The eating habits of the French can teach all educators a lot about how to handle curriculum. When dining, the French tend to savor each bite, sit and enjoy the atmosphere, and eat the freshest and best quality food available. Not only do they take their time with the crème brulee, ficelle, and coq au Riesling, but they also use salad-sized plates and eat smaller portions. Their portions range at 9.8 ounces per meal while a typical meal in Philly weighs in at around 12.2 ounces. As Sally Asher tells us in The French Diet: How French Women Eat Rich and Stay Slim, the Parisian culture focuses on qualitative not quantitative satisfaction. The educator has much to learn from the people of Paris.

Focus on Smaller Portions

If we study less, then the kids will learn more. A lesson rich in details beats a skimmed and weak unit every day of the week. If we portion our learning to manageable pieces, then the kids won’t be so overwhelmed. For example, if we chose one strategic battlefield in the Civil War to teach, and we thoroughly cover it, then the children can learn about battlefield strategies, the locale of the battle, the personalities of the general, the consequences of the win and the loss, the terrain, the documentation, and the climate during the time of the battle. We have then studied about some of the different fields:

  • Military history
  • Geography
  • Important people and leaders
  • Population
  • Climate and meteorology
  • Photography
  • Newspaper and periodical cover and trends of the time
  • American History
  • French History
  • British History
  • American Government
  • Forms of protest in the U.S.
  • Taxation

It is far better to spend two weeks on the Battle of Gettysburg than try to teach twenty important battles to a room of war weary students. This approach of taking one topic and teaching it in different sectors has been contributed to the great success in Finnish schools.

In How Finnish Schools Shine by Adam Lopez, states, “ The Finnish system’s success is built on the idea that: “less can be more”. This may appear counter-intuitive to many within other educational systems in which standards and effectiveness are measured in standardized data and evidence trails. The absence of corrosive competition and an egalitarian ethos inherent in the Finnish culture has surely played a role in shaping this very impressive system.” They rank high in the PISA, the Programme for International Student Assessment, regularly.

If this approach of smaller portions were to be implemented when teaching Romeo and Juliet, the teacher could cover at the minimum the following concepts:

  • Iambic pentameter
  • Mythology in literature
  • Biblical references in literature
  • Geography
  • Religious roles in the time
  • Gender roles for the time
  • The family’s roles
  • Vocabulary
  • History
  • Adolescence
  • Brain developmental patterns
  • The art of insult
  • Weaponry
  • Symbolism
  • Geography
  • Language
  • The Impacts of destructive relationships
  • Shakespeare’s life, times, and works
  • Poetry

Smaller bites do equal more knowledge. Rich, tasty, and scrumptious bites. Just ask the French how impactful the right foods can be on the palate.

Savor the Knowledge

Take your time when you teach. If your school is standards driven and you are the least bit creative, you can still cover the necessary benchmarks by taking your time. Every single teacher knows when a lesson has been rushed because we just had to finish a unit. It feels awful, you are not happy, and the kids get overwhelmed. You need to put a tablecloth out, use the good china, and sip the learning slowly. An example of this could be with Romeo and Juliet.

You could cover, according to The Center for Learning, 24 Common Core Standards in English Language Arts’ standards alone. This does not include any math, science, history, or journalism standards that could be covered. The idea that you cross over into another academic field simply reinforces the primary platform for Finland’s success.

Granted, most ninth grade English instructors all ready teach Romeo and Juliet, but do they spend nine weeks on it? Because if my calculations are correct, that’s the minimum timeframe it would need for you to successfully address all of the components mentioned.

Stop the Fast Food Teaching Style

Many teachers have their hands tied. They are told what to teach, when to teach it, and how long to take teaching it. The current stringent regulations being forced down some American teachers’ throats are counter-productive to what has been shown to be effective in the classroom. No other system tinkers with people so much as the education system does. We create giant case studies out of students only to discover down the road that there was a flaw in the trend. Whoops.

We can take comfort in the fact people in the educational sector are waking up to what really works. However, the pace at which this is happening is equivalent to the pace of a blind turtle with one leg. Solutions are out there, Pasi Sahlberg, a former Finnish Ministry of Education and Culture writes in Why Finland’s Schools are Top-Notch,   “ one affordable and smart step would be to terminate policies and practices that prevent American teachers from teaching what matters most to their students. Redesigning current punitive accountability for schools and abolishing unnecessary standardized tests would remove a big burden from schools and leave teachers with more time to focus on real learning.”

Our trip around the world in my opinion piece shows us that we should teach like the French eat while keeping a close eye on what works for the Finnish education system.


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