The Anatomy of Teaching


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This is a graphic organizer that I thought would be fun to share. It’s my conceptualization of important factors that go into to teaching a specific concept. I developed this in an Advanced Trends in Teaching course that recently completed. This is just a draft–and of course is not complete. Already I can see some things that I missed, but I thought there was some value in it none-the-less.

In the middle of my graphic you see the concept that we want to learn, in this case “Elasticity of Demand,” to the left are the influences that proceed learning, and to the right are the hoped for outcomes.  The right side is fairly straightforward with various demonstrations of mastery of knowledge (assessments) culminating in a final goal of being able to apply the concept throughout life. Ideally, I would want my student to not only be able to evaluate the world, but also be able to formulate effective policies based upon their mastery of the concept.

The left side is, well, a bit messier and where all the action that we care about happens.  In this graphic we have two principle agents, the Teacher (red) and the Student (yellow), and then two fuzzy, very broadly defined labels, Outside Environment & Prior knowledge, meant to encapsulate the vast influences that have impacted a student’s ability to learn.  Outside Environment covers everything from media diet to community influences to culture, etc.). Prior knowledge is even broader, there are many more that we could have included (This is not neurosurgery here, but a quick and dirty explanation). Next I have placed the teachers tools, roughly divided as Curriculum/Content, Technology, and Classroom.  One can quibble as to whether or not those are truly tools, and they certainly are probably not completely under the control of the Teacher, but the point is that these are things that could be in control of the school/teacher and should be used as effectively as possible by the teacher.

Next in the teacher’s toolbox are the various popular teaching techniques (green): the classic lecture, inquiry based teaching, student centered teachingproject based learning, small group learning or peer learning, differentiation, etc. This is by no means an exhaustive list, for there are many, many more possibilities; and, of course, each label has several possible permutations that could/perhaps should also be included. I have only included the general themes that came up during my analyses. Most of these techniques are fairly self-explanatory–except perhaps differentiation–but I have provided links in you wish to explore them. Differentiated learning refers to catering to individual students learning needs and styles in both teaching and assessment–hence why this is attached to the student in my diagram.

Before we move on to the analyses you should also note the bright orange box that signifies Metacognition and Critical Thinking. Although the two concepts are slightly distinct I have grouped them together. In my view if you are doing critical thinking, that is critically examining things then you should also be doing metacognition. “Metacognition” is often simply defined as “thinking about thinking,” the process of constantly reevaluating what you know. A truly critical examination of something must include an understanding of the examiner himself in order to eliminate potential bias or misperceptions. I believe that critically thinking is the most important education process and should be intimately linked with both agents and our final outcome. Both teachers and students should be constantly questioning what we know and how we know it. We must be able to explain ourselves or we might not understand what we think we do. Therein lies the path to error.

Personal reflection is critical to effective metacognition and critical thinking in general. Philosophers from Socrates to Montaigne to Foucault have persuasively made the case to “Know Thyself,” but in teaching this dictum needs to be a guiding mantra.

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