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February 10, 2007


Last night at the fourth session of my Kaplan Teacher Development Program, I fully understood for the first time why it is important for the teacher not only to know the answers to all of the example problems, but also to know exactly why each answer is right. Our training sessions are organized around a series of teachbacks, in which we prepare lessons that we will eventually teach to a real class and present them to our fellow trainess, who pretend to be the students. In my training class, there are three of us who are preparing to teach the GRE, and two who are preparing to teach the SAT. One of the SAT guys was up in front of the class doing a teachback on short verbal, and we were on an "improving paragraphs problem." The question presented a short paragraph, and then asked how to improve one of the sentences in the paragraph, with five answer choices. One of my fellow students eliminated all but two -- B and E -- and the guy doing the teachback said, "on test day, you can stop when you find that B is the right answer." The problem, readers, is that B wasn't the right answer; it was E. So I raised my hand and asked why E wasn't the right answer. The guy doing the teachback couldn't answer my question, and replied, "I'll explain to you during the break why E is wrong."

Now this might have been a good response if E really was wrong, and if the rest of the class knew exactly why E was wrong and I was holding things up, but the fact of the matter is that E was right, and by that point the other students were chiming in, saying that they also thought E looked better than B. The guy doing the teachback just kept saying that B was right until our trainer got up, looked at the teacher's manual, and found that E was, indeed, the right answer. Now if I had been a real Kaplan student at that point, paying over $1000 to be there, I would have walked out and asked for my money back, for two reasons: first, because my teacher didn't know what he was doing; and, second, because he didn't treat my question with the respect it deserved. By saying that he would tell me at the break why I was wrong, not only was he saying I was wrong, but he was saying that I was so wrong he didn't have time to deal with how wrong I was. It probably would have hurt my feelings even if I had been wrong, but, again, it would have been the correct response if I were slowing down the rest of the class. But, usually, if a wrong answer looks good to one student in the class, then it's probably a trap answer and it probably looks good to other students, so the teacher should explain why it's wrong. In any case, however, I wasn't wrong, and it is disorienting for a student to feel that her teacher is less smart than she is (as I learned in middle school).

After last night's object lesson, I felt that I should study extra-hard for next week's fifth and final session, in which we could be asked to teach anything from the first math lesson or first verbal lesson -- a total of five hours of class! I may not have anything resembling a life this week, and, sadly, I'm not sure how that will make this week different from any other week.

Posted by eklanche at February 10, 2007 07:13 PM


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