(Illustration by R. Kikuo Johnson)
I recently posted about Elizabeth Green’s excellent New York Times Magazine article on how to build a better teacher, which covered Doug Lemov’s quest to find universally effective techniques that could be used by any teacher to each any subject. I neglected to mention that the article then goes on to discuss how content knowledge contributes to effective teaching.
For example, to teach math well, you need to know math, and you need to know how to teach. But there’s a third, separate body of knowledge – knowing how to teach math. Dr. Deborah Loewenberg Ball, one of the world’s experts in effective teaching, has identified this as M.K.T., or “mathematical knowledge for teaching.”
In Green’s words, “Teaching, even teaching third-grade math, is extraordinarily specialized, requiring both intricate skills and complex knowledge about math. … Mathematicians need to understand a problem only for themselves; math teachers need both to know the math and how 30 different minds might understand (or misunderstand) it.” Green describes, “At the heart of M.K.T. … was an ability to step outside your own head. ‘Teaching depends on what other people think,’ Ball told me, ‘not what you think.’”
RIGHT ON!!! I think about this every day!
The foundation of my teaching philosophy is that each person’s brain is different, and my job is to help get math into your brain — even if it works completely different from mine. My stance has evolved organically out of the experience of helping people learn math one-on-one for over seven years. But this is the first time I’ve ever seen anyone else discuss it, and I was so thrilled I drew a heart in the margin of the article.
Dr. Ball, if you’re listening, I would love to see you write a book that makes Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching available to the general public, just like Doug Lemov’s taxonomy has evolved into Teach Like a Champion!