Know Thyself, Know Thy Students

A recent study reveals that a teacher's knowledge of a particular content matters less than a teacher's knowledge of students.

James Yang for American Educator

James Yang for American Educator

In a recent edition of the American Federation of Teacher's American Educator, Philip Sadler and Gerhard Sonnert outline their recent study on Understanding Misconceptions. This study of science teachers speaks to a profound truth we believe at UAGC:

"An intriguing finding of this study is that teachers who know their students’ most common misconceptions are more likely to increase their students’ science knowledge than teachers who do not. Having a teacher who knows only the scientific “truth” appears to be insufficient. It is better if a teacher also has a model of how students tend to learn a particular concept."

At UAGC, our teachers know a lot about their subjects. They have published theses on literature and history; they have developed mathematical and scientific treatises. They have led companies, founded non-profit organizations, and built businesses from scratch. We have an exciting team of teachers.

All of these accomplishments and depth of knowledge in particular fields is very important, as this study points out. However, at UAGC we recognize that this is not enough. To help every student succeed, we need to understand what's going on in their minds - where is thinking happening, and where is it getting stuck?

Every day, every teacher works to understand how students' are learning a particular concept, getting inside students' learning process with them and coaching them to overcome a challenge. Students know this as "breaching," making their thinking visible, both to each other and to the teacher. In the breach, students work through misunderstanding, helped along by their peers and teachers, to fill in the gaps of knowledge that the study mentions. When teachers do this everyday, through individual conferencing and Collaborative Unison Reading, we are able to develop multiple, differentiated models of how students tend to learn.

By getting into the learning process with students, learning and re-learning with them, teachers at UAGC support differentiated learners, rather than trying to guess how to overcome misconceptions or fill in their own knowledge for students. As one student memorably put it, "If you just give me the answer, how am I supposed to learn?"

James Yang for American Educator

James Yang for American Educator

It's hard work, for students and teachers alike, but it is exciting work. Students at UAGC are constantly learning how to learn, supported by knowledgable teachers. As the old adage goes, "give a man a fish, feed him for a day - teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime." Our teachers don't hand out knowledge like proverbial fish; rather, we teach students how to fish for that knowledge throughout their lifetime.