How to Construct a Grain Bowl: My Pedagogical Approach

“The achievement of self-authorship and personal authority should be heralded as a central purpose of higher education” (King & Baxter-Magolda, 1996, p. 166).


Y’all are probably wondering what in the pedagogical I am talking about with this post title.

“I thought this was a food blog…I was told there would be recipes.”

Don’t worry. There is a recipe of sorts embedded in this article-length blog, but I use this platform to show a bit of what I’ve been up to in school lately. I am an engineering education doctoral student preparing to be a collegiate professor. I share with you my pedagogical approach, which is my teaching philosophy. Similar to research, my teaching is grounded in theory, particularly the theory of self-authorship. I’ll get into that later. I take this opportunity to show how I structure my pedagogical approach in the same way I structure my food. Allow me to show you three food elements that parallel my teaching practices: vessel, ingredients, and satiety. I plan to explain how each of these elements represents my pedagogical approach while simultaneously giving instructions to create your very own grain bowl. Let me know what you think.


When preparing a dish, I first begin with the vessel that holds the food. To prepare a grain bowl, the primary vessel is a bowl. The size of the bowl will depend on the portion size of the meal. In my case, this is dictated by my hunger at some point in time. I choose a bowl as my vessel because it suits the task of preparing the dish I have in mind (and the vessel is literally stated in the dish’s name). In this example, pointing out why I make my choice of vessel seems unnecessary and obvious, but this cognitive step is important when understanding how this relates to teaching. The vessel must suit the task at hand and the desired outcome. If I choose a plate, a glass, or a cutting board, my preparation and final dish would look completely different. Therefore, choosing the vessel is an important step in the food preparation process, as it is in the pedagogical process too.

Similarly, the vessel that dictates my pedagogy is the theory of self-authorship. Baxter-Magolda defines self-authorship as the “internal capacity to define one’s beliefs, identity, and social relations” (Baxter-Magolda, 2008, p. 269). The theory is divided into three dimensions: epistemological, intrapersonal, and intrapersonal. For more information on self-authorship, I suggest reading the publications I have cited and listed in the bibliography of this post.

I choose to anchor my pedagogy in self-authorship because the theory suits the task at hand by providing a framework for necessary skills for students to learn to reach a desired outcome, which is to foster confidence, cognitive growth, and openness in relationships. These skills were lacking in my engineering education (which I get into in a couple sections). For now, I’ll admit that in my engineering education, I had a weak self-authorship because I was never taught the skills needed to achieve competence in each of the three dimensions. This, paired with my socialization as a woman in engineering left me unprepared for my career and ill-equipped to handle basic situations in life, such as conflict resolution, confidence in my own ideas, and communicating those ideas to others. My experiences taught me the importance of self-authorship, so I use it as my vessel, in which my teaching and assessment practices are contained. Based on the theory of self-authorship, I choose which teaching practices will suit the learning outcomes associated with it, which are “cognitive maturity,” “integrated identity,” and “mature relationships” (Baxter-Magolda, 2004, p. 6).


Just as the learning outcomes that strengthen self-authorship dictate my teaching practices, my desired food outcome of a grain bowl dictates my ingredients list. This food outcome is intricately tied to cuisine and culture. Cuisine is the sum of certain ingredient types [based on native plants and animals or trade over time] and cooking method [bound by cooking technology and tradition]. Potatoes, though native to the Americas, are used worldwide, but they are prepared differently according to the cuisine that utilizes the ingredient. Modern cookware and appliances drastically change how our food looks as well as preparation time. Hours spent smashing aromatics into pastes or roasting meat can be simplified by using electric food processors or pressure cookers. All of these nuances in the cooking process embed cuisine in a time and place in history, tying it to the communities that cultivated it. Cuisine is a cultural extension of a certain people group, so to understand cuisine is to connect with others. Therefore, to understand the ingredients in a dish, one learns a lesson about the people that combined those ingredients together.

Similarly, as ingredients are to cuisine and culture, so are teaching practices to pedagogy and paradigm. Since I choose my vessel as self-authorship, my teaching practices must align with the constructivist paradigm the theory is embedded in. Briefly, the constructivist paradigm posits that knowledge is socially constructed and realities are multiple (Krauss, 2005; Rossman & Rallis, 2019). We know things because those around us know them a certain way, and our perspectives create different realities with which we view the world. I choose teaching practices that align with this idea of multiple socially-constructed realities.

Now, back to food. My grain bowl is heavily inspired by Italian, Greek, and Turkish flavors (at least the Americanized version of these flavors since I have yet to cross a Mediterranean trip off my bucket list). Because of this, my ingredients include tahini, chickpeas, peppers, tomatoes, and lemon*. I divided my ingredients into three categories: base, anchor, and sides and condiments. The base in a grain bowl, as the name states, is a grain. In this case, I will use rice. The anchor is the calorie-dense, filling part of the dish that does the heavy lifting of providing satiety. In my grain bowl, I choose to include meatballs. The rest of the ingredients are the colors of the dish in the form of sides and condiments. They are listed below:

  • Base
    • Rice
  • Anchor
  • Sides and condiments
    • Red pepper paste, recipe here
    • Mixed fruit and vegetable salad
    • Dressing or sauce to garnish, recipe here

Similarly, I provide three teaching practices that fit under the constructivist paradigm and help promote self-authorship:

  • Student interaction with a diverse student body (Hurtado, 2001)
  • Teaching metacognitive skills of planning, monitoring, and evaluating thought processes (Akturk & Sahin, 2011)
  • Experiential learning approaches (Heinrich & Green, 2020)

The quantity of each ingredient depends on my nutritional needs as well as the size of the vessel (which was already chosen based on my hunger). Similarly, the teaching practices I use will depend on the needs of my students. I dive further into this in my evaluation of these teaching strategies.

*Fun fact! Tomatoes and peppers are native to the Americas along with potatoes. Yeah. Imagine your beloved Italian pasta and pizza without tomato sauce. Pre-Colombian times were wild. We could get into a whole other discussion about colonization and trade, but I’ll save that for another time.


The satiety assessment is how I evaluate how well my food performed at its task, which is to satiate and nourish me. The following are the criteria I use for this evaluation:

  • Taste
  • Texture
  • Aroma
  • Nutrition
  • Fullness

Let’s take the base, for example, which is rice. This starchy element serves as a base of neutral flavor, a chewy texture that I enjoy in my food, a mild, nutty fragrance, a good energy source of carbohydrates, and fiber that will aid in satiety. Grain contains characteristics that coincide with the sensory experience of eating food, like taste, texture, and aroma, as well as characteristics that coincide with nourishment, like its carbohydrate-rich macronutrient composition and satisfactory fiber content. Therefore, based on my satiety assessment, rice is a perfectly adequate base, but I need a much heftier source of protein and fat to round out the macronutrient ratios.

Similarly, I can use strengths and limitations to evaluate my teaching practices. I’ll start with a diverse student body, which is just like the base of my grain bowl. It’s pretty much the bare minimum. Luckily, the bare minimum provides a massive number of benefits! Diversity in the classroom offers opportunities to challenge the ways one thinks by inviting other perspectives to look at a problem, which helps strength the epistemological dimension. Also, diversity counters the internalization of widely-held beliefs perpetuated by one specific group of people (internalized misogyny and fat phobia, just to name a couple). By allowing more voices, one is exposed to a wider understanding of the world, which helps to solidify one’s own identity. This strengthens the intrapersonal dimension. Lastly, diversity, most obviously, helps one communicate in a wider variety of ways than they would if taught to communicate with one specific group (overly-technical engineers, I’m looking at you). People from many backgrounds force one to learn empathy and widens their worldview. This helps strengthen the interpersonal dimension. The only limitation of basing my pedagogy around a diverse student body is the actual diversity (or lack thereof) within engineering classrooms. I have to work with what I’m given, and even if there is not a diverse student body to work with, I can still introduce diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) into classroom activities. Diversity is an outcome, but equity and inclusion are actions that support that outcome and are therefore necessary to create healthy, safe spaces for a diverse student body. I can focus on techniques that will support equitable and inclusive practices and open my students up to these techniques as well so they can continue promoting DEI as engineers in their workplaces.

If diversity is the grain base, then metacognition is the meaty anchor (weird visual). Metacognition is the process of planning, monitoring, and evaluating cognitive processes. It’s thinking about thinking. Understanding how one’s thoughts are constructed is important for self-authorship because it allows you to sit in them, move around, change up the furniture, and view it from different lenses (if it wasn’t clear, I inadvertently used a room metaphor to describe a thought). With this skill, one can be comfortable seeing things in multiple ways while being grounded in their own identity and perspective. Also, understanding thought construction can help communicate those thoughts to others because one can know, fully, the ins and outs of that idea and stand confident that they know exactly what they want to say. The limitation of metacognition lies in its assessment. Because this process is cerebral, assessing it can be cumbersome. The most common assessment tools are “think-aloud protocols and systemic observations” (Akturk & Sahin, 2011, p. 3734), which can be time-consuming and difficult to assess students as a group. Oral assessments in which students must explain some phenomenon using the metacognitive process may be a possibility. However difficult the challenge, teaching and assessing metacognition is definitely rewarding for supporting students’ self-authorship and fostering deeper understanding in general. No wonder it’s the meat of this grain bowl.

Finally, experiential learning is similar to my sides and condiments. Whereas diversity and metacognition provide pedagogical tools to teach self-authorship, experiential learning provides opportunities for students to showcase their self-authorship development. As a result, experiential learning facilitates a feedback loop between educator and student, in which the student displays their understanding and current position in self-authorship development, and the educator can take this formative feedback to augment their teaching practice to suit the student’s development. This becomes more difficult with more students, similar to metacognition, but that is the hardship of assessment. Another limitation to experiential learning is based in opportunity. Traditional classrooms are not set up to allow for experiences typical in engineering to happen, especially if no labs are available to use. Undergraduate research opportunities and internships are viable options, but these are known to be extra-curricular. A key step to implementing experiential learning is a breaking of the traditional classroom mold. This requires resources, facilities, and department or institutional permission to do so, so this is a long-term goal for me. Regardless, the benefits of experiential learning to “promote high-impact educational outcomes” and produce long term higher understanding of concepts (Heinrich & Green, 2020, p. 206) are massive positives that support self-authorship. I plan to sprinkle these experiences in when I can in my teaching practices, just like my sides and condiments.

Why food?

Why did I choose to showcase my pedagogical approach as a food preparation demonstration? Believe it or not, the theory of self-authorship is closely tied to food in my life. I explain this by briefly diving into a bit of my life story.

I love food. I also believe I love food more than the average person, even given that everyone must interact with food every day of their lives to sustain their bodies and minds. At one point in my life, I was obsessed with food. During my freshman year of undergraduate engineering education, I was diagnosed with an eating disorder. I concentrated so much on my food consumption in terms of calories and nutrients that I put myself into a major calorie deficit for weight loss*. This coincided with a massive amount of exercise since I was on the Varsity D1 cross country and track teams at my university. My goal was to be smaller. What I didn’t realize then was that I became smaller in every way. I was less out-spoken (despite the fact that I have an opinion on virtually everything in life), lacked self-confidence, and determined my interests based on what others around me wanted from me. I was a shell, but this makes sense when understanding the origin of my eating disorder. The desire to be thin was not from within, though some may try to make that argument on the grounds that “thinness means health and fatness means sickness,” (that’s a conversation for another day, but it is a massively important one—look up Sabrina Strings (2012)). The standard of thinness was socially constructed and covertly placed on women as an unnecessary burden. I remember once asking someone how long the diet I was on (as a preteen or younger) was going to last, to which they replied, “the rest of your life.” Once I reached my breaking point as a frail young woman with no self-confidence and weak identity development, I was positioned to enter the workforce. That was supposed to be the time of my life when I could work hard, establish myself in my career, and dig into my passions, but I was completely unprepared. Despite years of therapy in school, I was still just as obsessed with food, and I had no idea how to juggle this mental illness with work while masking any issues I had to my colleagues.

Long story long, I failed. I failed my coworkers because I didn’t perform at the capacity I knew I could and had proven that I could in school. I failed myself by thinking I should have healed faster and sooner. I failed my family and friends by lying to them, telling them I was fine because I didn’t know how to express my needs or my mental state. In other words, I had not spent any time self-authoring, nor did I know how. The theory of self-authorship encapsulates the balance between cognitive, metacognitive, and social experiences that felt out of control to me in my engineering profession. If I saw openness to new thought, self-assuredness, and relationships with others as fundamental aspects of what it means to be an engineer, the integration of food into my life as an engineer may have happened a lot sooner.

Now, I talk openly about my struggles with food as well as my love for food as vehicles to convey engineering education ideas, just as I’ve done in this post. Food is an essential part of me, and it will never go away because of the experiences that cemented it at the forefront of my being. Self-authorship allows me to lean into the holistic, complete picture of who I am as an engineer, researcher, and future educator (who also just happens to love food).

* I would like to note that at the time, I thought I was overweight, but looking back at photos of myself, I realize I was a healthy weight for a growing teenager, and the ridiculous standards of thinness for women and girls that was pervasive in early 2000s pop culture distorted my view of myself as well as beauty in general. Eating disorders are diseases of self-obsession, but they don’t come out of nowhere. I am definitely a product of my time, and this allows me to have empathy for others who seem trapped trying to meet the standards around them.


Akturk, A. O., & Sahin, I. (2011). Literature review on metacognition and its measurement. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences, 15, 3731–3736.

Baxter-Magolda, M. B. (2004). Self-Authorship as the Common Goal of 21st-Century Education. In M. B. Baxter Magolda & P. M. King (Eds.), Learning Partnerships: Theory and models of practice to educate for self-authorship (pp. 1–36).

Baxter-Magolda, M. B. (2008). Three elements of self-authorship. Journal of College Student Development, 49(4), 269–284.

Heinrich, W. F., & Green, P. M. (2020). Remixing Approaches to Experiential Learning, Design, and Assessment. Journal of Experiential Education, 43(2), 205–223.

Hurtado, S. (2001). Linking diversity and educational purpose: How diversity affects the classroom environment and student development. Diversity Challenged: Evidence on the Impact of Affirmative Action.

King, P. M., & Baxter-Magolda, M. B. (1996). A Developmental Perspective on Learning. Journal of College Student Development, 37(2), 163–173.

Krauss, S. (2005). Research Paradigms and Meaning Making: A Primer. The Qualitative Report, 10(4), 758–770.

Rossman, G. B., & Rallis, S. F. (2019). Major Qualitative Research Genres. In An Introduction to Qualitative Research: Learning in the Field (pp. 77–99).

Strings, S. A. (2012). Thin, White, and Saved: Fat Stigma and the Fear of the Big Black Body. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 170.

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