A reader-friendly synthesis of what research and other evidence show are the basic principles of effective teaching. It favors no educational theory except that we should do what works.

The Teacher's Craft: The 10 Essential Skills of Effective Teaching

From the prologue:

An outstanding teacher makes all the difference in the world. One of the things we know for sure about education is that there is nothing anyone can do to improve student achievement that is as important as providing highly skilled teachers. Nothing.

All sorts of evidence support this statement, but the best may be studies comparing the progress of students who were lucky enough to get good teachers with those who were unfortunate enough to get bad ones. William Sanders, former Director of the Value-Added Research and Assessment Center at the University of Tennessee, has led the way in this area. Year after year he measured the academic progress of Tennesseeís school children. Taking into account IQ, socioeconomic status, past achievement, and other factors, Sanders estimated how much each student could be expected to learn, as measured by standardized achievement tests. By comparing expected performance with the studentís actual achievement, Sanders was able to gauge the effectiveness of individual teachers. He found that some teachers got markedly better results than would be expected, given the characteristics of their students, whereas other teachers got substantially worse results than would be expected.

For instance, in one study Sanders and J. C. Rivers compared the math skills of 5th graders who had been assigned to either very effective or very ineffective teachers for three years in two school systems. In one school system the students with the best teachers scored at the 83rd percentile, while those with the worst teachers scored at the 29th percentile. In the second school system, students with the best teachers scored at the 96th percentile; those with the worst scored at the 44th percentile. In each case, the assignment of teachers made a difference in average scores of more than 50 percentile points!

Other studies tell a similar story. H. R. Jordan and colleagues, for example, looked at reading and math scores after three years with either very good or very poor teachers. Students who had very effective teachers scored at the 76th percentile in both reading and math, while those who had ineffective teachers scored at the 42nd and 27th percentiles in reading and math, respectively.

It is truly remarkable how much difference a single teacher can make in a studentís progress. Sanders has found that it may take a student four years to recover from the effects of one year with an ineffective teacher. The student who gets poor teachers for three consecutive years may never fully recover, even if he then gets excellent teachers.

And it isnít just the weakest students who benefit from stellar teaching. Kati Haycock, Director of the Education Trust, notes that good teachers produce markedly better results in students regardless of the studentís previous achievements. In other words, good teaching benefits all students.

So, forget about race, parental education, family income, ethnic background, the sequence of courses in the curriculum, the number of computers in the school, class size, school uniforms, outdated textbooks, the number of vacation days, and anything else youíve heard about that might affect student learning. The 800-pound gorilla in the room is how teachers teach. The quality of teaching is not only the most important factor in student learning, it is so far out in front that it doesnít even matter what comes in second.

But what, exactly, does teaching mean? There are lots of answers to that question, but rather than review them here I will simply offer my own:

Teaching means doing things that improve the rate, durability and transfer of learning.

At the risk of being referred to a support group for obsessive-compulsive writers, I will discuss this definition in some detail. This is, after all, a book about teaching, so we should start off with a clear understanding of what I mean by the term . . .


Copyright © 2008 by Paul Chance

Books by PC

"Although I have been teaching for over 50 years, I learned a lot in my reading of The Teacher's Craft. Paul Chance knows his way around a classroom, and he knows his way around scholarly literature on teaching."
--Robert Rosenthal, University of California, Riverside.
"Superb book that should be essential reading for all teachers."
-- Judy Cameron, University of Alberta.
"The book is extremely readable without sacrificing accuracy."
--Elizabeth Street, Central Washington University
"I particularly appreciate the conversational style of writing."
--Cam L. Melville, McNeese State University
"The clearest and most straightforward book for undergraduates."
--Frederick Bonato, Saint Peter's College
"The examples are clever and intriguing ... a thoughtful and well-written textbook. The author is to be commended."
--Mark Reilly, Arizona State University