Malcolm Gladwell tells us how to be an effective teacher

Tuesday, 09 December 2008
ChalkboardI found a really interesting article in the New Yorker written by Malcolm Gladwell. You know, that guy who wrote The Tipping Point with the funny hair? No journalist can describe him without describing his hair...

In Most Likely to Succeed, he writes a great article about how do you hire when we can't tell who's right for the job? He teases out two examples, the college football player looking to get into the NFL and your basic teacher. How do you we know they can both do the job from a basic job interview?

It was a good article and most of it isn't relevant to teaching or paddling any way. That is, except for a great section where Malcolm looks at what makes a good teacher more effective then a basic one. That is where he brings out a bunch of relevant points to our life as paddling instructors.

In the article, we meet Bob Pinanta, dean of the University of Virginia's Curry School of Education. He spends his time video taping teachers interacting with students in class to try to figure out how a good teacher can get the same point across in half the time as mediocre teacher.

Boiling everything down, researchers came up with a bunch of good points that makes a teacher more effective and they are in no particular order:
  • Over the years of recording and evaluating teachers, researchers developed a system for evaluating competencies relating to the student-teacher interaction. One of them is "regard for student perspective" which means, the teacher's knack for allowing students some flexibility in how they become engaged in the classroom. The more effective allows kids to be themselves without losing control of the classroom.
  • Personalise your lessons as much as possible. It will draw your students in. Get your students to help with demonstrations or use them as examples when good technique is demonstrated.
  • When giving feedback, make sure that it is high quality with back-and-forth exchange between student and teacher to get a deeper understanding.
  • Move through your lessons quickly and efficiently. Going quickly is often interpreted as a bad thing but your excitement and energy will infect the class. For students struggling while you are teaching let them know what you will come back to anybody having problems and not to worry. That will allow them to concentrate on what you are saying rather then worrying they are going to get lost. They know you know that they don't know. You know?
  • We often think of feedback as something given at the end of the lesson to make sure everybody knows what is going on. Weave feedback all throughout the lesson. Check in with each student as much as possible throughout the lesson. The more the better. The more you give; the more effective your lesson is going to be and the more they are going to learn.
  • Be sensitive to your students needs. If you can fulfill those needs throughout the lesson, you will be successful.
  • Many researchers feel that that the best teacher is not the smartest teacher with book smarts. Researchers feel the most effective teacher is one who has good people skills to work with both the students as a whole and individual at the same time.

It's a great read. You will also learn how they pick the best football players for the NFL.

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David Johnston

David Johnston

David Johnston has been introducing people to the sport of sea kayaking for the past 15 years. He is a senior instructor trainer with Paddle Canada and teaches for several paddling schools in Ontario, Canada. Full Bio.

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