Every great teacher knows that skill development requires deliberate practice (Ball & Forzani, 2009); ironically, teachers themselves have limited opportunities to practice important teaching strategies and moves in low-stakes settings. In a comparative study of teachers, social workers and therapists, Grossman and colleagues (2009) conclude that “prospective teachers have fewer opportunities to engage in approximations that focus on contingent, interactive practice than do novices in the other two professions [studied].” Currently, teacher candidates primarily learn in two spaces: the graduate school of education’s Socratic seminar room and the practicum classroom. The former affords discussion and the latter affords immersion into the challenges of teaching, but a third space–a practice space–is needed that combines the authenticity of the practicum classroom with the control and scaffolding of the GSE seminar room.
One of the active lines of research and development at the MIT Teaching Systems Lab is to create new genres of practice spaces for teachers, drawing on models from games and simulations. Game designer Sid Meier has characterized engaging games as “a series of interesting decisions,” and we believe that games and simulations can provide learning experiences that help novice teachers rehearse for important “interesting” decisions in teaching—when to ask a question versus when to clarify, when to provide help and when to insist upon independence, when to act and when to listen. Our work builds upon existing research into role-playing, simulations, and other forms of “approximation” in teacher education.
Surfacing and Addressing Bias in Teaching
Justice and equity issues affect all aspects of our society, and even teachers who care deeply about their students may not recognize all of the ways that bias can impact their teaching.
Field studies have shown that a person’s name, gender or race can influence how others interact with them in ways that appear to be systematically biased (Bertrand and Duflo 2016). Researchers have found evidence of these kinds of biased behavior when a hiring manager reviews resumes as part of a job application (Bertrand 2004), when a professor responds to emails asking for appointment times (Milkman et al. 2015), and when teachers grade students’ work (Lavy 2008; Cornwell et al. 2013). Additionally, sharing racial, ethnic or gender attributes with students can influence teachers’ educational expectations for their students (Gershenson et al. 2016). There’s also early evidence of other types of bias in research laboratory settings, including teachers deciding which students should be admitted into honors society (Axt et al. 2016), and teachers focusing attention on which students are most likely to misbehave (Gilliam et al. 2016).
If we can help teachers identify where bias may be unintentionally affecting their students, and develop their skills in addressing bias, then we may be able to help them create more just and equitable classrooms.