A Teacher Is the Sum of All of the Problems She Can Solve

Teacher = sum of problemsOver the past year and a half I have been writing a handbook for novice physics teachers. The book is about using cognitive science to help novice physicists into experts. In it I wrote the line:

A physicist is the sum of the problems she can solve.

Now my mind has turned to training teachers, I realise that a teacher too is the sum of the problems she can solve. Teaching is about solving problems: how to explain something quickly and clearly; how to assess it; how to break down sequence the ideas; how to get students into the class quickly; how to manage a Q&A…. The list is very long.

An expert teacher knows how to solve thousands of problems, some outside the classroom, but many of them live, in front of demanding students.

In my physics book, I used Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) to help understand how we learn to solve problems. One of the key findings of CLT is that we learn how to solve problems best when the cognitive load is low. That means, distractions should be kept to a minimum. The classroom is a terrible place to learn to teach.

At Paradigm Trust, we are addressing this problem by rehearsing solutions to classroom problems outside of the classroom. We are using Paul Bambrick’s Get Better Faster programme alongside Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion 2.0 strategies. When these strategies become automatic, the cognitive load of the classroom is reduced, meaning teachers are able to learn to solve new problems faster.

The next blog discusses automaticity and Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion strategies. 

1. I have allowed for everything else that makes a teacher by adding a correction factor ‘X’. I am aware of how wrong-headed this is.


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