"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Team, Partner and Subject Teaching

In a previous post, "Science and Mathematics Education: What Is the Current Situation?" I mentioned the following: "I have a friend who grew up in Singapore and one major complaint I heard from this person regarding education in the United States is the general lack of subject teachers. Teachers in US schools are assigned to teach an assortment of subjects while in Singapore, apparently, there is a math teacher, a science teacher, a reading teacher even in primary grades." It is assumed that subject teachers are experts on the subject they are assigned to teach.

Subject matter experts, of course, are not necessarily more effective teachers especially in an elementary school. One can not pluck a chemistry professor from a PhD granting institution and expect that person to be a stellar teacher of science in a primary school. A practicing scientists often has difficulty in fact in relating their work with non scientists. There is subject expertise, but for basic education, pedagogical expertise is likewise required. Expertise in a subject taught in primary schools is perhaps so much more than just knowing the material. The least it requires is being familiar with challenges and struggles primary school children face inside the classroom.

Britain has embarked on an education reform that places subject teachers in its primary schools as reported last year by the Telegraph. In "Specialist subject teachers parachuted into primary schools", Telegraph's education editor Graeme Paton writes, "From 2012, funding will be reallocated to allow more state-funded training places to be made available for subject specialist primary school teachers. They will get priority places over students taking general primary courses and schools will be offered the chance to train their own primary specialists." 

Subject teaching, however, means so much more than just a teacher teaching and focusing on one subject. The following illustrates what comes with subject teaching. The arrangement naturally forms a team of teachers handling a group of students. A partnership evolves among subject teachers. Each student in the class is now seen, observed and cared for by more than a pair of eyes.

There are schools in the United States that are not experimenting on subject teaching. For example, here is a recent article from the Chicago Tribune:

During the morning in Northbrook's Shabonee School, one class of grade 3 children receives math instruction from Sandy Olson, while the other class is learning reading with Melissa Metzinger (the teacher shown in the photo above). In the afternoon, the two teachers switch classes but not subjects. Metzinger continues to teach reading and Olson teaches the same math lesson one more time but with the other half of the third grade class in Shabonee. 

Casey Turner, a teacher in North Carolina, tells a similar story on her blog, "Second Grade Math Mania". She uses the word "team" on her article to describe subject teaching:

Copied from
Team Teaching in Second Grade
In the article, she basically shares what she has learned from this particular arrangement. One thing Turner highlights is: 
"The key ideas here are really TRUST and COMMUNICATION. I absolutely trust my co-teacher. We also talk DAILY about certain kids. We note behavior patterns between the two classes and we keep each other informed if someone is struggling."
Singapore basic education does place high in international ranking. Without doubt, this is partly due to effective teaching. Subject teaching is perhaps one reason behind effective teaching. One needs to be careful, however, in copying something. One may successfully copy the "subject" part but neglect the "team" and "partner". When this happens, what usually succeeds in one place does not appear transferable. It is due to transferring only one thing and not the whole.

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