Resources and Deficits

«You have to cook with the cheese, not with the holes.» This is undoubtedly a prime principle of resource-oriented didactics. Swiss teacher J. Jegge proposed the phrase for pedagogy, and he was advocating resource-oriented teaching for decades.

Yet how do we manage to get to the point where we are happy about the cheese and start cooking, instead of staring at the holes? To what extent do we, in any learning process, pay attention to the resources that are there and that we can build on?

I recall courses and workshops that started with people staring at the gaps, the lack of knowledge. With time and care, they successfully transformed this perspective and started to build on their experience, letting their blocking anxiety behind.

The metaphor has one more twist, though. The cheese gets better because of the holes1. Its flavour is refined depending on the process and the length of time it has been aged. It only becomes a mature cheese when the holes are allowed to have their impact.

Also is the maturing process impossible to watch from the outside, with the exception of cautious individual samples. You just need to trust, that the cheese will turn out right, and in the end every loaf has its own individual composition of texture and holes.

Learning too, is such a dynamic process that develops well when the gaps are allowed. Because learners bring different resources into the process, they need different ways and times of learning.

Maturing specific professional competences requires specific learning scenarios and settings. All of them require trust in the learning process, because we cannot peer into the learners.

And although specific kinds of professionals will always mature, they will all be individual in the distribution of their experiences and their still open potentials. I think that makes them better professionals.

Beyond the cheese, it is also about thinking of complex models of maturation. Beyond the teaching situation, it is about imagining scenarios in which individual learning paths can unfold.

Now to go back to the beginning of this post, I came across this (non-cheesy) prime principle in a «minibook», which I got many years ago in a workshop by my late, brilliant colleague Max Woodtli. During that workshop I took down the sentence to remember it.

The minibook method ( lets you take individual notes in a simple, self-folded leaflet. The structure of the leaflet helps you to follow along any talk or workshop in a structured way. You probably will let also empty pages beside your scribbles and sketches.

I am glad, that the minibook method has worked well and that I found the sentence again. It would not have been helpful just to stare at the blank pages in the minibook, to be blocked with the scribbling and focus on my deficits.


1) «Eyes» are the round holes that are a characteristic feature of e.g. Emmentaler cheese. The eyes are bubbles of carbon dioxide gas. The gas is produced by various species of bacteria in the cheese.

4 Replies to “Resources and Deficits”

  1. Lars Harrysson says: Reply

    This is a nice reflection. I think of the pragmatic basis in that moving forward starts with learning about now and the past. What is? – What ought to be? I have to look into the minibook and see what that is.

  2. Thanks for this post, I got me thinking a lot.

    I‘m not sure about the cheese metaphor for learning—one has to start with something and then builds upon this. So you actually start with milk and a bunch of bacteria and figure out how to best combine them? And then later you actually want to fill some “gaps” wrt knowledge or skills? But cheese gets better when holes *grow*?

    But also, cheese gets better when it has time to rest—like wine? So when you forget about the holes but allow things to rest and then you come back later you discover new connections and things are maybe “ripe” and ready to be harvested and processed into something new: that’s learning maybe?

    And even sometimes you come back later and find it better than you left it or you remembered it to be. So as a text didn’t evolve on it’s own then perhaps my attitude changed and I might be less critical or just read it without remembering all the things I tried to say but didn’t succeed back then. The context changed and sometimes that’s actually not too bad.

    Thanks for making me think!

  3. The message I took away from this post is that teachers should not worry about the gaps, but build on and add to what is already there. The minibook and cheese metaphor both contibute to the idea that learning is about adding to, not taking away. Filling the gaps can be an important actvity and helpful to make sense of the process of learning and ground it in what is already there.

  4. Minibooks! Thank you very much for the tip, Andy. My mother tongue is German so had no difficulties to navigate on the website. I also read some (public)minibooks. Interesting! Perhaps I can use the tool one day for my German classes. Great!

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