3 Qualities of an Outstanding Teacher

I saw this post on a writing program listserv and thought the insight transferred well beyond composition.  It’s not enough to know your field and know how to draw students into the class; you have to be able to figure out where their learning is breaking down:

I saw the NYT article as proposing that neither pedagogy nor content knowledge along was adequate to the job of effective teaching, that both were needed. Lemov appears to believe that, no matter how well teachers know the content, they will be ineffective if the students aren’t paying attention. The case of “Wilma” illustrates the complementary point of view that it’s not enough for students to pay attention if the teacher doesn’t have a good grasp of content and of how and why students might be misunderstanding it. There’s actually three kinds of knowledge required of a good teacher:

 1. Strong knowledge of content

2. Knowledge and command of strategies to engage students’ attention

3. Knowledge of how students are likely to understand or misunderstand what they are learning.

 It’s the last one that knits the first two together. The last one was Mina Shaughnessy‘s most important contribution in her attempts to figure out the genesis of the kinds of syntactical errors that student make in their writing.  She gave meaning to “awk.”

 When my kids were small, I became really interested in teaching them how to ride a “two wheeler.” I knew how to ride a bicycle (#1 above). There was no problem with #2 above; the kids were engaged and motivated, if a little nervous. What I didn’t know was what the kids, who were tricycle experts, didn’t know about riding a bicycle. Once I got to thinking about the problem in that way, it became pretty clear that they didn’t know what “balance” was (or, more precisely, what balance felt like). So, I set them up at the top of a gently sloping driveway and had them just coast to the bottom a couple of times using their feet and legs as outriggers. Without worrying about pedaling or falling, they could discover balancing. After a couple of coasts, they just rode away. By late afternoon they were standing on the seat.

 David E. Schwalm, Assoc.Professor, Emeritus

ASU at the Polytechnic campus

7001 East Williams Field Road

Mesa, AZ 85212

Phone: 480 727-1418  david.schwalm@asu.edu

Home:  480 897-0804


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