Competence: unconscious

Expertise, as the formula goes, requires going from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence.

That is Gawande at NewYorker. While I was thinking about teaching versus coaching problem with respect to students, Gawande talks about coaching teachers to teach. I do find lots of merit in the idea that experienced teachers can help novices better their teaching performance; in my own case, I have sat through lectures of colleagues to learn how they are teaching as well as had some of my colleagues sit in my class to tell me what I am doing right and what I am not doing right. Even without their presence in the classroom, just by discussions, some of my colleagues help me sort out problems that I face in the classroom. So, having a coach in the classroom might not be a bad idea — at least for undergraduate core courses, though, it is not clear where we would find the required number of personnel. One way this is done is by making instruction shared — some teach and others do tutorials but the instructors attend all sessions.

By the way, I liked the following section of Gawande’s post — because, that is what I like to be able to do in my classes with my students — make them think:

Year after year, the senior residents chose him for their annual teaching award. He was an unusual teacher. He never quite told you what to do. As an intern, I did my first splenectomy with him. He did not draw the skin incision to be made with the sterile marking pen the way the other professors did. He just stood there, waiting. Finally, I took the pen, put the felt tip on the skin somewhere, and looked up at him to see if I could make out a glimmer of approval or disapproval. He gave me nothing. I drew a line down the patient’s middle, from just below the sternum to just above the navel.

“Is that really where you want it?” he said. Osteen’s voice was a low, car-engine growl, tinged with the accent of his boyhood in Savannah, Georgia, and it took me a couple of years to realize that it was not his voice that scared me but his questions. He was invariably trying to get residents to think—to think like surgeons—and his questions exposed how much we had to learn.

“Yes,” I answered. We proceeded with the operation. Ten minutes into the case, it became obvious that I’d made the incision too small to expose the spleen. “I should have taken the incision down below the navel, huh?” He grunted in the affirmative, and we stopped to extend the incision.

A good post (as usual).

One Response to “Competence: unconscious”

  1. gaddeswarup Says:

    Guru,
    You may enjoy this book
    http://www.amazon.com/Recountings-Conversations-Mathematicians-Joel-Segel/dp/1568814496
    The chapters on Arthur Mattuck and Michael Artin have much about teaching.

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