Ever try to cook an avocado?

One of the things I like to do in my spare time that isn’t taken up by Scouting is to cook. The Food Network has a lot of shows that I enjoy watching, and one of them is Worst Cooks in America. In this series,  two professional chefs each adopt a team of highly inept home cooks and work with them through the episodes to hone their skills to the point where they can cook a restaurant-quality meal by the end of the series.

The chefs teach cooking skills to their “recruits,” as they are called, by demonstrating how to prepare various dishes, explaining what they are doing along the way. They then turn the recruits loose in the kitchen to either replicate the dish they were shown, or ask them to prepare something similar. While they are cooking, the professionals watch over their trainees, giving them pointers along the way. Eventually, the amateur cooks develop enough skills that the pros can watch from the sidelines without having to interact.

Does this sound familiar?

If you guessed “the EDGE method,” you’re right. It’s the same method that we use extensively in Scouting. It’s even in the rank requirements. It happens at every level: adults training youth leaders; youth teaching each other; even training staff teaching outdoor skills to other adults. First, the teacher explains the objective and the steps involved, demonstrating them as he or she goes. Then, the student takes a crack at it, with the teacher guiding. Once the student is confident enough, the teacher enables the student, who can now complete the task without further assistance. It’s a wonderful way to teach and consistently produces results.

One of the ways that Chef Anne Burrell works with her students draws a big parallel to the way we ought to be working with our boys, especially as adults train the youth leaders. In an episode of the current season, for instance, the recruits are inventing their own appetizers, and she asks what one of her team is cooking. “I’m going to put avocados in the cheese.” Chef Anne could say “No, no, Dorothy, when you cook an avocado it turns really bitter,” but instead, she simply says “Have you ever tried to cook an avocado?” “No.” “Think there’s a reason for that?”

The idea here is that rather than lecturing to our Scouts, we ask them questions that lead them to think about the situation and draw out the answers. It’s called the Socratic method – teaching by what education professionals call guided discovery” – teaching by asking questions instead of telling. If you think about it, you can see the difference – delivering information is a one-way transaction; asking questions requires a two-way exchange and active participation by both the teacher and the student. Author and professor Rick Garlikov has an excellent example of the Socratic method as he used it to teach binary to third graders. If you have any interest in learning about teaching, you’ll enjoy the story.

Here’s another exchange from Worst Cooks’ Chef Anne: “Bennett, how’s it going?” “It’s going OK.” “Really? Did we cut this onion like this?” “Did I cut it the wrong way?” “What do you think?” “I did. Do it again?” “What do you think?” “I will.” When Bennett returns with another onion, Chef Anne asks “Do you realize what you did wrong? And don’t ever run with your knife!” (How many times have we said that to a Scout?)

Chef Anne’s teaching methods have helped her culinary team win the first two seasons of competition, and her students seem to be winning most of the challenges this year as well.

It’s been said that in order for teaching to be effective, learning must take place. Think about your teaching methods, whether you are training youth for leadership positions, helping them to develop their own teaching methods, or working with other adults. Your chances of success are greater if you know and use EDGE along with guided discovery to involve your students in the process of learning.

Image: digitalart / FreeDigitalPhotos.net


Print pagePDF pageEmail page

2 Replies to “Ever try to cook an avocado?”

  1. Bobwhite,

    Wow, this is your best posting ever. My wife, a great home cook, by the way, drives me crazy with the food network. I usually “have something else to do”, once it goes on. I stand ashamed. You have found a great analogy for our role as scout leaders. I will have to watch this show to see this chef in action. Who knows, I may tape it and play it for the PLC. The EDGE method seemed like a gimmick when it first came out. I think we will have to pay more attention to it in the future. Thanks, and keep up the good work.

  2. Allan,

    Thanks for the comment! EDGE is really a codification of the way we normally teach skills anyway – it puts a conscious structure behind the steps. It’s so simple that it seems like a gimmick sometimes.

    Another thing you’ll see in the show is the progression of team development that’s covered in Wood Badge and that the boys learn in NYLT (and is fairly commonplace in most leadership training) – the four-quadrant “forming, storming, norming, performing” cycle.

    There have been six or seven episodes in the series (next week’s show is the final one for the season). If you’re going to use them for illustration, I’d recommend the earlier episodes, say the 2nd or 3rd ones, as these are when the teams are in the earlier stages both of formation and skill development.

Comments are closed.