The New York Times Magazine just featured a few teachers who are changing the way American elementary school classrooms work. Doug Lemov, a leader of the movement, is coming out with Teach Like a Champion, a book of his teaching tenets, and you can see his neat instructional videos HERE.
One key to teaching math would be knowing the common mistakes students make about the manmade, intimidating things we call “numbers.” As Elizabeth Green wrote in the NYT article, “It’s one thing to know that 307 minus 168 equals 139; it is another thing to be able understand why a third grader might think that 261 is the right answer. Mathematicians need to understand a problem only for themselves; math teachers need both to know the math and to know how 30 different minds might understand (or misunderstand) it.” In other words, a good math teacher remembers what it’s like to manipulate numbers for the first time, and anticipates students’ mistakes.
The best teachers in any field are probably those who can anticipate the mistakes most people would make. I think of effective teaching as similar to the talent it takes to give directions in a place that’s badly marked. If the roads to a cabin aren’t clear, you might tell a visitor something like, “when you hit the lake, take a right. It might be confusing, because there are two ways to turn right, but take the sharpest turn. If you’ve taken the correct turn, you’ll see a tackle shop on your left in five minutes.”
That is, a good teacher can remember where the usual wrong turns are. She remembers what it’s like to see some piece of land for the first time--before the habits of familiarity kicked in. A good communicator gets in the head of the person she’s talking to, so that she’s delivering information at its most effective level.
What do you think makes a teacher a good teacher? I’d be interested if the videos of Lemov’s tenets, captured HERE, seemed as effective to you as they did to me.
Ilana Simons is a therapist, literature professor, and author of A Life of One's Own: A Guide to Better Living through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf. Visit her website here.