Good teachers aren’t enough

I recently read with sadness the resignation letter of veteran history teacher Gerald Conti. In his letter, “My profession no longer exists“, Conti mourns the requirements of the Common Core and the Essential Learnings that “demean” the profession and rob teachers of their creativity. After a career of inspiring learners Conti realizes that the very qualities that made this possible are no longer valued or encouraged. Instead today’s teachers are expected to adhere lockstep to teaching scripts and one-size-fits-all lesson plans, helpless to halt the inexorable progression to standardised mediocrity.

He’s right. There is little room for inspired, creative teaching in the new dispensation – good teachers are squeezed out. The order of the day is adherence to prescribed curricula and national mandates.

He’s right. These reforms are an attempt to fix what may not be broken at his “superior secondary school.”

He’s right. There are good teachers who will be driven out of the professions by the new expectations, many good schools will no longer be able to do the very things that distinguish them.

But good teachers aren’t enough.

Good schools aren’t enough. Read More

Why Khan Academy videos work

A Car Crisis

A few years ago my clutch gave out as I was pulling down the on-ramp onto the highway. Fortunately I was able to pull to the side sufficiently not to get pulverized by the onrush of traffic, but needless to say I was in a bit of a pickle. The situation was particularly frustrating as I was broke having just spent a bucketload of money to get the clutch rebuilt! I was not able to afford any new repairs. I got the car towed to a friend’s house nearby (I couldn’t even afford to get it towed to my apartment). There was only one thing to be done – we would have to get the car running ourselves. I’m not a mechanic and neither is he, but we had one super tool in the tool box – google. We searched online for the car’s model and clutch problems and within not too long we found text and video help spelling out exactly what we needed to do. We followed the instructions and voilà I was good to go!

Khan Academy videos also work for a variety of reasons I’ll get into later, but most importantly they work because they are designed to satisfy an immediate need – they are examples of “just in time” (JIT) instruction, just like the videos and instructions we downloaded to fix my car. Read More

The secret to effective teaching

Once during a job interview I was asked “What does the effective teacher look like”. I paused, stumped – not because I didn’t know what an effective teacher was – that was easy – an effective teacher was a teacher who got results. No I paused because I knew that the effective teacher had many different faces. I knew effective teachers who were back-to-basics traditionalists, I knew effective teachers who were innovators, I knew effective teachers who integrated technology into every facet of their teaching, and I knew effective teachers whose most advanced technology was a transparency overhead projector.

I realized that I didn’t now much about effective teachers after all. Well that’s not entirely true – I could walk into a class and tell almost straight away if what was going on was an effective lesson, if what was going on was effective instruction. Problem was, I could not really articulate what I saw in those effective teachers.

So after a dramatic pause, I said something brilliant like “effective teaching is difficult to pin down to one or a few characteristics – but I know it when I see it”. I’m surprised I got the job!

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