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Building a Better Teacher #2

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

(Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson)

I recently posted about Elizabeth Green’s excellent New York Times Magazine article on how to build a better teacher, which covered Doug Lemov’s quest to find universally effective techniques that could be used by any teacher to each any subject. I neglected to mention that the article then goes on to discuss how content knowledge contributes to effective teaching.

For example, to teach math well, you need to know math, and you need to know how to teach. But there’s a third, separate body of knowledge – knowing how to teach math. Dr. Deborah Loewenberg Ball, one of the world’s experts in effective teaching, has identified this as M.K.T., or “mathematical knowledge for teaching.”

In Green’s words, “Teaching, even teaching third-grade math, is extraordinarily specialized, requiring both intricate skills and complex knowledge about math. … Mathematicians need to understand a problem only for themselves; math teachers need both to know the math and how 30 different minds might understand (or misunderstand) it.” Green describes, “At the heart of M.K.T. … was an ability to step outside your own head. ‘Teaching depends on what other people think,’ Ball told me, ‘not what you think.’

RIGHT ON!!! I think about this every day!

The foundation of my teaching philosophy is that each person’s brain is different, and my job is to help get math into your brain — even if it works completely different from mine. My stance has evolved organically out of the experience of helping people learn math one-on-one for over seven years. But this is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone else discuss it, and I was so thrilled I drew a heart in the margin of the article.

Dr. Ball, if you’re listening, I would love to see you write a book that makes Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching available to the general public, just like Doug Lemov’s taxonomy has evolved into Teach Like a Champion!

Related Posts:
Building a Better Teacher
A Cosmic Imperative To Customize
Doing Fractions “In Chinese”?!
Encouraging Independent Problem Solving – Subliminally?

3 Comments on “Building a Better Teacher #2”

  • Jeff Trevaskis on May 26th 7:33 am

    What a great blog post Rebecca! I too am reading Lemov with much interest. It is hard not to agree with his techniques. A great addition to existing theory. As you point out, however, there is much more to teaching Mathematics. It is the challenge to master this craft that makes teaching Math so interesting! I look forward to reading your future posts – I have Zook Tutoring firmly located in my rss reader.
    Cheers, Jeff.

  • Rebecca Zook on June 1st 11:49 am

    Hey Jeff! Thanks so much for stopping by! One thing I really love about Lemov is that it doesn’t seem to be based on any particular theory–it’s really bottom-up instead of top-down, like he’s just been trying to find what actually works regardless of any particular theory or agenda. I look forward to reading YOUR posts about the challenge of mastering this craft too!! take care!

  • Rebecca Zook on June 1st 11:59 am

    Now you are also in my rss reader! 🙂 Cheers!

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