Can good teaching be learned?

The article in the Sunday New York Times magazine, March 7, 2010, put on display an approach I encountered in counseling. The famous Neural Linguistic Programming approach to therapy for mental health workers was to select counselors/therapists with a proven track record, then simply record what they did.
What Bandler and Grinder did not do was listen to what the practicioners said they did but rather to watch what they did. What they found (this is all according to them and only from what I remember from a 3-day workshop in the mid-70s from the founders themselves incl Judith deLozier) was that while the practicioners’ statements about the basis for the therapies seldom matched with the outcomes, there were certain things all the successful therapists had in common.
The NLP approach was to teach these techniques to others. This is pretty much what Lemov, one of two investigators profiled in the article, did. What is it exactly that classroom teachers do that makes them successful?
The other person, Ball, wanted to know how you can successfully teach math and discovered you need to get inside the learner’s head.

Much of what I read matched my own reflection about my experiences both as a therapist and as a teacher. I’ve always said that my early experiences as a therapist for 20 years informed my teaching over the next 20+ years, but I didn’t work it into a coherent set of principles. That is what Lemov is trying to do with his 49 principles, specifics like ’give instructions while standing still’.

I have been so overwhelmed dealing with egregious misapplication of teaching principles e.g. handing out a worksheet and then going to sit behind the computer all period, that I did not think anyone would listen to such specifics. And, of course, I don’t have them worked out. That’s what Lemov and Ball are trying to do.

Ball believes that it matters what your subject matter is and that would certainly be true for fl teachers. That is, a lot of your technique would have to be related to fl teaching specificall as opposed to history or math or art.

One teacher, Bellucci, said she would have been lost without the rehearsal of how to tell a student he was off task. My ’rehearsal’ was probably all those years of counseling, particularly with kids.My training incl listening/watching myself counsel and getting feedback from colleagues via the 2-way mirror technique of observation.

The next is my response to a post which is the last item appended to this entry. The post and my response to it shows how we can overlook what to us is obvious.

This is one of the most revealing posts I’ve ever read on a listserv devoted to teaching. It may even mark the end of my participation on such listservs (unlikely). I am tortured by the possibility that I will offend the writer but this post is like a dart into my gut. Now I realize why so often I am received on these listservs as some sort of pariah, a nudnik (Very Late Latin word).

All I can think of is what teachers must be doing if they don’t do what the writer of the post quoted below suggests. Everything I say to students everyday to every student individually is calculated to do just what he suggests. What else should a teacher do but ENCOURAGE, PROMOTE, REINFORCE?

It’s not avant garde but basic learning psychology, basic prompts, basic esteem building, counters to negative self-messages. Who else does the student take his cues from? His parents and his teachers guide him in developing who he is. Why do the teachers at my school talk so negatively about their students? Now I know.

This is why I keep asking teachers to read Frank Smith and Alfie Kohn. What do people read? Even the Harry Wong book, which I have skimmed, advocates this stuff. Were teachers asleep during their ed. psych. classes? My friend is reading the Jones book and I look forward to seeing if he advocates putting kids down, ignoring their psychological needs, labeling them as losers. I doubt he does.

But now I realize why the posts about “coddling” students and about “lazy” students, and about “enabling” parents are so acerbic and vitriolic and vituperative. Those posters have no understanding whatsoever of how the human mind works. How tough their job must be! And how angry they must be at students they don’t understand. Boy, do I understand now the underlying frustration of teachers who see students as automatons devoid of emotion, pure logic machines capable of memorizing and spitting out grammar rules.

I regret any hurt or anger I may cause by addressing this post’s writer’s generous and sensitive realization of what Gladwell is getting at as an occasion for my own volcanic reaction. But I’ve been on flteach for 15 years and LatinTeach almost as long and have been addressed as if I were an unstructured, no-standards, goalless, pampering, catering wimp for saying that students take their cues from their teachers. All I can say is a resounding YES!!! DO THOSE THINGS. Talk to your students in a personal way. Show you make mistakes, too. Let them in on your own journey. This is often labeled humanistic teaching or the therapeutic classroom and villified by “hard-nosed” professionals and veterans. But it is truly elementary. Just elementary.
Pat Barrett

harnessing the greatest potential

I’ve been reading “Blink” by Gladwell, in which there are numerous
descriptions of psychological experiments and much data to support the
value of “priming” people’s subconscious, with both good and bad
intended outcomes. The more specific explanation and relevant
examples are probably too long to describe here, but what if we can do
something more for our students than the nice, but awfully ineffective
“Good luck” or “Do your best?” What if we could actually affect their
cognition on a specific assessment or subject by priming their
subconscious for success?

It sounds quite avant guarde, but I am quite serious about this, and
would like to take what these studies in Gladwell show and apply it to
my students’ preparation for the National Latin Exam. The only
question is how.

There are two general themes I get from the research Gladwell
presents: thinking smart = acting smart, and priming students with
subtle cues drives cognitive processes. What if I could harness this
in order to enable low achieving students to reach their full
potential? What if I could get a student who constantly thinks of
himself as a loser (and one of mine in particular has this written on
the eraser he uses all the time), to think his way to success?

What if I’m your administrator and I’m telling you to do this with
your kids? What would you do?

Based on one experiment in particular, what if I asked the kids at the
start of the NLE to write out on a piece of paper something positive
about themselves…e.g. the A’s they made this year and last,
something they are most proud of, the most interesting fact they know,

What if I reinforced, every day leading up to the exam, how well I
knew they would do on the exam? What if I posted encouraging words
around my room related specifically to their success in Latin/on the

I am really thinking out loud here, but I am hoping at least a few of
you will think out loud with me. Let’s take the merits of this idea
for granted… let’s say this would absolutely work… how would you
do it?

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