When I first moved into my house, I went to the hardware store and bought myself a set of tools. It had the basics such as a screwdriver, a hammer, and a pair of pliers, but it also had several really neat tools such as a stud sensor and several spackling tools. I went home feeling very much like Sally Home Owner, armed with her box of tools, prepared for any emergency.
Years later, I have to admit that most of those tools have never been used. It’s not that I don’t do my share of home repairs, it’s just that the majority of my home repairs only require a small number of tools. In fact, I can fix most things around my house with a hammer, a screwdriver, and a pair of pliers.
Teaching is much the same way. We devote our time to acquiring more and more tools rather than learning how to use the primary tools we have more effectively. Most of the challenges we face in teaching can be resolved by a small set of tools, the educational equivalent of a hammer, a screwdriver, and a pair of pliers. Rather than become enamored with the latest fad in education, why not devote your time to honing your skill with some of the basic tools first?
It’s not that these other tools aren’t useful, it’s just that we should focus on mastering the basics before we move on to more specialized skills. What is the purpose of knowing how to create tiered assignments until you have first mastered the concept of differentiated instruction? What good will knowing how to write mastery objectives until you first know how to unpack the standards and benchmarks of your curriculum?
What are the basic tools of teaching? Here is my personal list:
- Knowing how to unpack the standards and benchmarks to set objectives for your course.
- Knowing how to plan lessons so that students master these objectives.
- Knowing how to adjust the lesson to meet the various learning needs of the students of your classroom.
- Knowing how to determine what those needs are.
- Knowing how to assess your students’ mastery of the material.
- Knowing what to do when the assessments reveal that students haven’t mastered it.
- And, knowing how to manage all this by creating a positive classroom climate and effective routines and structures.
Of course it is easy to veer too far in the other direction too and focus only on the basics without ever expanding your repertoire of skills. If I had only learned how to use a hammer, a screwdriver, and a pair of pliers, I would never be able to repair a hole in my drywall or lay new tile in my bathroom. In the same way, I am not arguing that you should never learn how to use new tools. I am simply saying that you should master how to use the basic tools first.
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