Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Teaching Pt. 10

I heard several reports on the radio of methods and strategies that schools around the country are trying to improve test scores in challenging environments. Two methods stand out; pay teachers according to the performance of the students along with termination if their students fail to reach the standards.

This experiment does not test theories of education, rather it tests whether incentives motivate teachers, which economics has, in some respects, already shown that it does. The only problem with this approach is that it makes no sense to terminate teachers without instructing the teachers as to the best and most effective teaching systems that work for that particular school.

Given that educational research may take time to produce effective results, a more practical strategy may be more effective in the short term.

Practical Short Term Solutions:

To give teachers the best chances of succeeding it would be best to distill every single detail of the most effective teachers into system that is easy to implement. Here is an example, find the most effective teachers in your school and copy nearly everything about them. Copy their calendar - which indicate which topics are covered and when, copy their tests, quizzes, lecture notes, copy everything they use in their classrooms to the smallest detail - in other words try to replicate the results of the most effective teachers by emulating everything they do, down to the smallest details.

Some of the problems that may arise from this approach is that different teachers have different approaches, so it would be best to perform a delphi survey of the most effective teachers to develop the most effective calendar, the most effective tests, quizzes, and homeworks, the most effective lecture notes, and any other factors that make an effective curricula - for their particular school.

This approach makes it much easier for new teachers to be effective at a challenging school.

The curricula should also detail issues that aren't covered in traditional curricula, for example which sections of the book do students have the most trouble and how to address the problem. Explanations of difficult concepts that most students will understand. How to deal with the problems of many students in one classroom, how to deal with discipline problems, how to arrange the class so that discipline problems don't even have the chance of occurring? Are there any case studies of difficult students that caused problems, along with a strategy to deal with such students? In general - What issues are common to the student base that affect learning and how do we address such issues? The approaches to these issues should be included in the curricula.

Another idea is for teachers to give students tests similar to their local standardized tests on a daily or weekly basis. This way teachers can get an objective measure of the students progress AND focus on problems BEFORE the students are tested under actual conditions. This will give the teachers time to focus on portions of the test that most students find difficult and will help them identify students that may need extra help. The teachers can use a Scantron Machine with 882-E scantron form to quickly and accurately score the practice tests.

In addition practice test scores can help the teacher gauge how effective their practices are and how closely they are replicating the practices of the most effective teachers.

Lecture Analysis:

This is good idea in concept, but some problems may arise in practice. The core problem is that it is difficult for a teacher to analyze his or her lectures, if there is no standard by which it is measured. Without such a standard or at least a method by to find areas that need improvement and practical methods to ACTUALLY address these issues, it becomes nearly impossible to improve. It is not enough to simply point out all the teachers mistakes, practical solutions should be suggested. One should also balance the negative with the positive, after pointing out a mistake, point out what the teacher did correctly. Make it clear to the teacher that the analysis is not meant to punish them, rather to help them improve.

It may be helpful if the most effective teachers review the lectures and offer their advice. They can better guide the teacher to continually improve their teaching methods.


These are not the first nor the last schools with challenges, schools such as these have existed for a long time, yet most approaches are still trial and error. To help avoid trial and error it would helpful if the most effective, field tested practices for similar schools were shared around the country and around the world.

It would also be helpful if there was a centralized network where similar schools could exchange information. For example it may be helpful to set up an online forum where teachers around the country and around the world could exchange ideas, anonymously if they wish. One advantage of this method is that the most effective teachers around the country and around the world, for schools in similar situations, could publish their calendars, quizzes, tests, homeworks, lecture notes.

Super-teachers would be available to answer questions, solve problems, suggest methods and strategies. Super teachers would be identified according to their ratings- similar to how the rating systems work at Physicsforums.com.

To help replicate successful student outcomes, every detail of the most effective approaches, for schools in similar situations, would be published on the forum. Ineffective approaches would also be published so that schools in similar situations would AVOID making the same mistakes.

It may also be beneficial to construct a database of Case Studies of difficult students (identity protected) along with effective solutions, difficult classes along with effective solutions, concepts that students find most difficult along with effective explanations, problems with student crowd control along with effective approaches, etc. By effective I mean, field tested solutions to problems.

The most important question is, what have we learned about the best approaches for challenging schools? The practices don't have to be perfect, they simply have to take the best of what is possible in those schools.

John G.


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