Effective Teaching for the 21st-Century Learner (A Multi-Part Series)


“This is the value of the teacher, who looks at a face and says there's something behind that and I want to reach that person, I want to influence that person, I want to encourage that person, I want to enrich, I want to call out that person who is behind that face, behind that color, behind that language, behind that tradition, behind that culture. I believe you can do it. I know what was done for me.”—Maya Angelou


At the heart of an Education for the 21st Century is an effective teacher. This is because we are not born with innate knowledge and advanced cognitive skills such as critical thinking and problem-solving. Instead, these skills must be taught and learned. Effective teachers have the knowledge, skills, and dispositions to guide and inspire their students. Without effective teaching, deep learning cannot take place. Research suggests that the most important controllable factor that a school has to increase student achievement is the quality of its teachers. According to one of the nation’s leading education experts, Dr. Robert Marzano, “The one single factor that surfaced as the single most influential component of an effective school is the individual teachers within that school.” Studies in both Tennessee and Texas revealed that students that had effective teachers significantly outperformed those that did not. And when students had effective teachers three years in a row, they scored up to fifty percentage points higher on mathematics tests than students who had ineffective teachers (Sanders & Rivers, 1996). The National Bureau of Economic Research published a longitudinal study of over a million students that pointed out learners who were taught by highly effective teachers had significantly better long-term outcomes than those that were not. These students were more likely to attend college, earn higher lifetime salaries, and were less likely to have children while in adolescence. The study demonstrated that by replacing a teacher at the bottom 5% with a teacher of average effectiveness, that teacher could increase a student’s lifetime income by approximately $250,000 per classroom ( Chetty, Friedman, & Rockoff, 2013).


Effective Teaching

President George W. Bush’s signature education law, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) of 2001, required all teachers who taught a core subject, English language learners, and students with disabilities to be “highly qualified.” Understanding the importance of effective teaching, the law set minimum requirements for a highly qualified teacher, including possession of a bachelor’s degree, state certification, and demonstration of competency in the subjects taught. Unfortunately, there was little evidence that NCLB resulted in significant student achievement and was replaced with the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015, which repealed the highly qualified requirements. Despite the highly qualified requirement's dissolution, most everyone agrees that effective teaching is an integral component of student learning. But there is a lingering debate about what constitutes an effective teacher. Do degrees and credentials make teachers successful? Are experienced teachers more effective than new teachers? Do student results on high stakes tests identify teaching effectiveness? Can administrative observations and performance reviews accurately determine how effective or ineffective a teacher is? According to Thomas Good, Caroline Wiley, and Ida Rose Flores in their chapter titled Effective Teaching: An Emerging Synthesis, research indicates that effective teaching results from a teacher’s professional knowledge of content, pedagogy, curriculum, students and community as well as teacher’s beliefs about their students.


Teachers’ Professional Knowledge

At the heart of effective teaching is a teacher’s professional knowledge. Teachers must be highly conversant in content, pedagogy, and knowledge of students to guide them to the highest levels of academic achievement. Think of each of the areas of professional expertise as legs on a stool. If one is missing or underdeveloped, the stool will topple over or at the very least be off-balance. This is why it takes many years for teachers to reach high levels of effectiveness. Teachers must develop all three areas proportionally. Some teachers will come into the profession with excellent content knowledge while lacking in pedagogical skill and expertise. These teachers usually make great lecturers but have difficulty transmitting their knowledge to students effectively. This is why it is sometimes challenging for people to change careers and become teachers. They may be highly competent and knowledgeable individuals in their chosen fields. Still, if they lack a high degree of pedagogical expertise and relational skills, they will not be effective teachers. Other teachers may be well versed in the latest teaching approaches and develop excellent relationships with students but are weak in content knowledge. This is one of the criticisms of schools of education because they usually emphasize pedagogy over the content. I have heard many teachers say “I don’t teach subjects. I teach students.” And while I appreciate this sentiment and believe that positive student relationships are critical to effective teaching, content knowledge and pedagogy are essential.


Thank you for reading. Please join my mailing list so that you do not miss future installments of my blog. I will continue to expound on the topic of effective teaching for the 21st-century by looking at content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and content pedagogical knowledge.

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