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Building a Better Teacher: How Teaching Works (and How to Teach It to Everyone) [Kindle Edition]

Elizabeth Green
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A 2014 New York Times Book Review Notable Book

We’ve all had great teachers who opened new worlds, maybe even changed our lives. What made them so great?

Everyone agrees that a great teacher can have an enormous impact. Yet we still don't know what, precisely, makes a teacher great. Is it a matter of natural-born charisma? Or does exceptional teaching require something more?

Building a Better Teacher introduces a new generation of educators exploring the intricate science underlying their art. A former principal studies the country’s star teachers and discovers a set of common techniques that help children pay attention. Two math teachers videotape a year of lessons and develop an approach that has nine-year-olds writing sophisticated mathematical proofs. A former high school teacher works with a top English instructor to pinpoint the key interactions a teacher must foster to initiate a rich classroom discussion. Through their stories, and the hilarious and heartbreaking theater that unfolds in the classroom every day, Elizabeth Green takes us on a journey into the heart of a profession that impacts every child in America.

What happens in the classroom of a great teacher? Opening with a moment-by-moment portrait of an everyday math lesson—a drama of urgent decisions and artful maneuvers—Building a Better Teacher demonstrates the unexpected complexity of teaching. Green focuses on the questions that really matter: How do we prepare teachers and what should they know before they enter the classroom? How does one get young minds to reason, conjecture, prove, and understand? What are the keys to good discipline? Incorporating new research from cognitive psychologists and education specialists as well as intrepid classroom entrepreneurs, Green provides a new way for parents to judge what their children need in the classroom and considers how to scale good ideas. Ultimately, Green discovers that good teaching is a skill. A skill that can be taught.

A provocative and hopeful book, Building a Better Teacher shows that legendary teachers are more than inspiring; they are perhaps the greatest craftspeople of all.

Editorial Reviews


“Both a history of the research on effective teaching as well as a consideration of how that research might best be implemented. What emerges is the gaping chasm between what the best teachers do and how we go about evaluating what they’ve done.” (Sebastian Stockman - New York Times Book Review)

“We romanticize teachers, and we vilify them, but we don't do much to help. This beautifully written, defiantly hopeful book points the way to a better future for American teachers and the children they teach.” (Paul Tough, bestselling author of How Children Succeed)

“In this fascinating and accessible book, Elizabeth Green tells the story of the country's leading researchers on the all-important questions of what makes for an effective classroom teacher and how teachers can be trained to do their jobs better. That the story feels completely fresh is testament not only to Green’s skill as a reporter and writer but also to how beside-the-point much of the national conversation about education is. Green’s book ought to persuade the country to focus on what really matters in education.” (Nicholas Lemann, professor and dean emeritus at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism)

“Elizabeth Green reveals, in cinematic detail, what makes great teaching such a dazzling intellectual challenge—and why it has taken us so unforgivably long to care. A must-read book for every American teacher and taxpayer.” (Amanda Ripley, author of The Smartest Kids in the World)

“In vivid detail, Elizabeth Green chronicles the long, uncertain, but ultimately promising efforts, based on research, to improve teaching in American schools.” (Howard Gardner, coauthor of The App Generation and author of Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences)

“Great education is the foundation of a flourishing society, and it depends on great teachers. Building a Better Teacher illuminates how we can develop gifted educators who prepare children for a brighter future. With strong evidence and compelling cases, Elizabeth Green has written an important book that every educator ought to read.” (Adam Grant, Wharton professor and best-selling author of Give and Take)

“[Green] makes the case through thoughtful details that great teachers are made, not born… she brings hope and renewal to the field.” (Angela Leeper - Bookpage)

“Elizabeth Green draws upon years of interviews and research as an education writer and CEO of Chalkbeat to make the case for why teaching is a craft and that it can be taught to anyone. Her excellent book should be read for a detailed account of the history of teacher education, an international context, and an entertaining narrative.” (Jonathan Wai - Psychology Today)

“Green has spent years looking at what makes a great teacher—and whether the teachers we remember most fondly were born great or simply learned key skills.” (Greg Toppo - USA Today)

“At the heart of Green’s exploration is a powerfully simple idea: that teaching is not some mystical talent but a set of best practices that can be codified and learned through extensive hands-on coaching, self-scrutiny, and collaboration.” (Sara Mosle - The Atlantic)

“Peek[s] into real classrooms, allowing readers to observe what great teachers do and how.” (Kate Tuttle - Boston Globe)

“[S]hould be part of every new teacher’s education.” (Michael S. Roth - The Washington Post)

“Everyone who cares about teaching should read [Building a Better Teacher]. Right away.” (Judith Shulevitz)

“Timely… Elizabeth Green shows herself to be a talented young journalist.” (Sol Stern - City Journal)

About the Author

Elizabeth Green is cofounder, CEO, and editor in chief of Chalkbeat, a nonprofit education news organization. A former Spencer Fellow at the Columbia School of Journalism, she has written for New York Times Magazine and other publications.

Product Details

  • File Size: 670 KB
  • Print Length: 385 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0393081591
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (July 28, 2014)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #36,653 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
53 of 62 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A frustrating read if you're a teacher. August 24, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I was hoping to learn a lot more about how I might improve learning in my classroom. I did learn some important techniques that I will be incorporating. Sadly, every time I thought Green's book was going to provide detailed information, it stopped short. This tome, like so many others I've read recently, devotes too many pages to Teach for America (TFA) pedagogy. In discussing discipline, Green again resolves the issue with TFA inspired solutions (Lemov Taxonomy) when she could have done a little more research and discovered Guided Discipline, a more forgiving, kinder management which emphasizes self-regulation and is more appropriate for urban, high poverty schools.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars intelligent and provocative, yet a page turner! August 18, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Elizabeth Green has written a crisp, intelligent, and provocative book about the state of teaching and teacher education in America. We already knew that our students are not doing as well as those across the globe, from much poorer countries, and that this has been happening despite a dramatic increase in spending per pupil over the last half century. Why have our children's' schools failed them? In Building a Better Teacher, Green argues that it is not teachers who have failed their students, but the institution of educating and training teachers that has failed us all.

The book (and accompanying New York Times Magazine article, which is a distinct and also excellent read) begins to explore this thesis with a page-turning narrative of the Japanese system of teaching (specifically math), the method's original creation by American teachers, and the failure of American school systems to implement these methods across the country. The main idea of this method, as obvious as it may seem, is to emphasize mastery of concepts over mastery of execution. Think proofs instead of problems, and starting as early as students learn to count. The brilliant elementary school math lessons taught by book heroes Magdalene Lampert and Deborah Ball are such a thrill to read I found myself wishing I too had the chance to try out these ideas in the classroom. Perhaps the book will convince some to quit their jobs and become teachers.

The failure of American schools was not to recognize the importance of this concept, but to adopt it successfully. Green highlights two reasons for this failure. The first is that American teachers are given an excessive amount of autonomy in their work.
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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
My feelings about this book are mixed. On the one hand, it meets two important criteria for me to rank a book highly, i.e., it was a very engaging read and I finished it with a long list of things I wanted to explore. But, I struggled with the Green's enchantment with Lemov's 50 ways to teach like a champion and the charter school movement, in general. She ignored so much important work being done in public schools by public school teachers who belong to the AFT or the NEA. She ignored the work of our professional organizations. I can't speak for the NCTE or the NCTM, but she indicates zero knowledge of the important work done by my two primary professional organizations, NSTA and AAPT. In her discussion of teacher evaluation she completely national board certification, the only valid evaluation process I have ever experienced. So while, I learned from the book, the research was sloppy and the portrait painted was incomplete at best, purposely distorted at worst.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By LKelly
This book covered some interesting reform history, but it did not explain how to build a better teacher and how to teach it to everyone. Even the title assumes that we can or should teach "it" to everyone, which is not an assumption people would make about a profession they take seriously. (Imagine: Building a Better Surgeon and How to Teach it to Everyone.)

The book profiled particular reform efforts at particular universities or charter networks. It did not offer solutions for teaching effective teaching to "everyone," the existing teaching force, or students in schools of ed.
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A Misleading Title September 24, 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
If you are an educator reading this book in the hopes of learning how to improve teacher practice (and how to teach it to everyone), look elsewhere.

This book will not help you learn how to build a better teacher. Instead, you are treated to a historical perspective of reform attempts at improving classroom instruction.

Basically, you will learn what many others have tried and may have seemed to work for a brief episodic period and then results ultimately are inconclusive.

It's a bit of a roller coaster in that you learn about initiatives that at first seem successful and all too often succumb to pushback, infighting, logistical barriers or people just moving on to other jobs.

As a practicing educator, the only practical ideas I was able to take away from this book included:

*consider more lesson study in the Japanese model

* study and consider implementation the Deborah Ball High leverage practices.

Read this book if you want a historical perspective regarding attempts to improve instructional practices. This is not the book for you if you're looking for practical classroom strategies for immediate implementation.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing literary work to describe ways to not only advance ...
Amazing literary work to describe ways to not only advance the teaching profession, but also actionable ways teachers can build their skill set. Read more
Published 19 days ago by Christopher Neuhaus
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
It shows that teaching is an art,but can be learned.
Published 23 days ago by Mesko,Zoltan.G.
5.0 out of 5 stars Pops the myth that using test scores as a form of "money" will...
Superb book. Pops the myth that using test scores as a form of "money" will motivate teachers and schools to perform better, as is believed to be the case in a capitalist... Read more
Published 27 days ago by Charles Wantman
1.0 out of 5 stars boring as hell without any solid help for the professional
Mind numbing details and endless triviality about the quest for teaching skills; boring as hell without any solid help for the professional. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Mike Hague
1.0 out of 5 stars Lots of anecdotes, and old news
This may be a good book for someone who knows nothing about education but it was almost all anecdotes and fluff. There was virtually nothing in there that I hadn't heard before.
Published 1 month ago by Frances Bennatti
4.0 out of 5 stars well thought out overview of the history and practice of teaching
Many books on teaching offer overly simplistic and under nuanced solutions to improving instruction. Ms. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Robet D. Richardson
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
This book should be required reading for every politician and educator!
Published 2 months ago by sean e. cooper
5.0 out of 5 stars Helping teachers to get better and better does not depend completely...
This is a very important book to understand how improving education through work on teacher education. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Flo
4.0 out of 5 stars Very valuable reading for a discussion of teacher development
Green's examples of teachers in the first several chapters (Maggie and Deborah) are both
exceptionally gifted. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Dave Kuhlman
3.0 out of 5 stars Not up to its reviews.
An interesting history of several teacher improvement attempts. Disappointingly few actual tools which could be used to assist struggling teachers. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Robert Guy
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