Here’s an excerpt from an e-mail discussion I had about AP teachers, expertise and parallels in teaching.
An expert recognizes parallels – real parallels – in different activities and assigns the practice appropriately. The best example of this, in my opinion, is with the baseball player Ted Williams who, for those of you who might not be baseball fans, is regarded as the best hitter in baseball history. He didn’t hit the most home runs [though he is 15th all-time in that category], but he could hit any pitch off any pitcher. Last year the average major league baseball player reached base safely [with a hit or a walk] 33.6% of the time. Ted Williams’ numbers averaged over his entire career? 48.2%. He reached base safely – the object of a hitter’s every at-bat – 50% more than the average baseball player. He really knew how to hit. He was an expert.
In 1970 he published a book called The Science of Hitting. It broke down and explained his technique, preparation, etc. There was a memorable section that I won’t ever forget reading when I was 12 or so – he compared hitting to what he called the “dying act” of chopping a tree. To sum it up, an optimal baseball swing is at a slight downward angle with a release of energy at the point of impact between the ball and the bat. It’s exactly like chopping down a tree with an axe. The best part about practicing chopping down trees is that if your shoulder is too low or you’re committing some other mechanical flaw, you’ll feel it the next day and know your mistake.
Ted knew hitting well enough to find a perfect parallel. If you spent a winter with Ted Williams and chopped wood each day, when baseball season hit in the spring, you’d have improved a great deal without ever touching a bat or seeing a pitch. That’s the power of identifying real parallels and making them work for you.
And it’s the same thing with academics. If you know your subject well enough – and know your test well enough, like an AP exam or Regents – it isn’t hard at all to prepare students to score well without trudging through test prep or methodical review. A good teacher makes you a great hitter even when you’re chopping wood.
Experts can do this effectively. Hardly any teachers [HS or college] have this level of expertise in the subjects they teach or in teaching.