Specialists

One of the myriad gems from Elizabeth Green’s stellar NYTimes magazine piece:

[Michigan State assistant professor Deborah Lowenberg Ball’s] somewhat surprising conclusion: Teaching, even teaching third-grade math, is extraordinarily specialized, requiring both intricate skills and complex knowledge about math.

Same point I was making last week about specialists.  It goes on:

Ball began to theorize that while teaching math obviously required subject knowledge, the knowledge seemed to be something distinct from what she had learned in math class. 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.

This goes back to another point I was making a couple of weeks ago, namely that instruction and its management are more complex than most conventional wisdom acknowledges.  Cultural norms are important, and pieces like Green’s are a terrific step in changing the perception of teaching.

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