Building a Better Teacher | Elizabeth Green

Summary of: Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone)
By: Elizabeth Green


Embark on an insightful exploration of the evolution of teaching through Elizabeth Green’s ‘Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone)’. Delve into the worlds of pioneers in US educational research, like Nate Gage, Lee Shulman, and Eric Hanushek. Discover their fascinating ideas on teaching methods, cognitivism, and teacher accountability. Join Magdalene Lampert and Deborah Loewenberg Ball as they strive to transform Spartan Village into a teaching laboratory and uncover the impact of cultural factors on learning from comparing studies in the US, China, and Japan. Finally, learn about the birth of the strict charter-school movement and the limitations of behavioral policies.

Revolutionizing Education Research

In the early 1900s, teaching in America was unregulated, with little research available on how to teach teachers. However, pioneers such as Nate Gage, Lee Shulman, and Eric Hanushek had rich ideas about teaching even though they weren’t teachers themselves. Gage created a formal study of the science of teaching, which resulted in the publication of The Handbook of Research on Teaching. Shulman became fascinated with teachers’ classroom timing and focused on “cognitivism.” Hanushek became interested in education after studying a research study by James Coleman, leading to his thesis and future influence in the field, where he made the case for teacher accountability. Hanushek discovered that teachers had a significant influence on student performance, arguing that how well teachers teach should align with their pay and seniority. This revolutionized education research and is still relevant today.

Teaching Beyond Limits

Magdalene Lampert and Deborah Loewenberg Ball, two educators at Spartan Village school, Michigan, developed “This Kind of Teaching” (TKOT) to help students from diverse backgrounds excel in mathematics. Lampert’s technique involved encouraging participation, even if a student provided an incorrect answer. She applauded that at least, they were thinking mathematically. On the other hand, Ball focused on conjecturing her answers by questioning whether a mathematical proof was true. Despite the challenges, they worked together to transform Spartan Village into a teaching laboratory and developed TKOT to help students stay on task, have better discussions, and learn math more efficiently. This unique teaching style results in a more equitable educational experience for students of all backgrounds.

Engaging Teaching Techniques

Pam Grossman’s research on teachers in struggling urban areas reveals that effective English teachers use encouraging techniques to inspire active participation in students. By embodying the correct behavior and providing prompts, teachers like Peter Williamson and Yvonne Divans Hutchinson prompt students to think critically about the text they are studying and encourage peer involvement. Grossman’s research shows that teenagers are more receptive to feedback from their peers. Hutchinson’s approach to varying the degrees of difficulty of questions aims to sustain interest in students and engage them in their own frames of reference. Effective English teachers are seen to be able to generate student participation through engagement and interaction.

The Teaching Gap

In the book “The Teaching Gap,” James Stigler and Harold Stevenson compare how children learn in China, Japan, and the US. They found that 73% of Japanese six-year-olds scored higher than the average American child, with cultural factors like how children spend their time at school and home playing a role. The Third International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) showed Japanese teachers didn’t announce their lesson plans before teaching, while American teachers asked simpler questions with easier answers. Japanese instructors have jugyokenkyu, which covers their methods of improving as teachers. Unlike America’s focus on standards, Japanese teachers observe how others teach, discuss lesson plans, and study curriculum materials with colleagues. The book challenges the US education system’s failure to address the bigger picture and prioritize teacher training and improvement.

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