but students don’t submit their work until they are finished. In Canvas, Google files that are submitted are available to the teacher in a format almost like a screenshot, but it’s the whole file, not just one screen worth. Using Speedgrader, the teacher can quickly and easily scroll through a class’s work, scoring it on a rubric and making comments.

In Google Classroom, I can still circulate the room and give students feedback as they work, but in addition to that, the teacher has access to each student’s file from the moment it is created. My students recently worked on a hyperdoc when I was out of town for several days, and opting to share it with them via Google Classroom meant that I was able to provide them with comments containing encouragement or suggestions for improvement even though I wasn’t able to be present in class. Having to open each student’s file separately is a small inconvenience, unless using an add-on like Doctopus, or *gasp* paper and pencil, a rubric isn’t available, and for better or worse, the teacher sees student work whether it has been submitted or not. The positive to that is I was able to leave comments on work in progress, but the drawback is that it’s possible to score work that a student hadn’t quite finished.

Overall, I prefer the workflow available for scoring student work that’s available in Canvas, but the capabilities of viewing work in progress provided by Google Classroom. Assigning the work in both places and submitting the final product in Canvas is an option, but it sounds like it will be unnecessarily clunky. Students would need to look for comments in both places, and I imagine that a lot of kids will click “Turn it in” in Google Classroom and it will be missing in Canvas. No, it’s definitely best if I choose one place to disseminate my hyperdocs, and which one I pick may change depending on whether having access to student files throughout the process or having an easy way to score the work is more important for that task.