Sunday, July 25, 2010

Every Teacher Can Improve

I believe that highly effective teachers are persons who are able use their inate abilities and learned techniques to impart knowledge to children. Some of the skills of a great teacher may be inborn, but I believe most of the methods of teaching can be learned and perfected through years of practice. That's why I've always looked for better ideas about good teaching. We can all learn to improve our profession and our skills as teachers. Scientists have made great strides in recent years in the study of the brain and particularly about how humans learn those concepts and skills that make them successful in life. One recent book by a cognitive scientist deserves to be read and utilized by teachers who want to improve their instructional techniques. The book is titled Why Don't Students Like School? By Daniel Willingham. This book is designed to inform teachers about some of the latest discoveries about learning theory and how teachers may apply these principles in their classrooms.

The book is very readable. It does not have technical jargon we usually see in scholarly works but attempts to describe good teaching techniques in everyday language. Here is a brief summary of some of the concepts about learning and teaching that are described.

  • The author points out that people are naturally curious but the mind is not designed for thinking. When confronted with a situation that requires analysis and thought most people rely on past knowledge instead of trying new ideas. Teachers must apply techniques that stimulate the learning of new skills and knowledge.
  • Knowledge and facts accumulated through reading and stimulating experiences are vital to thinking and learning. Some students are handicapped because of minimal reading and limited life experiences.
  • Teaching lessons must be planned in such a way as to utilize those brain characteristics that encourage learning and remembering.
  • Why is it so difficult for students to understand abstract ideas? Is it always necessary to relate school lessons to everyday life?
  • One chapter has a very interesting discussion about recent findings about the misuse and over use of praise for school work. It turns out that one type of praise is helpful while another type of praise is actually counterproductive.
  • Is drilling worth it?
  • What is the secret to getting students to think like real scientists and other experts?
  • How should I adjust my teaching for different types of learners?
  • How can I help slow learners?
  • How does the teacher's mind figure into the teaching and learning process?
Many of these topics have been addressed in teaching methods classes or in inservice  workshops for teachers. But the difference here is that these topics include the latest research about the mind and about learning theory. The author includes numerous real life examples that make his points applicable to actual teaching situations. This stuff is really state of the art learning theory.

If you believe that teaching is a profession and a craft that requires constant honing of skills and the use of the latest science based strategies, you will find this book quite useful.