13 Ways That Expert and Novice Teachers Think Differently


An age old question still lacks an answer: what makes a good teacher good and a bad teacher bad?
When trying to identify the characteristics between novice and expert educators, we often look at instructor behaviors.  What do expert teachers DO that novice teachers don't, or vice versa.

Rarely considered is the way expert teachers THINK differently than novice teachers.  How do expert teachers mentally represent common classroom issues and occurrences?

When training new teachers, it would be helpful to not only tell them what to do, but also how to think.

Tracy Hogan and Mitchell Ravinowitz reviewed a ton of literature looking to see if expert teachers mentally represent components of education differently than novice teachers.

This article will describe 13 differences between the way novice and expert teachers think.  Though some can be interpreted as behaviors, I encourage you to read them considering the cognitive thought processes that underlie each one.

Go strait to the source, their article is incredibly thorough and very readable.
1.  While planning, expert teachers consistently connect curriculum with goals
" ...experts were found to plan long-term and (were) cognizant of the relationship between daily objectives and the overall curriculum, while novices tended to focus on short-term planning."

2.  Experts teach with their gut and trust their "teacher voice"
"Novices were found to mentally script each section of their lesson, from the questions posed to students to the examples that could be used as concept reinforcements.  Experts were found to plan more strategies to teach a specific skill than novices and to implement their lesson largely unrehearsed prior to the instructional period."

3.  Novices plan activities that take a significant amount of time
"Experts make more transitions among teaching activities than did novices..."

4.  Experts have perfected student questioning and informal assessment
"...(experts) were more efficient in probing for student understandings (than novices)..."

5.  Experts implement lessons with built in and expected structure
"...(experts) made greater use of guided and monitored practice routines to increase student comprehension as compared with novices..."

6.  Novice teachers have yet to develop analogies or examples
"...experts were able to employ a variety of alternative explanations whereas this ability (was) unattainable by novices."

7.   Expert teachers assess lessons at the individual level
"Experts focused on individual student achievement and adapted their lesson accordingly while novices primarily used the interest level of the class as the cue for altering a lesson."

8.  When reflecting, novice teachers assess lessons based on their own behavior and performance
"...expert teachers were concerned with individual student understanding and achievement while novices were egocentric, and predominantly reflected primarily on their own teaching behaviors."

9.  Novice teachers have not yet mastered their management techniques
"...experts are more likely to identify and subsequently solve management problems in the classroom using external controls (e.g., change seating assignments) whereas the novice teacher tends to be unaware or in some instances, ignore classroom disruptions."  

More on classroom management here.

10.  Expert teaches are more astute in their teaching environment
"...expert teachers were able to articulate in greater detail and accuracy as to events occurring in the classroom whereas novices, in contrast, generically described the same occurrences."

11.  Expert teachers have eyes in the back of their head
"expert teachers are capable of scanning an entire room simultaneously to better understand how classroom events are unfolding while novices and advanced beginners tend to focus their attention to only one area of the room."

12.  Novice teachers believe that learning is correlated with their performance and behavior rather than the student's
"Expert teachers tend to focus on student learning and achievement when asked to recall and reflect upon a teaching lesson by elaborating on the organization and management of the lesson, emphasizing both student and teacher behaviors.  Novices, in contrast placed greater weight on their own performance, specifically to student misbehaviors encountered rather than the effectiveness of the learning environment."

13.  Expert teachers understand that the key to learning is connecting content to prior knowledge
"...expert teachers tend to use multiple strategies to assess students' mental schemas prior to introducing new information.  This new content is then linked with prior knowledge and the assessment of student understanding occurs throughout the entire instructional period.  Novices were found to teach in a manner where these important connections between prior and new knowledge are not emphasized and where flexibility and adaptability are less prevalent within the classroom environment as compared to experts."

Becoming a professional teacher requires small steps.  Focus on one of these things at at time and attempt to adopt the best practices of an expert teacher of the span of a school year.  Simply being aware that differences exist is the first step.

Thanks for reading.

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