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TED Talks Education

Bill Gates: Teachers need real feedback

Filmed:

Until recently, many teachers only got one word of feedback a year: “satisfactory.” And with no feedback, no coaching, there’s just no way to improve. Bill Gates suggests that even great teachers can get better with smart feedback -- and lays out a program from his foundation to bring it to every classroom.

- Philanthropist
A passionate techie and a shrewd businessman, Bill Gates changed the world while leading Microsoft to dizzying success. Now he's doing it again with his own style of philanthropy and passion for innovation. Full bio

Everyone needs a coach.
00:12
It doesn't matter whether you're a basketball player,
00:15
a tennis player, a gymnast
00:18
or a bridge player.
00:21
(Laughter)
00:24
My bridge coach, Sharon Osberg,
00:26
says there are more pictures of the back of her head
00:29
than anyone else's in the world. (Laughter)
00:31
Sorry, Sharon. Here you go.
00:34
We all need people who will give us feedback.
00:38
That's how we improve.
00:42
Unfortunately, there's one group of people
00:44
who get almost no systematic feedback
00:47
to help them do their jobs better,
00:50
and these people
00:52
have one of the most important jobs in the world.
00:53
I'm talking about teachers.
00:56
When Melinda and I learned
00:59
how little useful feedback most teachers get,
01:01
we were blown away.
01:04
Until recently, over 98 percent of teachers
01:06
just got one word of feedback:
01:10
Satisfactory.
01:13
If all my bridge coach ever told me
01:15
was that I was "satisfactory,"
01:18
I would have no hope of ever getting better.
01:20
How would I know who was the best?
01:23
How would I know what I was doing differently?
01:26
Today, districts are revamping
01:30
the way they evaluate teachers,
01:32
but we still give them almost no feedback
01:34
that actually helps them improve their practice.
01:38
Our teachers deserve better.
01:41
The system we have today isn't fair to them.
01:44
It's not fair to students,
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and it's putting America's global leadership at risk.
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So today I want to talk about how we can help all teachers
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get the tools for improvement they want and deserve.
01:58
Let's start by asking who's doing well.
02:02
Well, unfortunately there's no international ranking tables
02:06
for teacher feedback systems.
02:09
So I looked at the countries
02:11
whose students perform well academically,
02:13
and looked at what they're doing
02:16
to help their teachers improve.
02:19
Consider the rankings for reading proficiency.
02:22
The U.S. isn't number one.
02:25
We're not even in the top 10.
02:27
We're tied for 15th with Iceland and Poland.
02:29
Now, out of all the places
02:34
that do better than the U.S. in reading,
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how many of them have a formal system
02:39
for helping teachers improve?
02:42
Eleven out of 14.
02:45
The U.S. is tied for 15th in reading,
02:48
but we're 23rd in science and 31st in math.
02:50
So there's really only one area where we're near the top,
02:55
and that's in failing to give our teachers
02:58
the help they need to develop their skills.
03:00
Let's look at the best academic performer:
03:04
the province of Shanghai, China.
03:07
Now, they rank number one across the board,
03:10
in reading, math and science,
03:14
and one of the keys to Shanghai's incredible success
03:17
is the way they help teachers keep improving.
03:20
They made sure that younger teachers
03:24
get a chance to watch master teachers at work.
03:26
They have weekly study groups,
03:30
where teachers get together and talk about what's working.
03:32
They even require each teacher to observe
03:35
and give feedback to their colleagues.
03:38
You might ask, why is a system like this so important?
03:41
It's because there's so much variation
03:45
in the teaching profession.
03:48
Some teachers are far more effective than others.
03:50
In fact, there are teachers throughout the country
03:54
who are helping their students make extraordinary gains.
03:57
If today's average teacher
04:00
could become as good as those teachers,
04:02
our students would be blowing away the rest of the world.
04:05
So we need a system that helps all our teachers
04:09
be as good as the best.
04:12
What would that system look like?
04:14
Well, to find out, our foundation
04:17
has been working with 3,000 teachers
04:19
in districts across the country
04:21
on a project called Measures of Effective Teaching.
04:23
We had observers watch videos
04:28
of teachers in the classroom
04:30
and rate how they did on a range of practices.
04:32
For example, did they ask their students
04:35
challenging questions?
04:37
Did they find multiple ways to explain an idea?
04:39
We also had students fill out surveys with questions like,
04:43
"Does your teacher know
04:48
when the class understands a lesson?"
04:50
"Do you learn to correct your mistakes?"
04:52
And what we found is very exciting.
04:55
First, the teachers who did well on these observations
04:58
had far better student outcomes.
05:02
So it tells us we're asking the right questions.
05:05
And second, teachers in the program told us
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that these videos and these surveys from the students
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were very helpful diagnostic tools,
05:14
because they pointed to specific places
05:17
where they can improve.
05:20
I want to show you what this video component of MET
05:22
looks like in action.
05:26
(Music)
05:28
(Video) Sarah Brown Wessling: Good morning everybody.
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Let's talk about what's going on today.
05:33
To get started, we're doing a peer review day, okay?
05:35
A peer review day, and our goal by the end of class
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is for you to be able to determine
05:41
whether or not you have moves to prove in your essays.
05:43
My name is Sarah Brown Wessling.
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I am a high school English teacher
05:47
at Johnston High School in Johnston, Iowa.
05:49
Turn to somebody next to you.
05:51
Tell them what you think I mean when I talk about moves to prove. I've talk about --
05:53
I think that there is a difference for teachers
05:56
between the abstract of how we see our practice
05:58
and then the concrete reality of it.
06:02
Okay, so I would like you to please bring up your papers.
06:03
I think what video offers for us
06:07
is a certain degree of reality.
06:10
You can't really dispute what you see on the video,
06:12
and there is a lot to be learned from that,
06:15
and there are a lot of ways that we can grow
06:17
as a profession when we actually get to see this.
06:19
I just have a flip camera and a little tripod
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and invested in this tiny little wide-angle lens.
06:25
At the beginning of class, I just perch it
06:29
in the back of the classroom. It's not a perfect shot.
06:31
It doesn't catch every little thing that's going on.
06:34
But I can hear the sound. I can see a lot.
06:36
And I'm able to learn a lot from it.
06:40
So it really has been a simple
06:42
but powerful tool in my own reflection.
06:45
All right, let's take a look at the long one first, okay?
06:47
Once I'm finished taping, then I put it in my computer,
06:51
and then I'll scan it and take a peek at it.
06:53
If I don't write things down, I don't remember them.
06:56
So having the notes is a part of my thinking process,
06:58
and I discover what I'm seeing as I'm writing.
07:02
I really have used it for my own personal growth
07:06
and my own personal reflection on teaching strategy
07:08
and methodology and classroom management,
07:11
and just all of those different facets of the classroom.
07:14
I'm glad that we've actually done the process before
07:18
so we can kind of compare what works, what doesn't.
07:20
I think that video exposes
07:23
so much of what's intrinsic to us as teachers
07:26
in ways that help us learn and help us understand,
07:30
and then help our broader communities understand
07:33
what this complex work is really all about.
07:35
I think it is a way to exemplify and illustrate
07:39
things that we cannot convey in a lesson plan,
07:43
things you cannot convey in a standard,
07:46
things that you cannot even sometimes convey
07:48
in a book of pedagogy.
07:51
Alrighty, everybody, have a great weekend.
07:53
I'll see you later.
07:56
[Every classroom could look like that]
07:57
(Applause)
07:59
Bill Gates: One day, we'd like every classroom in America
08:05
to look something like that.
08:08
But we still have more work to do.
08:10
Diagnosing areas where a teacher needs to improve
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is only half the battle.
08:16
We also have to give them the tools they need
08:18
to act on the diagnosis.
08:21
If you learn that you need to improve
08:23
the way you teach fractions,
08:25
you should be able to watch a video
08:27
of the best person in the world teaching fractions.
08:29
So building this complete teacher feedback
08:33
and improvement system won't be easy.
08:36
For example, I know some teachers
08:39
aren't immediately comfortable with the idea
08:41
of a camera in the classroom.
08:43
That's understandable, but our experience with MET
08:46
suggests that if teachers manage the process,
08:49
if they collect video in their own classrooms,
08:53
and they pick the lessons they want to submit,
08:55
a lot of them will be eager to participate.
08:58
Building this system will also require
09:02
a considerable investment.
09:05
Our foundation estimates that it could cost
09:08
up to five billion dollars.
09:11
Now that's a big number, but to put it in perspective,
09:14
it's less than two percent
09:18
of what we spend every year on teacher salaries.
09:20
The impact for teachers would be phenomenal.
09:24
We would finally have a way to give them feedback,
09:28
as well as the means to act on it.
09:32
But this system would have
09:34
an even more important benefit for our country.
09:35
It would put us on a path to making sure
09:39
all our students get a great education,
09:42
find a career that's fulfilling and rewarding,
09:46
and have a chance to live out their dreams.
09:48
This wouldn't just make us a more successful country.
09:52
It would also make us a more fair and just one, too.
09:56
I'm excited about the opportunity
10:01
to give all our teachers the support they want and deserve.
10:04
I hope you are too.
10:09
Thank you.
10:11
(Applause)
10:12
Translated by Joseph Geni
Reviewed by Morton Bast

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About the Speaker:

Bill Gates - Philanthropist
A passionate techie and a shrewd businessman, Bill Gates changed the world while leading Microsoft to dizzying success. Now he's doing it again with his own style of philanthropy and passion for innovation.

Why you should listen

Bill Gates is the founder and former CEO of Microsoft. A geek icon, tech visionary and business trailblazer, Gates' leadership -- fueled by his long-held dream that millions might realize their potential through great software -- made Microsoft a personal computing powerhouse and a trendsetter in the Internet dawn. Whether you're a suit, chef, quant, artist, media maven, nurse or gamer, you've probably used a Microsoft product today.

In summer of 2008, Gates left his day-to-day role with Microsoft to focus on philanthropy. Holding that all lives have equal value (no matter where they're being lived), the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has now donated staggering sums to HIV/AIDS programs, libraries, agriculture research and disaster relief -- and offered vital guidance and creative funding to programs in global health and education. Gates believes his tech-centric strategy for giving will prove the killer app of planet Earth's next big upgrade.

Read a collection of Bill and Melinda Gates' annual letters, where they take stock of the Gates Foundation and the world. And follow his ongoing thinking on his personal website, The Gates Notes. His new paper, "The Next Epidemic," is published by the New England Journal of Medicine.

More profile about the speaker
Bill Gates | Speaker | TED.com