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What Skills Do Teachers Need to Be Effective?

Posted by Joe Clarkin on Oct 21, 2015 7:00:00 AM
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Every teacher is different, and there are numerous teaching styles that can work for any one individual. With that said, there are are few core skills that just about any needs needs to be an effective educator. In this list from Mindshift, they run down their list of the most important teaching skills, as well as how schools and teachers can go about instilling those skills. Check out the excerpt we've included below, and read the full article here!

  • Leading a whole-class discussion. “In instructionally productive discussions, the teacher and a wide range of students contribute orally, listen actively, and respond to and learn from others’ contributions.”
  • Designing a sequence of lessons toward a specific learning goal. “Teachers design and sequence lessons with an eye toward providing opportunities for student inquiry and discovery and include opportunities for students to practice and master foundational concepts and skills before moving on to more advanced ones.”
  • Eliciting and interpreting individual students’ thinking. “To do this effectively, a teacher draws out a student’s thinking through carefully chosen questions and tasks and considers and checks alternative interpretations of the student’s ideas and methods.”
  • Analyzing instruction for the purpose of improving it. “Learning to teach is an ongoing process that requires regular analysis of instruction and its effectiveness.”

Helping Teachers Learn Those Skills

Teaching teachers is particularly difficult because everyone has some experience of either being a student or teaching something informally. And those prior experiences shape ideas about what education should look like.

When a student comes into the teacher preparation program at Michigan, faculty want to know what beliefs and skills students are bringing with them. Professors then tailor the curriculum to focus on the things students don’t know. They also work hard to help pre-service teachers unlearn habits or beliefs they picked up from their own years as children in school that are not productive ways to help kids learn.

To figure out what incoming students already know about teaching, Michigan faculty asks them do a role-playing exercise where they actually do some teaching. The pre-service teachers are given a piece of paper with a math problem on it. The paper also includes an answer. Here’s one of the problems the Michigan students are given, with an answer a student might actually have given.

ARW Math Problem

The Michigan students get a few minutes to look at the problem. Then they sit down with a graduate student or professor who plays the role of the kid who came up with the answer 83. The pre-service teacher’s goal is to find out what the student did to produce that answer, and why. The entire teaching moment is recorded on video.

The point of this simulation is to see how well the Michigan student can elicit and interpret student thinking. That’s one of the high-leverage practices, and it’s hard to do. Even if the pre-service teacher can figure out what the student did, it’s really hard to leave space for the student to explain his or her own thinking.

Often, rather than eliciting the kid’s thinking, the “teacher” tells the kid what she thinks the kid was thinking, says Boerst. He calls it “filling in student thinking.”

“And that happens in classrooms all the time,” he says. “Teachers make assumptions about what kids are thinking. Kids don’t really know how to say otherwise or maybe aren’t inclined to say otherwise. Like, ‘Yeah, that’s what I was thinking ’cause I don’t really want to say what I was thinking.’”

Boerst says this can lead teachers to think kids understand the material when they don’t.

By watching and coding these simulated assessments, Boerst and his colleagues have found that half of the students coming into the elementary teacher prep program at Michigan do this “filling in of student thinking.”

Teaching students out of this habit is one of the goals of the Michigan teacher prep program. But just reading or talking about the fact that you shouldn’t do this as a teacher isn’t enough, says Boerst. People have to practice doing it a different way.

Anna Arias and Betsy Davis, instructors in the Elementary Teacher Education program, watch video of their students practicing teaching, in the Brandon Center at the University of Michigan.
Anna Arias and Betsy Davis, instructors in the Elementary Teacher Education program, watch video of their students practicing teaching, in the Brandon Center at the University of Michigan. (Emily Hanford/American RadioWorks)

Teacher preparation in the United States hasn’t been focused enough on practice, says Ball. Traditionally, students in teacher prep programs spend a lot of time reading and talking about teaching.

“The assignments in the past were much more reflection, analysis,” Ball says. “In some sense, we could have been misled by people getting good grades for writing well. And, although it may sound a little too extreme, I think we’re more interested now in whether they can do it well, not how well they can talk about it.”

At Michigan, students are continually recording themselves as they practice teaching, and then watching the video and analyzing it. When teachers encounter a difficult moment in the classroom, like a misconception that they aren’t sure how to debunk, they have a tendency to just get through it and try not to think about it again.

“Many of us have had that experience of, ‘OK, phew, that’s over, I don’t have to do it again,’ ” says Betsy Davis, a professor in the elementary education program. That’s exactly what Michigan is trying to train its pre-service teachers not to do. Instead, the program tries to instill reflection for the purpose of improvement into everything, especially mistakes.

“By having the interns watch their own video of their teaching really carefully, they see things or they hear themselves saying things that don’t make sense or that are missed opportunities,” says Davis. “And that’s one of the things we ask them to highlight in their videos: What did you miss the chance to do that if you were doing this over you would do?”

About Joe Clarkin

Joe Clarkin is a former copywriter at MBS. When he’s not working or studying, you’re most likely to find him reading a book or watching a game.

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