Can we teach teachers?

by Matthew Koslowski on March 11, 2010
in Anecdotes

While study after study shows that teachers who once boosted student test scores are very likely to do so in the future, no research [Jonah Rockoff, economist at Columbia University] can think of has shown a teacher-training program to boost student achievement. So why invest in training when, as he told me recently, “you could be throwing your money away”?
–From “Building a Better Teacher” by Elizabeth Green, The New York Times Magazine, March 2, 2010.

When I first read the above in The New York Times Magazine, I was shocked. This economist questions if we can teach people to be successful teachers.

While I believe that there are natural limits to each person’s ability, I believe that education and training help people increase their natural strengths and mitigate their weaknesses. Being able to teach someone something requires more than just knowledge, it requires the ability to communicate that knowledge. Education and training in methods can help teachers acquire the ability to communicate their knowledge.

Imagine that instead of providing hands-on training to Emergency Medical Technicians we taught them only the theoretical concepts behind the techniques. They learn anatomy, biology and some chemistry; they discuss the theory and the history of the techniques; but they are never taught the techniques themselves. Then, in the field, the technician does not know how provide CPR and someone dies.

In this scenario, would an economist question whether teaching particular techniques and methods in addition to academic knowledge was worth the money?

If you think my scenario sounds far-fetched, please read the following quote. In 2006, Arthur Levine, a former president of Teacher College at Columbia University, wrote:

“Today, the teacher-education curriculum is a confusing patchwork. Academic instruction and clinical instruction are disconnected. Graduates are insufficiently prepared for the classroom.”
–Arthur Levine, quoted in “Building a Better Teacher” by Elizabeth Green, The New York Times Magazine

Despite these two quotes, the article “Building a Better Teacher” focuses on Doug Lemov of Uncommon Schools and his research into what makes good and great teachers. He systematically surveyed and videotaped teachers who students consistently scored well year after year. From his research, he was able to distill many techniques that he found the best teachers employed.

Mr. Lemov’s work shows that research is being done into whether teacher training can help improve educational outcomes. The article convinced me that it is possible to improve communication of ideas using techniques and methods that are not currently a standard part of teacher education.

Future teachers and their future students will be best served by the changing focus of teacher training institutes from high level, abstract pedagogical theory to on-the-ground, concrete teaching methods.

Thoughts on Libraries

by Matthew Koslowski on February 17, 2010
in Essays

In This Essay

“Do School Libraries Need Books?” from Room for Debate, The New York Times, February 10, 2010
“The Library, Through Students’ Eyes” from Room for Debate, The New York Times, February 14, 2010
“A library without books” by David Abel, The Boston Globe, September 4, 2009
“Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, by Nicholas Carr, The Atlantic, July/August 2008
 

I remember reading in The Boston Globe last September that a private school in Massachusetts had given up its collection of books. I was aghast.

That Cushing Academy gave away collection of books, turning its library into a digital media center, continues to bother me.

Since reading that article, I have thought a lot about the role of libraries in our society. I have library cards for three different library systems here in Massachusetts. I joined the Boston Athenaeum, a membership library, last December after writing about them in a December 11th’s Weekly Review.

Libraries are important places. Digital technology cannot yet replace — and I hope never will — brick-and-mortar libraries.

I love going to physical libraries. I love browsing the stacks.

One afternoon while wandering through the shelves, I came across The Poet’s Guide to Life: The Wisdom of Rilke a collection of fragments from Rilke’s letters, collected into thematic chapters by Ulrich Baer. Without the serendipity of walking through the stacks, I would never have found the book because I would never have thought to look for it.

I walked into the Boston Athenaeum on Saturday to visit again the art exhibit I reviewed last week, An Artist + A Poet. Walking around the new acquisitions displays on the first floor, I found Young Rilke and His Times by George C. Schoolfield. Again, I never would have thought to look for this book but I’m glad to have borrowed it.

That’s one weakness I find in my own Internet research. There is so much information out there, that unless I know what I am looking for, I have trouble finding anything at all. Reading from the Internet encourages us to read shallowly and seek a particular piece of information and continue on.

We have become sifters.

But when we enter a library, we are looking for knowledge in a broader sense than we are when we begin an Internet search. When we begin an Internet search, we are looking for answers to specific questions. When we enter a library, we are looking for answers, yes, but I think we are open to letting those answers inspire additional questions in ways we aren’t on the Internet.

All the same, I am no luddite. I know that the Internet is changing the way that we think and organize information. Perhaps libraries will become obsolete.

But I hope that we continue recognize the value of books and libraries. There are no pop-up advertisements in books, nor banner ads in libraries. Just as online, there are other things — more books, though, rather than more sites — vying for our attention in a library. Yet, I find myself able to become immersed in a book in a way that I have never seen translated online.

I hope that we keep these quiet bowers.

What are your thoughts? Share them with us.

Do libraries hold any special memories for you? Have you moved completely online? Do libraries have a future, or only a past?

Weekly Review: December 4th to December 10th

by Matthew Koslowski on December 11, 2009
in Weekly Reviews

This has been the first week that I’ve managed to keep to a form my dedication, made some weeks back, and worked on my Weekly Review several nights rather than just one. I am still overwhelmed by the streams of information that I am trying to swim in. I am learning to manage, though, and I think the quality of the Weekly Reviews is only going to increase in 2010.

These Things Caught My Eye

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Weekly Review: November 27th to December 3rd

I had not realized just how many things come through my newsfeeds in the course of a few weeks. On returning to my newsfeeds after ignoring them to work on my application essays for the Boston Teacher Residency, I had over 1,000 items to review.

Even after clearing out almost all items prior to November 27th — a few of the headlines caught my eye and seemed worth reading — I still had in excess of 400 items to review. So, here are some of my favorites from that review.

These Things Caught My Eye

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Weekly Review: November 6th to November 12th

I have implemented the first stage of my strategy, using a feed reader to manage my feeds. Consolidating all of the different streams of information down so that I just have to deal with the one website each day has been a blessing. I am still tinkering with this aspect of the strategy: I am thinking of moving to an offline feed reader because I’m not sure how long Reader saves all the posts I highlight with a star.

I failed this week to implement the second stage of my strategy, writing a little bit of the Weekly Review each day instead of all at once. There is always tomorrow to begin the Weekly Review: November 13th to November 19th!

Want to Learn Poetry from Matthew Koslowski?

I am developing a one session course to introduce adults to reading poetry for pleasure. The tentative title is, “Bawdy&Body: An Introduction to Poetry for Adults.” If you live in eastern Massachusetts, or around here, and would be interested in attending such a course, contact me.

These Things Caught My Eye

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