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Who'll Fill the Gap?

Comments and review:  Chuck Downing, Ph.D.

The Teaching Gap: Best Ideas from the World's Teachers for Improving Education in the Classroom

James Stigler and James Hiebert

Date Published: 1999
The Free Press, New York


Some gaps are good. Without the Cumberland Gap, who knows how long the early American settlers would have remained married to the east coast. Without the synapse, the gap between consecutive neurons, much of our nerve physiology would be dramatically different. And gaps between my car and the others around me on the freeways of Southern California are always a satisfying situation.

But not all gaps are good. I've experienced too many gaps between the pieces of wood I carefully measured (twice!) and then cut and the space between the sides my piece was supposed to fill. And, while the synapse is a good gap, any gap between consecutive electric wires in a circuit is bad thing. Another bad gap is the one between theory and practice as described by Stigler and Hiebert in The Teaching Gap.

This commentary is based on a book, not the usual "article" that formed the basis for previous commentaries. The Teaching Gap is 179 pages of reporting on, review of, and reflection about the videotaped lessons portion of the TIMSS results. Far from the other TIMSS reports I've seen, this book has minimal statistical reporting. Mostly it presents condensed versions of several lesson tapes, then provides insightful interpretation. While I didn't agree with everything the authors' presented, there was a plethora of compelling evidence to support the bulk of their theories.

At this point, the usual admonition might be: Sit back, relax, and enjoy the read. But that's not what I hope happens to you while you read this. So, find a hard chair, one that you'll be sure not to doze off in and get ready to read something that will change the way you look at your teaching and the teaching profession as a whole.

Before some of you go out and read the book, then complain that it reports only on math teachers and teaching, I know that. I think it's fair to say that most disciplines have disgustingly similar problems as our math colleagues. In fact, Stigler and Hiebert state in the Preface, "The points we make go well beyond mathematics, however - and certainly beyond eighth grade. Mathematics teachers might find the book especially interesting, but our intention became to write a book that would be of interest to teachers in all subjects."

Read the rest of the book's commentary by clicking on any topic in the graphic or by clicking on "continue" below or download and print a PDF version. For information about the PDF format and how to install the software on your computer, "click" here.


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