Knowing your Content Area is not enough
Traditionally, students have trouble thinking of subjects beyond right and wrong answers. For example, students will see a history class as a set of dates and events that need to be memorized in order to answer questions correctly on an exam. They fall short of seeing the broader picture or the impact that history can play on the present world or their own lives. Similarly, students miss the broader aspects of mathematics and science. They rely on formulas and procedures to solve the instant problem, but fail to see how the formulas and procedures are actually based on larger concepts that apply universally to the physical world.
If a teacher can connect a subject to the student’s own life, that student will achieve a better and more deeply-rooted understanding of the subject. For example, in history, a teacher can introduce subject matter by involving the students in debate which draws upon the students’ own experiences. This creates a more personal connection with the student and subject matter. In mathematics, a teacher, through the use of models or physical demonstrations, can link a student’s basic understanding of numbers with larger mathematical concepts. This approach replaces a traditional teacher’s dependence on just abstract concepts of numbers. With physical sciences, a teacher can take advantage of a student’s common, intuitive understanding of the physical world to show physical laws in action.
No matter the class subject, research has consistently shown that effective teachers must understand how a student learns. However, effective teaching approaches in one subject do not necessary translate to another subject. A teacher must tailor lessons so as to maximize the effectiveness of the lesson. Teachers must also be willing to adopt new teaching strategies. They cannot become married to traditional or outdated teaching approaches. Teachers must be willing to try new and innovative approaches that take advantage of ever-developing insights into how a student learns.
Traditionally, history classes focused on the facts of past events. This traditional approach fails to recognize the more personal or overarching implications of history. The history teachers discussed in this chapter tried to relay an understanding of history more akin to how a historian would view historically significant events. Their lessons focused more on critical thinking and analysis, and less on pure memorization of facts and past events presented in a textbook.
Mathematics has been traditionally taught as a process of computation. Traditional teachers focus on showing students how to get from point A to B by using rigid formulas and procedures. While this approach may be effective in answering a specific question designed to test a student’s ability to use a formula, it fails to develop an understanding of mathematics that goes beyond the lesson. The teaching approaches discussed in this chapter try to instill a...