Posts Tagged ‘Kiwanis’

Verbal Acuity and the Informal Learner

September 7, 2008
Pay for teachers with advanced degrees approaches that of doctors and lawyers, but only late in their careers.

Pay for teachers with advanced degrees approaches that of doctors and lawyers, but only late in their careers.

The greatest predictor of student success in school isn’t their teachers’ credentials or advanced degrees, but things like their teacher’s SAT/ACT scores, the selectivity of the colleges they attended, and their verbal acuity.

Such are the findings of Dan Goldhaber, a senior research associate at the Urban Institute and published in the Hoover Institute’s quarterly Education Next.

Duke economist Jacob Vigdor uses Goldhaber’s findings to suggest that rather than give teachers permanent raises based on credentials and advanced degrees, we should instead pay effective teachers more money earlier in their careers, since that’s when teachers show the greatest improvement in teaching ability as measured by student test scores.

Vigdor’s paper, in a recent Education Next issue, has the really cool graph above that shows that the pay for highly-educated teachers in the United States approaches that of medical doctors and lawyers, but only near the end of their careers. By contrast, MDs and JDs achieve their highest earnings in their early 40s and plateau at that level until they retire.

Read Vigdor’s interesting (and surprisingly readable) paper for all the ins and outs of his policy proposal.

Interesting, you say, but what has that to do with informal learning?

Well, informal learners are usually also self-teachers. And though Goldhaber and Vigdor might object to my extrapolating the data this far, it’s appears evident to me that informal learners with greater verbal acuity… bigger vocabularies, wider and/or deeper knowledge, writing, public speaking, or language skills… have greater capacity for learning.

Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) the idiosyncratic, brilliant and oft misunderstood Austrian philosopher, said as much. “Wovon man nicht sprechen kann, darüber muß man schweigen.” (“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”).

That is, it’s hard to think about something you don’t have a word for. My four-year-old, though brilliant, wouldn’t be able to use a word like ‘idiosyncratic’ or understand its nuanced meaning beyond the idea of ‘different.’

In fact, in order to wrap our minds around some ideas, we sometimes have to coin new words or assign new meanings to old words. The word ‘extrapolate,’ for instance, is a neologism that means ‘infer’ and was coined in the mid 19th century from the words ‘extra’ and ‘interpolate.’

What can an informal learner do to increase his or her verbal acuity? Consider the following:

  • Learn another language.
  • Subscribe to a ‘word-of-the-day’ service available on the Internet or buy a daily word calendar.
  • Pick up a ‘strange word’ book at the bookstore or library.
  • Keep a good dictionary close and refer to it when you come across an unfamiliar word.
  • Keep a learner’s journal.
  • Write a blog.
  • Teach others.
  • Polish your public speaking skills at Toastmasters.
  • Join a service group like Rotary or Kiwanis, both of which have a highly international focus these days. In one fell-swoop you could thereby pick up public speaking skills and be compelled to learn another language.