Would someone please define good teaching?


As I stared at the video I was supposed to write a faux observation for I rummaged through the myriad of rubrics, write-ups and points of reference I have filed away in my head under the blanket umbrella I commonly refer to as “good teaching.”

This “second year social studies teacher in NYC” was engaging her students in a lesson on the first amendment. She posed questions to her students about the pretend case at hand – a girl who believed her freedom of religion was violated for wearing rosaries – and structured her class to promote both small and whole group instruction.

During the course of the ten minutes. This still novice teacher posed questions which groups of students discussed first. She had clear systems for management and not one student in her class disrupted the flow of learning. During whole class conversation she called on a different student every time to share their group thoughts to the ever evolving and developing debate on the violation of first amendment rights.

While there was no concrete plan for capturing informal records of assessment, I did make note that it was the group and independent work part of the workshop model.

Yes, she did start many questions with the word “what.”  Yes, the conversation during whole group was often student to teacher. But she did demand her students justify their response with concrete evidence. She did make sure they formed a valid argument for their opinion and she did not allow any question to go to whole group before it was discussed in a turn and talk.

She incorporated technology. She actively engaged during the small group conversation. She supported students who were struggling and she encouraged students who were not to keen on participating.  I could not help but be impressed.  I know I wasn’t that good during my second year.

But as I stared at the paper which I was to write the observation on, I could not help but notice those around me finding the lesson filled with fault. From the amount of times she started a question with “What,” to the teacher to student questioning, it seemed as if this still fairly new teacher was doing anything but “good teaching.”

If all the above happened in the lesson,  if the class was engaged and each student was able to develop an opinion about the first amendment and the violation of civil liberties, how was what she did not good teaching?

What is good teaching anyway?  Doesn’t good teaching mean that the students take away something with them?  Doesn’t a good teacher teach students to transfer skills?  Doesn’t a good teacher foster a level of caring and respect?  Was I missing something? Did I overlook an 800 pound elephant in the classroom? I went to the web and found myself staring at video after video of classroom lessons.  I asked;

Is this good teaching?

Is this?

What about this?

After watching a bunch of videos and considering the many times I have watched a live lesson I found that I could even answer my question.  So I referred to my frames.   The notion of such may seem new but it has always been there.  For example ASCD developed and chart in 2007 that highlighted the areas of good teaching.

qualities-of-good-teachingThis idea of “good teaching” has really pushed itself to the forefront of all things education.  Districts and states are throwing around the likes of  Danielson, Marshall, and Marzano as the be all end all to what good teaching looks like, feels like, and sounds like.  But I can’t help and wonder if we, as a system, are losing sight of what we used to see, in an effort to fit the mold of a predefined rubric.

Don’t get me wrong, I have learned much about observation and evaluation thanks to the coaching and support that I have received using the Danielson Framework.  I have read the books and seen the positive outcomes of evaluations of teacher effectiveness under Marshall and I have even gleaned from the website how Marzano also supports effective teacher development.

But that is me, and when you are surrounded by current and future school leaders, who have watched the same 10 minutes as you and you find yourself in the minority it is hard not to wonder where we as a system are going wrong.  Doesn’t everyone know that just because you start a question with “what” doesn’t mean the question is not complex .  For example;

  • What does the first amendment cover? – basic recall
  • What care some things that you think might contribute to…? – a “what” question that is much more complex.

Doesn’t everyone know that under the Danielson rubric at least (and the one that NYC is pretty much locked into for a rating system) that an example of effective questioning and instruction could include “many students actively engaged in the discussion” or “discussions that allow students to talk to one another, without ongoing mediation by the teacher?”  Isn’t it clear to everyone that “a plan for a lesson that is well structured, with reasonable time allocations is an effectively developed lesson?”

Or is it just me, did I want to see something that wasn’t there?  Did I believe because I did not see management problems or students running around out of control that there was active student learning when there wasn’t?

When it comes down to it, it’s not so much what happened during the course of the 10 minute video, it’s the fact that there was such a disparity between the rating of the lesson among the participants in the room.  Teaching can not simply be based on a value-added test score.  If we can not come to an agreement on what good teaching is as observers, how can we possibly find the teachable moment to guide teachers into what it should look like?

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