“Teacher moves” — the many decisions a teacher makes every day — have been ignored by education researchers, writes Michael Goldstein, who founded the high-scoring MATCH charter school in Boston, in Education Next.
Should I ask for raised hands, or cold-call? Should I give a warning or a detention? Do I require this student to attend my afterschool help session, or make it optional? Should I spend 10 minutes grading each five-paragraph essay, 20 minutes, or just not pay attention to time and work on each until it “feels” done?
Researchers care about raising test scores, while teachers “care more about solving today’s problems,” Goldstein writes.
Teachers need to use time efficiently. Researchers don’t consider opportunity cost: They want teachers to spend more time on X without saying where they should spend less time.
Education researchers often put forward strategies that make teachers’ lives harder, not easier. Have you ever tried to “differentiate instruction”? When policy experts give a lecture or speak publicly, do they create five different iterations for their varied audience? Probably not.
Experienced teachers have seen fads, allegedly supported by research, come and go. Newbies pick up the veterans’ skepticism. To develop useful research, “it makes sense to focus on topics that teachers care about,” writes Goldstein.
1. How to be more efficient. Many teachers want to work less without being neglectful. Or they’d like to free up time to invest in new priorities.
2. How to manage the classroom so kids behave better, thus lowering the “misbehavior tax” on learning. If a middle school teacher can “reset” the class only 3 times per period, instead of 5, that’s probably 1,440 fewer times per year that he has to deal with misbehavior. (By “reset,” I mean when a teacher says something like, “Guys, come on. I need your eyes on me. I need you to settle down. Joey, that means you. I’m going to wait until I have everyone’s eyes.”)
3. How to motivate and generate student effort, especially, how to “flip” kids who arrive having not worked hard in previous classes or years. This includes both getting kids to exert effort during class and getting them to work hard at home.
4. How to get kids to remember material that they seemingly once knew. Cognitive science has moved the ball forward here; now we need applied experiments with teachers.
5. How to best explain particular ideas and concepts. Each year, tens of thousands of math teachers try to get kids to understand the notion that division by zero does not exist.
Goldstein proposes the Teaching Move Genome Project to identify teacher moves and rate their effectiveness. He wants randomized trials, not just perceived best practices.
In his best-selling book Teach Like a Champion, Doug Lemov describes 49 teaching moves he has observed in the nation’s top charter schools. At the University of Michigan, Deborah Ball and her colleagues are close to unveiling a list of 88 math teacher moves. Lee Canter’s Assertive Discipline and Jon Saphier’s Skillful Teacher discuss scores of moves, like the “10-2” rule (have kids summarize for 2 minutes in small groups after 10 minutes of teacher-led instruction), much of it supported by nonrandomized research.
Goldstein envisions a randomized trial of Lemov’s “Right Is Right” move.
The idea is that when a kid gives an answer that is mostly right, the teacher should hold out until it’s 100 percent correct. Lemov describes various tactics the teacher can use to elicit the 100 percent right answer from the student (or first from another student, before having the original student repeat or extend the correct answer).
The obvious cost of implementing this move is time. These back-and-forths add up to lost minutes each period when other topics are not being discussed. A less skillful teacher might be drawn into a protracted discussion, when her next best alternative (simply announce the 100 percent right answer, and move on) might work better. We just don’t know.
Is it feasible to test the effectiveness of “teacher moves” for different teachers and different sets of students? Is it a good use of time?