Great teaching has long been seen as an innate skill.
But reformers are showing that the best teachers are made, not born.
To the 11- and 12-year-olds in his maths class, Jimmy Cavanagh seems like a born teacher. He is warm but firm. His voice is strong. Correct answers make him smile. Mr Cavanagh is the product of a new way of training teachers. Rather than spending their time musing on the meaning of education, he and his peers have been drilled in the craft of the classroom. Their dozens of honed techniques cover everything from discipline to making sure all children are thinking hard. Not a second is wasted. North Star teachers may seem naturals. They are anything but.
Like many of his colleagues are or have been, Mr Cavanagh is enrolled at the Relay Graduate School of Education. Along with similar institutions around the world, Relay is applying lessons from cognitive science, medical education and sports training to the business of supplying better teachers. Their technique is calibrated, practised, coached and relentlessly assessed like that of a top-flight athlete. Jamey Verrilli, who runs Relay’s Newark branch (there are seven others), says the approach shows teaching for what it is: not an innate gift, nor a refuge for those who, as the old saw has it, “can’t do”, but “an incredibly intricate, complex and beautiful craft”.
Are great teachers born or made?
Prejudices played out in popular culture suggest the former. Bad teachers are portrayed as lazy and kid-hating. Edna Krabappel of The Simpsons treats lessons as obstacles to cigarette breaks. Good and inspiring teachers, meanwhile, such as Michelle Pfeiffer’s marine-turned-educator in Dangerous Minds, or J.K. Rowling’s Minerva McGonagall, are portrayed as endowed with supernatural gifts (literally so, in the case of the head of Gryffindor). In 2011 a survey of attitudes to education found that such portrayals reflect what people believe: 70% of Americans thought the ability to teach was more the result of innate talent than training.
Elizabeth Green, the author of Building A Better Teacher, calls this the myth of the natural-born teacher. Such a belief makes finding a good teacher like panning for gold: get rid of all those that don’t cut it; keep the shiny ones. This is in part why, for the past two decades, increasing the ‘accountability’ of teachers has been a priority for educational reformers.
There is a good deal of sense in this. In cities such as Washington DC, performance-related pay and dismissing the worst teachers have boosted test scores. But relying on hiring and firing without addressing the ways that teachers actually teach is unlikely to work. Education-policy wonks have neglected what one of them once called the “black box of the production process” and others might call “the classroom”. Open that black box, and two important truths pop out. A fair chunk of what teachers (and others) believe about teaching is wrong. And ways of teaching better—often much better—can be learned. Grit can become gold. Continue reading “Teaching the teachers”
As teachers, when we see a student struggling with what we think may be dyslexia, we immediately want to help. But understanding what’s going on with a student’s language-based learning disability isn’t simple. Dyslexia takes different forms, and what works for one child doesn’t necessarily work for another.
We asked Nickola Wolf Nelson, Ph.D., lead developer of the new Test of Integrated Language & Literacy Skills (TILLS) and professor emerita in the Department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences at Western Michigan University, to share her best tips for understanding students who have dyslexia, plus techniques for supporting them in the classroom.
from We are Teachers
Towards Sustainable Futures through Multilingual Education
On the occasion of this Day, I launch an appeal for the potential of multilingual education to be acknowledged everywhere, in education and administrative systems, in cultural expressions and the media, cyberspace and trade.
Irina Bokova, UNESCO Director-General
To foster sustainable development, learners must have access to education in their mother tongue and in other languages. It is through the mastery of the first language or mother tongue that the basic skills of reading, writing and numeracy are acquired. Local languages, especially minority and indigenous, transmit cultures, values and traditional knowledge, thus playing an important role in promoting sustainable futures.
International Mother Language Day was proclaimed by the General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in November 1999. On 16 May 2007 the United Nations General Assembly called upon Member States “to promote the preservation and protection of all languages used by peoples of the world”. By the same resolution, the General Assembly proclaimed 2008 as the International Year of Languages, to promote unity in diversity and international understanding, through multilingualism and multiculturalism.
International Mother Language Day has been observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism. The date represents the day in 1952 when students demonstrating for recognition of their language, Bangla, as one of the two national languages of the then Pakistan, were shot and killed by police in Dhaka, the capital of what is now Bangladesh.
Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.
What is multilingual education?
Multilingual education facilitates access to education while promoting equity for populations speaking minority and/or indigenous languages, especially girls and women:
- It emphasizes the quality of teaching and learning with a focus on understanding and creativity;
- It reinforces the cognitive aspect of learning by ensuring the direct application of learning outcomes to the learner’s life through the mother tongue
- It enhances dialogue and interaction between learner and teacher by allowing genuine communication from the beginning.
- It facilitates participation and action in society and gives access to new knowledge and cultural expressions, thus ensuring a harmonious interaction between the global and the local.