Ingredients for Learner Centered Spaces


When I first moved out on my own, my grandmother gifted me a recipe box that contained her all-time favorite recipes. Bless her wonderful heart, she wrote or typed out each special recipe on an index card. Aww! I still have the wooden box with her recipes in my kitchen today. Even though the recipes are incredibly sentimental to me and bring back childhood memories of family meals, I don’t often use her recipes.

For one thing, lifestyles have changed significantly since she was alive. We eat far less sugar and sweets than in her time. For another, there are many ingredients that I use now that were not around in her time. For example, kale is not something my grandmother ever cooked with but it is a common ingredient in our fridge.

My grandmother loved to cook. She baked her own bread, made her own jam, and was up every morning cooking a hot breakfast. Most of her recipes lived in her mind as she didn’t have a stack of cookbooks or the internet to rely on. She had her trusty collection of recipe cards that she had amassed over her lifetime. But more than anything she relied on her memory and familiarity with her ingredients. Her bread recipe was one she knew by heart but always adapted on the fly. The exact mix of ingredients depended on the flour she used, the temperature of the day, and even the humidity of the season.

And I wonder if cooking is like creating learning experiences? I wonder if the changes in cooking parallel the evolution in our understanding of learning. We have at our ready as educators, a big pile of ingredients, and we get to combine these in unique and creative ways each day for the learners in our care. In BC, we have seen the arrival of some new ingredients that we may be unfamiliar with. But this doesn’t mean that these new ingredients might not produce some incredibly delicious learning!  We just might have to try these new ingredients out a couple of times, to get the right mix and combination.

One of the turning points in my teaching career (#truestory) was when I heard a teacher I respected explain that there was no one recipe for how to run a classroom. Say what??? No recipe???? He went on to explain that each of us as teachers, knew what was best for the children in our care and we had to make these decisions. For ourselves. We had to create the recipes for learning. This rocked my world! There was no ONE recipe.

I have cooked with content for a long time now. I know how whip up a solid learning experience with content as the main ingredient. But I wonder is content like the white flour of the modern learning space? While we might not need to eliminate it completely, we might want to limit it in our learning diets. We may see the health benefits of a diversified diet with a new and updated understanding of what a healthy diet consists of.

If I look back on the ingredients I relied on heavily in the first years of teaching they were: compliance, accountability, coverage, content, and one size fits all.

Fast forward to today and we have a whole bunch of new ingredients on the horizon! And undoubtedly cooking with new ingredients can be daunting, especially with guests at the door all the time. But if we trust ourselves to invent new recipes, recipes for our times, and we taste along the way and ask our guests for feedback, we will become competent with these new ingredients. Just as my Grandmother was with her ingredients.

A few of the new ingredients I am trying out in my “cooking”.

  1. Developing empowering routinesflex time
  2. Community building practicesdeciding on class norms as a class
  3. Bringing the First Peoples Principles of Learning to life 
  4. Content – I didn’t include this ingredient on my initial list. A comment from Chris Wejr (see below) got me thinking. My knee-jerk reaction to his comment was “no, that wasn’t what I was trying to say.”  After sleeping on it, I woke to the realization that he was exactly right. In omitting content as a key ingredient from this list, I was inadvertently conveying that content was a “bad” ingredient that should be avoided. But as Chris aptly pointed out, without meaningful content, the skills and processes are meaningless.
  5. Curiosity – provocations, questioning, wonder wall, thinking bubbles
  6. Learner agency – flex time, learning logs, learning detectives
  7. Knowledge buildingknowledge building circles

What are some the ingredients you are trying out? What combinations are working for you? What ingredients are you curious about trying?




2 thoughts on “Ingredients for Learner Centered Spaces

  1. Hey Carolyn!

    I wonder how content has received such a bad rap. Is it because there was a focus on memorization rather than doing something WITH content?

    I don’t think we need to limit our intake of content but I think we need to make new recipes with it. I worry that the pendulum swings too far and we forget the importance of content. We need to content if we want to critically and creatively think. For example, I have engaged a lot recently on the topics of SOGI as well as Reconciliation. Sometimes, I engage with people who are trying to debate but have very little knowledge of the content so they just rely on their personal beliefs. This becomes a challenge to critically think because there is no desire to learn new content. In addition, when I have engaged with some who clearly know a lot about the topic, it challenges me to go back and learn more about the content so I can continually wrestle and engage with content at a deeper level. Without learning the history, the research, and the stories… I cannot critically think beyond a surface level.

    Are we starting to take content for granted? Maybe it is not so much about “limiting our intake” but more about doing different things with it?

    Looking forward to your thoughts.


    1. Hey Chris!!
      Thanks for the thoughtful comment.
      I wholeheartedly agree with you 🙂 To clarify my thoughts a bit more, I was trying to explore how as educators, we often reach for fixed recipes and are sometimes cautious to explore “new ingredients.” A good cook adapts to the audience and ingredients available. A good cook is creative and inventive. A good cook thinks creatively and critically to prepare a dish that is varied in flavor, texture, and uses a wide variety of ingredients. Specifically, I was wondering how we as educators, might become more adaptive experts over routine ones. Instead of a static lesson plan, how can we move to a willingness to tinker with ALL the ingredients, so we are more responsive to the children in front of us?

      The diet of the past in classrooms has been overly processed content; small bit sized pieces rather than dense topics that require extensive thought. I don’t see it as an either or conversation (content OR skills). It is 100% an AND conversation. That said, I think we, as a system, have a long way to go towards introducing skills (competencies) into our everyday “cooking” routines in an authentic and meaningful way. How might we, as educators, explore and tinker with new ingredients beyond content? For example, how can we authentically infuse First Peoples Principles into our everyday classroom routines?
      Sometimes it seems that the skills we chase can be self-serving (listening + sharing + collaborating = compliant). The more meaty skills of critical and creative thinking are ones that seem to be less on the ingredient list. But yes, yes, yes, there has to be something to think creatively and critically about, otherwise, it becomes a superficial and non-engaging activity.
      I think this requires us to move away from following cookie cutter, linear, lessons that march though a topic, towards creating more expansive learning experiences that allow for recursive elaborations and explorations of concepts. Chef instead line cook!

      Thanks for extending my thinking around this topic. It is an exciting time in education but we have so much sense making to do!!


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