Thursday, June 2, 2011

Images of Teaching

I was reading a recent book chapter by Russ, Sherin, and Sherin. In the chapter they discuss, among other things, four images of expertise in (mathematics) teaching:

Teacher as diagnostician

"Examining the mathematical thinking of students, looking for symptoms, and diagnosing their underlying causes"

Teacher as conductor

"Directing and shaping the classroom discourse... to orchestrate whole-class discussions in ways that advance the mathematical learning of the whole class"

Teacher as architect

"Selecting and implementing curriculum materials...choosing tasks to use with student as well as deciding how those tasks should be carried out"

Teacher as river guide

"To be flexible in the moment...responding quickly and effectively...responsive to the context, to students, and to what occurs in the moment."


I like this breakdown, both for thinking about research on teaching and how we conceptualize teaching, but also for thinking about my own teaching. How do I imagine myself as a teacher? In which of these images do I feel competent? In which do I feel more novice?

I will say that my weakest area is as architect- especially thinking about the design of a whole course. I haven't had a lot of experience designing courses, but I think I am also weakest here because I am a decent enough in the other three areas that I get away with not being a good architect. In this sense, the willingness and ability to improvise is both an asset and a liability. I have become more aware this year of my needs to mature as an architect, and have taken some steps to reflect on and enact some novice architect moves. One professor here at UMaine has been helpful in nudging me in this direction.

I'd say conducting is where I am strongest. Of course, I still need a lot of improvement, but I feel pretty comfortable and confident navigating whole-class discussion. This is a lot based on my experience in teaching as a summer kindergarten "teacher" in an Americorps program, as a tutorial TA and instructor at UMD, and even more recently as an instructor and PD facilitator at UMaine. But I also had the opportunity to watch a lot of good conductors. In particular, during my second year at Maryland, I watched David Hammer lecture everyday. A few times I even got to substitute teach for him, and try it out. Having role models helped a lot, but it helped even more that these role models were often the same persons coming in to observe me and give me feedback. Now that I think about it, I also got a lot of good feedback from my mentor teacher in the Americorps program. Mrs. Patterson was always nudging us to make sure that children had opportunities to learn from mistakes, and to not let them feel bad OR to let those mistakes just pass by.

As a diagnostician, it shouldn't be surprising that I feel adequate in some ways and less adequate in others. This is because I feel more confident as a conductor than as architect. I am good at diagnosing when I am conducting, but I need to improve my skills at designing more and better opportunities for diagnosing.

I think the river guide image is the hardest for me to assess. I feel like I am almost always playing river guide, largely because I fail to play architect well enough, but that doesn't mean I am good at being the river guide. I suspect my expertise is patchy. There are certain rivers I feel very competent reacting to rapids and obstacles; but there are other rivers where I would be lost and tumble over ungraciously. Being the river guide means you both know the terrain have all the skills down, but that you can perceive and react quickly and appropriately. It'll be interesting after my first year at MTSU to revisit this list.

Anyway, where do you all feel more or less competent as a teacher?

1 comment:

  1. Brian,

    I was lucky enough to meet Bruce and Rosemary at Foundations and Frontiers of Physics Education Research 2009. Bruce gave a very interesting talk there. So I'm very interested to read this chapter.

    I really like thinking about these four images of expertise.

    Due to tons of TA experience working at a help desk and reading a lot of "misconceptions" literature, I feel that I am strongest as a diagnostician.

    I am also a reasonable architect, having had to develop all my own courses from scratch and outside resources because the previous internal courses were simply too far away from how I wanted my own courses to run. However, I am still quite terrible at communicating the big picture of the course (or even lecture period) to the students. I can put the pieces together, but still really need to work on communicating how and why the pieces fit together to the students.

    River guide? I probably follow as many bad paths as I follow good ones. Sometimes when a prepared clicker question goes horribly wrong, I have the agility to come up with another clicker question to scaffold up to the first one and sometimes I don't.

    Conductor? This is the place that I most want to improve. Getting all the students involved, letting student explanations stand instead of feeling like I have to elaborate, developing a classroom culture where students feel safe to share their ideas even if they are pretty sure they aren't correct. These are all things I really want to work on.

    Thanks for the nice opportunity to have a little reflection.