by Nick Ferentinos
JEA Mentoring Committee
Years ago, I learned that when it comes to new teacher induction, “All roads lead to Santa Cruz,” referring, of course, to the New Teacher Center (newteachercenter.org) in Santa Cruz, Calif. And every winter, that road moves “over the hill,” as the locals say, to the “Capital of Silicon Valley,” San Jose, where the Center just completed its 13th annual Symposium on Teacher Induction. This was my tenth symposium, and they only seem to get better each year. This year’s theme was “Teacher Talent = Student Success.”
Opening the event Jan. 31 was keynoter Ronald F. Ferguson, a senior lecturer in Education and Public Policy at the Harvard Graduate School of Education and the Kennedy School, in addition to being an economist and senior research associate at the Malcolm Wiener Center for Social Policy.
Prof. Ferguson addressed methods he has found effective in closing the achievement gap in his presentation to the 800 educators attending, “Creating Learning Conditions for Student Success.” He emphasized that we need to use multiple measures over multiple years before we can get a clear picture of a student’s achievement, eschewing the single measure in a single year we see so many schools and states use now. Teaching is not as simple as it is sometimes made out to be, he said, and that effective teaching creates learning conditions for student success.
And that, of course, raises the question of what constitutes “effective teaching”?
The key point he stressed to answer that question was that classrooms differ vastly, and that teaching in some classrooms is more effective at fostering what he calls, “The Seven C’s,” which he cites as essential elements in closing the achievement gap.
Those Seven C’s include the following:
1. Caring about students by using encouragement and support, what he called “doing things for students that teachers don’t have to do.”
2. Controlling behavior, or what we generally call “classroom management,” or, as the California Standards for the Teaching Profession call this skill, “Creating an effective environment for learning.”
3. Conferring with students about their work.
4. Clarifying lessons, or helping students to understand.
5. Captivating, or making learning relevant and interesting.
6. Challenging students, or encouraging perseverance, effort and rigor.
7. Consolidating knowledge, or connecting and integrating ideas.
Ferguson asked the audience to consider which of these was most important in helping students close the achievement gap. By a show of hands, most chose Caring, when, in fact, he said that based on his research, Controlling was first, followed by Challenging, suggesting that students learn best in an atmosphere that is managed well, not chaotic, and that students need to be challenged to do better than they may think they can.
In addition, Prof. Ferguson reminded his audience that students who work hard are happier. In fact, he said, “You don’t know how smart you are until you work hard for a very long time,” saying, in effect, that learning is difficult, takes time, and cannot be measured with a one-time, high-stakes test.
He suggested that in order to engage students in their own learning, there must be what he called, “engagement targets.” He listed trust, cooperation, ambition, diligence and satisfaction and efficacy as those targets.
Dr. Ferguson provided a great deal of data to support his findings.