Teaching teachers to teach

Joe introduced me to Learner.org, a Web site with online resources for professional development for schoolteachers, as well as classroom resources. Joe particularly mentioned the online videos that are designed to help schoolteachers become better teachers. So I watched a video of a fourth grade teacher leading a small group literature discussion. The small group setting was somewhat akin to a Sunday school class: plenty of personalized interaction between the teacher and the students, and teacher-guided interaction between the students. The general subject area, responding to literature, is also akin to Sunday school classes: discussing a work of literature, and talking about what’s going on in the work. The video shows an experienced teacher, Rich Thompson, actually teaching children, and the video also includes Thompson reflecting on how he teaches.

I found I learned a lot from watching this experienced teacher. I learned a lot just from watching his body language with the children, e.g., as the two boys drift away, Thompson puts his hands on the backs of their chairs to keep them included. I also liked the tone of voice he used: he was warm and calm, open and friendly; you can tell he likes the children he’s working with. I noticed the way he expressed his own thoughts and ideas about the book they were discussing, so he could model how an experienced reader engages with a text (“Did you notice that the book was War and Peace? Do you know how big that book is? That’s the book she used to hit the bear with”). And I really liked the way he did formative assessment at the end of the lesson, talking briefly with each child about what they did well, and where they could improve.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have resources like this for volunteer Sunday school teachers? Unfortunately, producing a series of twenty-minutes videos like this would be expensive, and liberal religious institutions don’t have the resources to do something of this caliber (and I feel that producing a poor video would be worse than no video at all). But given how hard it is to deliver training to volunteer teachers, it is something to think about.

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