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


Get ready to explore the fascinating world of teaching through Elizabeth Green’s ‘Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone)’. Delve into the minds of pioneers in educational research such as Nate Gage, Lee Shulman, and Eric Hanushek, as well as the experiences of educators like Magdalene Lampert and Deborah Loewenberg Ball. Discover the secrets to effective classroom management, the importance of engaging with students, and how cultural factors influence learning. Learn from the best practices of Japanese teachers and the challenges faced by American educators as they implement various education reformations. This summary will leave you with valuable insights that can transform teaching methods and ultimately, the lives of students.

Transforming US Education

Pioneers of educational research in the US such as Nate Gage, Lee Shulman, and Eric Hanushek had rich ideas about teaching, leading to the creation of The Handbook of Research on Teaching and the importance of teacher accountability to improve education.

In the early 1900s, an enormous number of teachers in the US taught millions of children with little research on how to teach them effectively. But researchers such as Nate Gage, Lee Shulman, and Eric Hanushek transformed the field of education with their innovative and insightful ideas.

Gage, a researcher at the University of Illinois, pioneered the formal study of teaching psychology. Despite not being teachers themselves, Gage and his team experimented and published The Handbook of Research on Teaching in 1963. Shulman, on the other hand, challenged Gage’s book and researched how teachers manage their classroom timing effectively.

Hanushek’s interest in education was sparked by a research study by James Coleman, a Johns Hopkins sociologist. He discovered that a teacher’s impact on student performance was significant and not determined by pay or seniority. Top-performing teachers could enable students to move forward an entire grade level more than those with underperforming teachers.

These pioneers’ contributions have changed how we approach education, particularly by emphasizing the importance of research and teacher accountability. The Gage handbook has become a cornerstone in educational research, while Shulman’s work has transformed the way we think about effective teaching in the classroom.

Hanushek’s observations of teacher impact also highlighted the need for teacher accountability and reform beyond just increasing funding for poorly performing schools. By paying teachers based on performance and effectiveness, rather than seniority or experience, we can ensure that students have access to top-quality education that sets them up for success.

Transforming Mathematics Teaching

Two fifth-grade teachers in East Lansing, Michigan, Lampert and Ball, sought to improve the way mathematics was taught. Lampert wanted to equalize the opportunities of her students from various backgrounds while helping them understand core mathematical concepts. Ball struggled with her students’ poor performance in math and reached out to Lampert for answers. Together, they transformed Spartan Village into a teaching laboratory, introducing a teaching style known as “This Kind of Teaching” (TKOT), which focused on getting students to think mathematically rather than just providing correct answers. They achieved this by asking open-ended questions and allowing students to explore solutions and debate different ideas. The TKOT approach has since gained popularity and has been introduced in many schools.

The Best English Teachers

Students learn best when teachers model good behavior and encourage discussion. The best English teachers, studied by education professor Pam Grossman, use strategies that build on student intuition, encourage peer interaction, and prompt discussion. For example, Peter Williamson had his class debate the meaning of a short story, while Yvonne Divans Hutchinson used prompts to initiate group discussions. By engaging students and encouraging questions, these teachers produced more participation and better learning outcomes than their peers in struggling urban areas of Los Angeles.

The Teaching Gap

In “The Teaching Gap,” University of Chicago psychology professor James Stigler and his colleague Harold Stevenson compare how children learn in China, Japan, and the United States. They found that cultural factors, including how children spend their time at school and at home, play a crucial role in educational outcomes. Japanese learners outperform their American counterparts in mathematics and science. The authors suggest that teaching practices, rather than curricular differences, explain the gap. Japanese teachers engage in collaborative lesson plans, observe how others teach, and participate in ongoing professional development. Meanwhile, American instructors rely heavily on standardized curricula that emphasize rote learning. Stigler argues that US teachers should adopt techniques used by their Japanese counterparts to help students achieve more significant academic success.

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