Showing posts with label teaching research. Show all posts
Showing posts with label teaching research. Show all posts

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Why I'm Not Impressed with Effective Teachers

            I was making a presentation about how to raise reading achievement. I was taking my audience through research on what needed to be taught and how it needed to be taught if kids were to do as well as possible. I was telling about my experiences as director of reading of the Chicago Public Schools at a time when my teachers raised reading achievement.

            When I finished, a teacher approached me. “What do you think is the most important variable in higher reading achievement?”

            My answer was, “The amount of teaching—academic experience—that we provide to our children.”

            She stared at me, horrified. “Not the teacher?”

            We hear that a lot these days, that the trick to high quality education is excellent teachers. Who in their right mind could be against excellent teachers?

            For example, the Center for American Progress (CAP) just released a report showing the importance of quality teachers in Pre-K through Grade 3, particularly for kids from low-income families.

            However, I’m more interested in verbs than nouns. The focus on effective teachers—teachers, a noun—makes it seem like we just are attracting the wrong people into the profession. Man, if teachers were smarter, more teacherly, more better, than our kids would do great.

            Contrarily, my focus is on teaching—teaching, a verb—which shifts my attention to what it means to be effective. Effective teachers are not just nicer people to be around, but they do things that less effective teachers do not.

            For example, effective teaching employs instructional time more wisely.  It is teaching that gets started right away—no 30-minute circle times, no large portions of class time devoted to getting a head start on the homework—and such teaching keeps kids productively engaged throughout the day. Observational studies have long showed that effective teaching avoids long wait times by the kids; avoids disruptions; encourages more interaction per instructional minute; follows a sound curriculum intelligently; gets a lot more reading into a lesson; explains things better; notices when kids aren’t getting it and does something about it.

            What’s the difference?

            I can’t teach you to be an effective teacher. But I can teach you to do the kinds of things effective teachers do. We can figure out what makes them so special and can emulate their specialness. Driving a car like Tiger Woods won’t make you a great golfer (sorry General Motors), but if you can get at what makes him great, then perhaps you can emulate that golf behavior successfully. Experts drool over his golf swing—squaring the head of the club up to the ball time after time. You might lack Tiger’s nerves and reflexes and his muscle memory developed through long hours of practice, but you can work on developing a fundamentally sound golf swing—just like Tiger’s—and that will make you a better golfer.

            If the issue of educational effectiveness turns on effective teachers, then you either are one or you are not. If it turns on teaching effectiveness—knowing how to model effectively, to explain things clearly, to guide practice effectively, to let go at the right moment to let the students try it themselves, to review wisely—then we all have a lot to work on. Great teachers aren’t born, they’re made. Effectiveness isn’t a feature of a person, it is a goal to strive for.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

What Can Librarians Do to Support Student Literacy?

Any thoughts on top 2 or 3 literacy concepts on which you would focus librarians? Grades 4-8?

My response:
Let me say how happy I am that you are available to students and teachers. As I make my way across the country I find fewer and fewer school-based librarians. Unfortunately, you appear to be part of a disappearing breed. Here are a few ideas.


Basically, I think one of the biggest things school librarians can do for teachers is help them and their students to find resources. As teachers are trying to emphasize content and informational text to a greater extent, helping them to identify relevant and appropriate books and articles on that content can be of great value. When I taught third grade, I could inform my school librarian what my subject matter would be for the month--in social studies and science--and she would provide me with a box of materials from her shelves that I could use to extend and improve what was available in my classroom. These days that could also include providing links to certain kinds of online materials, too.

Part of this help may include letting the teachers know the levels of the available books. More and more publishers and knowledge bases are providing Lexile levels and librarians can be a valuable conduit to that info. That way, if a teacher wants students to read several texts on a topic, they can array them so that the easier texts serve as a scaffold for taking on the more challenging ones.

Librarians can be the first line of instruction on how to conduct library research and how to use various reference works. Most teachers don't do much with this; nor do literacy programs, though research is stressed in all state standards. However, knowing how to use dictionaries, encyclopedias, almanacs, yearbooks, including online resources like Google or Yahoo is hugely important, and yet few teachers have much expertise in those areas. Instead of just having kids come in to get books (which is more than a mere "just," I know), librarians should have an actual curriculum to deliver that supports the accomplishment of their state's research standards.

With younger students, those resources are probably not that different from what I taught as a third-grade teacher. However, as students move up through the grades it is important that students that they learn to use more specialized resources. For example, for a 9-year-old, teaching the dictionary--print and/or electronic--is a great idea, but by eighth grade, kids should be learning how to use scientific and historical dictionaries so that their research is appropriate to the disciplines that they are studying. Similarly, many states provide EBSCO subscriptions or subscriptions to other knowledge bases; students--and their teachers--should be learning how to use those and let's face it, that kind of expertise is usually right on the mark for a good librarian.

Encouraging Reading
Finally, providing a positive, encouraging environment in which students can find books that they want to read or where teachers can find books that they can share with students is hugely important. Many teachers are concerned about whether their students are going to love reading, but they rarely have time to work this into their curriculum. Creating a positive environment with lots of encouragement and support for students' extra-curricular reading can be a big contribution.  I know some school librarians who set up reading clubs and who host various displays and activities aimed at getting kids involved with books.

And, on another matter. For those who have asked, here are the powerpoints for my recent presentations at the annual International Literacy Association meeting that just took place in St. Louis.

ILA 2015 Talks