University of Michigan Education School Dean Deborah Loewenberg Ball changed Green’s thinking, she tells USA Today‘s Greg Toppo.
When I met Deborah Ball, she gave me a math problem: 49 times 5. I said, ‘I’ve got this: 245.’ Deborah said, ‘Now tell me why a child would think that 49 times 5 equals 405.’ I had no idea. But she explained that the student had simply switched a step in the traditional multiplication algorithm, correctly carrying the 4 in 9 x 5 = 45, but then incorrectly adding it to 4 before multiplying by 5, instead of adding it to 4 x 5 (8 x 5 = 40).
Teachers . . . need to be able to reverse-engineer students’ mistakes. Yet it takes a special kind of knowledge to do that reverse-engineering. Even professional mathematicians can’t do it without training. Just knowing a subject is not enough to teach it.
The Japanese hold “public lessons” by great teachers that can attract as many as 1,000 observers, says Green.
But the point isn’t just to watch a model for everyone else to replicate. It’s also to experiment. They even have a teaching version of the television show Iron Chef, where two teachers will teach the same topic on one stage, but in two different ways. Each lesson becomes a hypothesis to see what’s working well. And then the best ideas get enshrined in the country’s national “course of study” and in textbooks, both of which are written by the best teachers.
U.S. teachers are expected to figure out how to teach effectively on their own, says Green.
The most elite professors “are the ones who focus the least on teaching” she tells the New York Times. Methods classes “receive the weakest funding, are least informed by research and bear little clear connection to what teachers are actually going to have to do when they leave the university and enter the classroom.”