Saturday, January 22, 2011

Do Better Teaching Methods Make Too Many Demands on the Teacher?

Here is an article from the Teachers College Record, the online publication of the Columbia University Teachers College. It argues that proven tools for improved teaching are available, but often unused. Why? Here is Professor Ernst Rothkop’s explanation:

 I’ve come to suspect, however, that a much deeper systemic issue is at play here. Consider the micro-economic system within which teachers operate. Practically all the tactical maneuvers which cognitive research has suggested involve more work on the part of the teacher. The result that is the extra yield in student achievement is slow to make itself manifest, if it makes itself manifest at all. This is not like a new shape of plow or an electric wrench that immediately displays its labor-saving, production-boosting attributes. Nor is it like the new fertilizer that two months later shows unmistakable rises in crop yields. Nor are any of them obvious labor-savers. The results of these methods make more demands on teachers but do not reflect in their earnings or in the resources made available to them. Lawyers get paid more if they bill more hours. Craftsmen charge more to invest their product with extra quality. Teacher salaries are not result-oriented. The micro-economics of effort and value of return are broadly ignored at the classroom level. School boards should consider that, in our society, altruism is only an adequate incentive system after you make your first fifty million.

 To what extent do these concerns apply to law school teaching? For example, in my Land Use class, I give five quizzes, each worth 20 points instead of a final. I have to grade them. In my Advanced Legal Writing class, I give weekly homework. Good pedagogy, but more work for me. Part of the answer is to find and use good techniques that are not too labor intensive, but this strategy has its limits. Professor Rothkop suggests giving the teacher greater resources and imposing fewer obligations. Particularly in the current economic climate, these suggestions are of limited practicality.


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