Matt Gibson spends a lot of time thinking about how people learn. As a fifth-grade math teacher and training coach in New Orleans, Gibson became increasingly interested in effective teaching. cognitive science– otherwise known as teaching science – and how it can help teachers improve their practice.
This is largely due to Gibson’s involvement as a coach at the Louisiana Teachers Resource Center. The Center is a member of the Dean’s Network for Impact “Learning through Scientific Design”, a joint 10 teacher training programs – some in colleges of education, others in alternative certification institutions – that work with a simple premise: knowing how to teach should start with understanding how people are learning.
The network intended to rework coursework and clinical experience so that future teachers would be better prepared to apply the principles of science learning in their practice. Now in its third year, its mission has expanded beyond pre-service faculty to include better training and support for beginning teachers once they are in the classroom as part of a practicum or learning phase of students in their program.
The Deans for Impact team saw firsthand how novice teachers can improve by working with high-quality training coaches to hone their skills while learning science. On real examples and videos let’s explore what happens when coaches like Matt Gibson use science to help a novice teacher grow.
Decans for Impact workshops begin with trainers understanding the principles of learning science and related “teacher actions” (i.e., teachers ’next steps), which they then apply to their own learning training.
When we asked Gibson about this experience, he recalled how early he became acquainted with the idea of involving students in intense thinking: A teacher’s action based on the principle of the science of learning that the deeper we think about an idea, the more likely we are to keep that information in our long-term memory and be able to get it later.
Such principles are important for the choice of teaching that educators make, and for Gibson it was no different. For example, he had long known that higher-order issues were important to student learning, but now he knew why: because it is these issues that encourage students to think carefully about content, which means information is likely to remain.
The combination of these points began to change Gibson’s expectations of beginning teachers and of himself, a process he described as parallel:
“Also, when I saw teachers think a lot about students, I realized I thought a lot about teachers when I coached them,” Gibson said in an interview. “So I started thinking about how I could ask teachers to think carefully about what I asked them to implement – something as simple as’ How will this affect students’ thinking? ‘”
The science of coaching in action
With issues of thought like these, only in his head, Gibson set to work with a novice teacher who is completing training at the Louisiana Resource Center for Educators named Michael Mary. Gibson’s goal was to help Mary reflect more deeply on her educational decision-making, a process that was to be based on the study of science.
What follows is a series of excerpts from a coaching session between Gibson and Mary. First you will read excerpts from an interview we conducted with Gibson, about what was going on in his head as a coach at every point of the session; You will then have the opportunity to see through video how he applied the teaching of science to the choices he made along the way, becoming an example for Mary who can use in her teaching.
Click on each image to see snippets and videos.
All important “Yeah!”
From here, Gibson and Mary entered the rehearsal phase of the process, working out questions that would guide students to think carefully about the right content, and preparing Mary for re-learning the lesson accordingly.
Improving your practice in this way is an important step of coaching, but it can only happen after the conceptual understanding is established or changed. If you use Gibson’s term, it’s “Yeah!” the moments you pay attention to as a coach – the moment you see someone for the first time comprehending something important for their approach.
“Yeah!” Mary happened at a time when he pushed the platform of thought away from himself as a teacher and instead thought what it would take for his students to engage in intense thinking. He summed up this shift through a useful metaphor: “It’s like the expression,‘ You can lead a horse to the water … ’You can lead a student to answer, but he will fully understand the idea only if he thinks and feels it for himself. As my coach, Matt helped me think about my practice in a way that helped me do the same for my students. ”
That’s what it means to apply a scientific lens to what’s going on in the classroom. To understand how learning takes place means to understand the “what” and “why” of teaching and learning. As Gibson told us: “Even after 13 years in the classroom learning the principles of science has really changed me as a coach and as a teacher. It gave a name and justification to many things I have already thought about. It allowed me to put it all together and say, “Okay”. That’s why we do it. “
Matt Gibson’s path to the study of science gave him fresh eyes with which he could see the richness of his practice. As a result, he can now help a new generation of teachers like Michael Mary do the same.