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Free Radical

As a teacher, are you a specialist or expert?

Tony Sherborne
11:38  |  18 December 2010

You probably think of yourself as a specialist (physics, or chemistry or biology) teacher.

But actually what you really want to be is an expert teacher. The difference is commonly ignored, but immensely significant. According to Carl Bereiter in his book ' Surpassing Ourselves', specialists know a lot about their narrow area, and are technically very competent. But experts are those with the deep understanding, who can solve non-routine problems, and integrate a large number of factors.

Arguably, the relentless drive towards specialism is behind many of the world's biggest problems. Specialists research, invent and apply technology – only to find out later they have create huge environmental disasters. If we had more experts, they might have considered these parts of the problem first before coming up with their narrow 'solution'.

So how are you educating your students – to be specialists or experts? Alas, the structure of the curriculum and our educational histories encourage most of us to teach as though we're preparing new generations of specialists. If we're honest, we spend most of the time focussing on knowledge acquisition, the route towards non-expert specialism.

To create experts, we need to immerse students in the culture of problem solving (at an appropriate level, of course). It can be done, and amongst others, upd8 is making tentative steps in this direction (to be continued).

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