Since Krypton can’t supply enough SuperTeachers, can we build a better teacher out of ordinary mortals? Elizabeth Green in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine looks at training teachers in the techniques developed by successful teachers and developing teachers’ knowledge of how students may misunderstand new ideas.
Doug Lemov, author of the upcoming Teach Like a Champion, thinks what looks like “natural-born genius” is often “deliberate technique in disguise.
“Stand still when you’re giving directions,” a teacher at a Boston school told him. In other words, don’t do two things at once. Lemov tried it, and suddenly, he had to ask students to take out their homework only once.
It was the tiniest decision, but what was teaching if not a series of bite-size moves just like that?
Lemov believes “students can’t learn unless the teacher succeeds in capturing their attention and getting them to follow instructions.”
Lemov’s view is that getting students to pay attention is not only crucial but also a skill as specialized, intricate and learnable as playing guitar.
EdWeek blogger Walt Gardner thinks it’s harder to imitate successful teachers than Lemov thinks.
Good technique isn’t everything, argues Deborah Loewenberg Ball, a University of Michigan education professor. Neither is mastery of the subject. Good math teachers must know what math looks like to learners.
It’s one thing to know that 307 minus 168 equals 139; it is another thing to be able understand why a third grader might think that 261 is the right answer. Mathematicians need to understand a problem only for themselves; math teachers need both to know the math and to know how 30 different minds might understand (or misunderstand) it. Then they need to take each mind from not getting it to mastery.
Ball calls this Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching, or MKT. She developed a test of math knowledge and MKT and compared teachers’ results with their students’ test scores. Students of teachers with above-average MKT scores learned “three more weeks of material over the course of a year than those whose teacher had an average score, a boost equivalent to that of coming from a middle-class family rather than a working-class one.”
Sixty percent of mathematicians who took the test “bombed” on the MKT questions.
Inspired by Ball, other researchers have been busily excavating parallel sets of knowledge for other subject areas. A Stanford professor named Pam Grossman is now trying to articulate a similar body of knowledge for English teachers, discerning what kinds of questions to ask about literature and how to lead a group discussion about a book.
As a tutor, figuring out what was going on in my student’s mind was a huge challenge — and I only had one kid at a time. I wonder to what extent this can be taught to new teachers.