The Irony of What Works

After posting about Doug Lemov, I ordered Teach Like a Champion. It arrived yesterday. Leafing through it, I came across a section titled “The Irony of What Works,” which begins:

One of the biggest ironies I hope you will take away from reading this book is that many of the tools likely to yield the strongest classroom results remain essentially beneath the notice of our theories and theorists of education.

Lemov continues with an example: Teaching students how to distribute classroom materials, such as handouts. This can save a lot of time. Then he adds:

Unfortunately this dizzyingly efficient technique — so efficient it is all but a moral imperative for teachers to use it — remains beneath the notice of our avatars of educational theory. There isn’t a school of education that would stoop to teach its aspiring teachers how to train their students to pass out papers.

The last chapter of Veblen’s  Theory of the Leisure Class is about just this — the importance that professors (like everyone else) place on status display and how this interferes with their effectiveness. The connection with self-experimentation is that no matter how effective it is, no psychology department would stoop to teach it. Or, at least, that’s the current state of affairs.

The book’s index doesn’t include Veblen, although it does include Richard Thaler.

6 Responses to “The Irony of What Works”

  1. Mary O'Keeffe Says:

    That’s not true.

    I recall reading Susan Ohanian (a great teacher and writer) writing in one of her wonderful books that the only thing of actual usefulness that she learned in the teacher-ed classes she was required to take for certification was a technique for handing out papers efficiently!

    http://www.susanohanian.org/index.php

  2. Maria Droujkova Says:

    There are a lot of classes on “how to pass papers around.” They are called Classroom Management and taught by Curriculum and Instruction departments. People who study education theory are in Education departments. The two departments (or, in smaller institutions, parts of the same department by whatever name) typically don’t talk to one another much, nor do they communicate with the corresponding Subject Area departments. So, for example, a future math teacher may learn classroom management from one professor, education theory from another, and math from the third – with the three professors belonging to three different departments. This makes little practical sense, because in real classroom, these “parts” aren’t separable at all.

  3. Eric Meltzer Says:

    I love specific and concrete (low status?) advice like what is in this book. I am considering ordering it even though I don’t do any in-classroom teaching just because I love reading about techniques like this.

    I find it is MUCH easier for me to think up or understand general principles when given a set of great concrete tips than it is for me to generate great concrete tips from a set of abstract principles. I suspect this is the same for everyone, which makes me think that concrete tips should be valued MUCH higher than anything abstract!

  4. Seth Roberts Says:

    Eric, yeah, I agree. Maybe knowing it is low-status protects you from the derogatory effects of that. So you are better able to take advantage of it. So people who understand Veblen are more free than people who don’t.

  5. disgruntledphd Says:

    I am a psychologist who teaches, and I have encouraged almost all my students to experiment on themselves, given that its the easiest way to get data.

    That being said, i dont know if its part of the formal curriculum anywhere.

  6. Stephen M (Ethesis) Says:

    Seth, thanks for the pointer. There is a real issue in many disciplines that emphasize that teaching really is not as important as other things — even though, in theory, the teachers/professors are being hired to teach (from the public perspective) ;)