The Secret Garden of Teaching


the one million dollar question for an Israeli teacher is how to customize instruction to suit each and every student in class.  How to avoid a one size fits all teaching; how not to be satisfied with teaching to the average student and how not to run away towards teaching the material instead of teaching the students.

———

Eli Hurvitz

Opening remarks at the Weizmann Institute's 2nd symposium on the use of classroom based videos for the professional development of mathematics teachers, January, 7th, 2014:

Several years ago I was talking to a colleague, who is a world class gardener.  I was shocked when he told me that he is immensely frustrated. My friend runs a beautifully nurtured garden which is surrounded by a nature reserve, and he made it into a real gem becoming one of Israel's most visited spots, with hundreds of thousands of visitors a year. So what is there to complain about, I was thinking to myself, this guy has a dream job. But, he told me that behind the beautiful scenery, the operation of running a garden so that flowers and trees would look at their best all year long is a tremendous effort. In a moment of weakness and even despair he said to me: "I wish the visitors didn't come and ruin my garden, only if they didn't come, the garden would have been perfect".

This is indeed very frustrating, and my heart went out to him. But what would you say if a mathematics teacher has said the same sentence about their own work experience. If a teacher said: "I wish students didn't come to my class, only if they didn't come, the lesson would have been perfect".

Teaching is only demonstrating that it is possible. Learning is making it possible for yourself” ― Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage"

Teaching is only demonstrating that it is possible. Learning is making it possible for yourself ― Paulo Coelho, The Pilgrimage

Israeli classrooms are indeed a tremendous challenge. They occupy more than 30, and sometimes 40 students, and even more so they are very diverse. We talk a lot in Israel about gaps between schools, but the within school variance is even higher. In comparison to an average OECD classroom, in which there is a majority of average performing students, with some struggling and some excelling students, a typical Israeli classroom would be divided almost equally between low, average and high performing students, making it almost impossible for the teacher to teach to any majority of students.

So the one million dollar question for an Israeli teacher is how to customize instruction to suit each and every student in class.  How to avoid a one size fits all teaching; how not to be satisfied with teaching to the average student and how not to run away towards teaching the material instead of teaching the students.

a typical Israeli classroom would be divided almost equally between low, average and high performing students, making it almost impossible for the teacher to teach to any majority of students.

a typical Israeli classroom would be divided almost equally between low, average and high performing students, making it almost impossible for the teacher to teach to any majority of students

The use of classroom based videos would be crucial at this point, because it helps teachers to expose their teaching practice, their underlying assumptions and decisions, but even more so, it reveals the context in which instruction takes place. It is not the lesson plan, nor the curriculum, the textbook, and even not the blackboard, which are all beautiful gardens without visitors. As David Cohen taught us, it is the classroom itself, it is the teaching that has no meaning at all without the learning, where real students are interacting, and they come in different sizes, each with their own background, knowledge, difficulties, pace and learning style. They are the true story without which there would be no purpose to teaching.

Israel's national priority today is to expand its circle of excellence. In order to maintain our relative advantage and to fulfill the untapped talent of so many students, we must increase the number of students learning advanced level mathematics in high school. The immediate implication of this goal is that even the advanced ability classes would become more diverse, and in order to avoid a high dropout rate, instruction would need to become more clinical, more customized, and more personalized.

Classroom based videos as a vehicle for teacher learning would be very important component in this endeavor, therefore I salute the Weizmann Institute for taking the lead and going deep into the matter, the Ministry of Education for identifying the importance and deciding to implement on a wider scale, and to all the professionals and organizations that are now profoundly engaged in similar efforts. I am grateful to our international guests who made a long way coming here to serve as critical friends, and to all of us I wish an interesting and fruitful conference.

#WeizmannInstitute #Symposium #Teaching / Alan Schoenfeld ; Deborah Ball ; David Calrke ; Miriam Gamoran Sherin

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