International Journal of
Educational Research 35 (2001) 463–482
Learning about and learning from expert teachers
David C. Berliner
College of Education, Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ 85287, USA
Studies of expertise in teaching have been informative, despite problems. One problem is
determining the relative roles of talent vs. deliberate practice in the acquisition of expertise.
When studying teachers, however, a third factor must be considered, that of context. The
working conditions of teachers exert a powerful inﬂuence on the development of expertise. A
second problem is that of deﬁnition because expertise in teaching takes different forms in
different cultures, and its characteristics change by decade. A distinction is drawn between the
good teacher and the successful teacher, characteristics of expertise that are often confused.
A prototypical model of expertise is described and found to identify teachers who were both
good and successful. Discussed also is the importance of understanding adaptive or ﬂuid
expertise, automaticity and ﬂexibility. Finally, the development of teacher expertise is seen as
an increase in agency over time. r2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
Generalizing from studies of expertise in pedagogy and other ﬁelds should have
been difﬁcult because the research methods are almost always qualitative, focussed
intensively on small numbers of individuals who are themselves highly unique.
Nevertheless, in a relatively short period of time research on expertise in pedagogy
and in other ﬁelds has proven to be both cumulative and informative.
According to Glaser (1987, 1990), about two dozen propositions about expertise
are defensible. Paraphrased and abbreviated, some of these propositions are:
*Expertise is speciﬁc to a domain, developed over hundreds and thousands of
hours and continues to develop;
*Development of expertise is not linear. Non-monotonicities and plateaus occur,
indicating shifts in understanding and stabilization of automaticity;
*Expert knowledge is structured better for use in performances than is novice
E-mail address: email@example.com (D.C. Berliner).
0883-0355/02/$ - see front matter r2002 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.
PII: S 0 8 8 3 - 0355(02)00004-6
*Experts represent problems in qualitatively different ways than do novices. Their
representations are deeper and richer;
*Experts recognize meaningful patterns faster than novices;
*Experts are more ﬂexible, are more opportunistic planners, can change
representations faster when it is appropriate to do so. Novices are more rigid in
*Experts impose meaning on ambiguous stimuli. They are much more ‘‘top down
processors.’’ Novices are misled by ambiguity and are more likely to be ‘‘bottom
*Experts may start to solve a problem slower than a novice, but overall they are
faster problem solvers;
*Experts are usually more constrained by task requirements and the social
constraints of a situation than are novices;
*Experts develop automaticity in their behavior to allow conscious processing of
more complex information; and,
*Experts have developed self-regulatory processes as they engage in their
These propositions are derived from scores of studies of expertise in different ﬁelds
of endeavor, from chess and taxi driving, to radiology and physics problem solving.
Berliner (1994a, b) asserted that this particular sub-set of propositions is supported
also by the research on expert teachers. A similar set of propositions is provided by
Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (1999). The similarity in propositions derived from
studies of expertise, across ﬁelds of endeavor, attests to the robustness of this
research program. The research provides an interesting case in the social sciences,
namely, one in which many imperfect studies, across many different kinds of
activities, yield a coherent body of knowledge and heuristic theory. However, despite
the cumulative nature of the research, investigations in this ﬁeld have been hampered
by two major problems.
1. Research problems
One of the problems for the ﬁeld is the argument over the role of talent in the
development of expertise. Talent may be thought of as individual differences in
abilities and skills that seem like gifts or innate capacities, and seem to be ‘‘hard-
wired’’ into individuals. The question that needs to be answered is how, and in what
ways, does talent inﬂuence the development of expertise in domains like music,
wrestling or teaching?
A second problem for scholars is the lack of objective criteria in certain ﬁelds for
the identiﬁcation of experts. Expert political scientists, taxi drivers, and teachers are
harder to ﬁnd than, say, expert bridge players or physicists. The latter are regularly
judged through tournaments and Nobel prize competitions, informing us who is
D.C. Berliner / Int. J. Educ. Res. 35 (2001) 463–482464
1.1. Talent, expertise, context, and pedagogy
The debate about the role of talent is whether talent is the driver behind the will to
achieve at high levels, or whether the acquisition of expertise is almost entirely a
function of motivation to practice and learn from that experience, independent of
initial talent. Ericsson and Charness (1994) have taken the strong environmentalist
position. They claim it is motivation and interest that give rise to expertise, and no
persuasive evidence exists that speciﬁc talent or biological inheritance is a
prerequisite for acquisition of expert levels of performance. Expertise, they say, is
a result of extended training that ‘‘alters the cognitive and physiological processes of
experts to a greater degree than is commonly believed possible’’ (p. 726). On the
other hand, using expertise in music and art as examples, and contrasting expertise in
these areas to those that require more drill-like activities such as ice-skating and
typing, Gardner (1995) argued that talent, not mere practice, cannot be overlooked.
In another artistic domain, acting, Noice and Noice (1997) argued that no amount of
practice can move someone to the top level. Talent, however ambiguous the term, is
required. Actually, Gardner never refuted the importance of deliberate practice in
the acquisition of expert performance. Rather he believed that more than simple
interest brings a person to strive for a high level of achievement in music, art or
athletics. Talent has a major role to play, according to Gardner, both in the
development of that interest and in determining the ﬁnal level of accomplishment
attained by a developing expert. Winner (1996) and Sternberg (1996) also refuted the
Ericsson and Charness (1994) and Ericsson (1996) claim that expertise can be
predicted more from the quantity and quality of practice then it can be from the
vague and romantic concept of ‘‘talent.’’
This debate is important but of little practical interest to those who study
pedagogical expertise. The fact is that ‘‘talent’’ for teaching is probably an extremely
complicated interaction of many human characteristics. These might include
sociability, persuasiveness, trustworthiness, nurturent style, ability to provide logical
and coherent stories and explanations, ability to do more than one thing at a time,
physical stamina, the chance to ‘‘play teacher’’ with a younger sibling or playmate,
and so forth. The ‘‘talents’’ or background characteristics for those who enter the
teaching ﬁeld as adults are likely to be both biological and socially determined, and
the interactions among these are probably well beyond our ability to catalog.
Regardless of the talents, proclivities, and opportunities that motivate one to become
a teacher as an adult, extensive deliberate practice is still needed to become highly
accomplished in teaching, as it is needed to become accomplished in other complex
activities like playing the violin, medical diagnosis, or creating pottery.
There is still another reason not to be concerned about talent. Arguments about
the primacy of practice over ability or ability over practice may be secondary when
studying a ﬁeld like teaching. Overlooked is the power of context. McLaughlin and
Talbert (1993), Cohen (2000), and others have made the case that teachers will reach
differential levels of productivity depending on the workplace conditions of the site
at which they ﬁnd themselves. Policies from the principals, superintendents, and
school board, along with the expectations of the community, determine the
D.C. Berliner / Int. J. Educ. Res. 35 (2001) 463–482 465
organization of a school and its climate. These policies subtly, but powerfully affect
teachers’ attitudes, beliefs, enthusiasm, sense of efﬁcacy, conception of their
responsibilities, and teaching practices. We too often think of expertise as a
characteristic of a person, when psychology has repeatedly taught us that such
characteristics are typically an interaction of the person and the environment in
which they ﬁnd themselves (Rich, 1993).
Thus, context has to be thought of as a third variable and probably of equal status
with talent and practice in the debate over important inﬂuences in the development
of accomplished, exemplary, or expert teachers. It is probably the power of context
followed by deliberate practice, more than talent, which inﬂuences a teacher’s level of
competency. A good case for this can be made by looking at the ratings of
importance in the development of expertise in ice skating by coaches and expert ice-
skaters competing at the national team level. Natural abilityFtalentFwas rated 6th
of 12 factors in order of importance by the coaches, and 10th by the skaters. Both
groups agreed on the 1, 2, and 3 ranks They each rated the desire to be expert
number 1, good coaching as number 2, and practice as number 3. Desire, practice
and coaching, more than talent are the keys to development of expertise (Starkes,
Deakin, Allard, Hodges, & Hayes, 1996). Time commitments for engaging in
practice were also studied among skaters, wrestlers, and musicians who desired to
reach accomplished levels of performance. There is a dramatic increase in the
amount of hours spent practicing each week as they continue to develop as experts.
When these athletes and musicians start they practice about 5 h a week. They move
to about 10 h a week when they are 4 or so years into their ﬁeld, and to about 15 h a
week 7 years after they begin. They end up putting in 20–25 h a week of practice as
they reach their 12th year of their growth as a competitive athlete or accomplished
musician. It should be noted that teachers, although loaded with desire, have few
opportunities to practice or be coached.
1.2. Deﬁning the expert teacher
The second major issue for this research program is concerned with deﬁning expert
teachers. Although inexperience is equated perfectly with novice status in a ﬁeld, the
acquisition of experience does not automatically denote expertise. Thus, it has been
hard to have surety that those we identify as expert teachers are actually as highly
accomplished as one might want. Our samples of experts often include cooperating
teachers (those that train novices), those nominated by peers or administrators, and
those that we stipulate on some basis or another as experts. The performance of
these experienced ‘‘experts’’ is looked at, often contrasted with novices, and in
numerous studies their performance was found to be different in many and profound
But the surety that these were all expert teachers has been lacking. Unlike the
small number of ﬁelds with tournaments to determine experts, like chess or bridge,
one is usually deemed to be an expert by the judgement of others. This is the root of
the problem (Sternberg & Frensch, 1992). An expert shaman in some cultures may be
an expert by reputational criteria, but regarded as a fake by physicians in Western
D.C. Berliner / Int. J. Educ. Res. 35 (2001) 463–482466
countries. Thus in some ﬁelds expertise is relative. Furthermore, although ‘‘expert’’
stockbrokers are easy to ﬁnd, we know that none of them can out perform the stock
market with any regularity. So why would we think that shamans or stockbrokers
have cognitive processes worth studying or emulating?
Deﬁnitional difﬁculties are quite prominent in the study of expert teachers.
One might be considered an expert teacher in one culture, say one like the
United States that values student participation in the teaching–learning process.
But that same teacher would be considered terrible in another culture, one
that purposely limits student participation, like India. Alexander (2001) made
this issue quite clear, documenting vast differences in what constitutes acceptable
teaching across ﬁve cultures. One data set showed that there were teacher
interactions with individual students in around 70 percent of the lessons studied
in the US, but such interactions with individual students rarely occurred in
India. And while students talked directly to each other in about 70 percent
of the lessons studied in the US, student to student interactions never occurred in the
Indian lessons observed. So, vastly different pedagogical tasks are deemed
appropriate in these two cultures. A small study of expert and novice teachers in
Taiwan makes this point as well (Lin, 1999). Unlike data from the US
(e.g., Livingston & Borko, 1989; Leinhardt & Greeno, 1986) differences between
expert, beginning, and novice teachers were not found in their thinking about
planning or in their curricula decision-making. Given Taiwan’s national
curriculum, common texts, teacher guides on how to instruct, and a single college
entrance examination, this is not surprising. Teacher independence is severely limited
in Taiwan, so teachers’ cognitions about these areas are equally limited.
We now understand that the cognitive competencies of expert teachers must
always be thought of as relative to a culture, perhaps even to a decade in a culture,
since what constitutes expert teaching will change in some cultures quite rapidly
(Rich, 1993). Context affects teachers and teaching. Note how this differs from the
non-relativistic deﬁnition of expertise used in Olympic sports like wrestling or ice
skating, where the criteria for expertise does not change from culture to culture, and
varies only slightly from decade to decade.
The closest we have to a tournament to determine expert teachers is the
standardized achievement tests given to students. These are now quite prominent in
the United States, and increasing in their use worldwide. But were we to accept high
scores on tests as objective criteria for deﬁning teacher expertise, it must then be
noted that teachers would be required to demonstrate their expertise through the
performance of their students. Thus, teachers’ performance would not be evaluated
directly, but would instead be a measure of performance once removed. This is quite
unlike the methods used to determine experts in chess, bridge or wrestling.
Moreover, there is an empirical problem in requiring high student achievement
test results to be a deﬁning characteristic of the expert teacher. Student achievement
on standardized tests, and scores on virtually all other outcomes of education, are
inherently intertwined with student social class, community social capital, peer
effects, and other related factors. Thus the scores that students receive on most
measures of educational outcomes are very imperfect indicators of a teachers’
D.C. Berliner / Int. J. Educ. Res. 35 (2001) 463–482 467
expertise, compared to winning the chess or bridge tournament, achieving Nobel
Laureate status, or winning the gold medal in the Olympics.
Despite this, the demand to use student achievement as an indicator of expertise is
made by those who rely on the common sense notion that there cannot be teaching
without learning. Unfortunately, this common sense notion is not correct.
Judgements about the quality of selling, nursing and cooking can be distinguished
from whether a customer buys something or not, whether one survives an illness or
not, or enjoys the food prepared. There exist standards of competence in these ﬁelds
so that judgements of quality teaching, selling, nursing and cooking are regularly
made independent of their outcomes. Fenstermacher and Richardson (2000) have
distinguished between these qualities as the difference between ‘‘good’’ and
‘‘successful’’ teaching. Good teaching is judged through reliance on standards
applied to the tasks of teaching and related to norms for professional behavior,
including moral considerations. Successful teaching is about whether intended
learnings were achieved. Judgements of successful teaching are concerned not with
the tasks of teaching or professional behavior, but with the achievement of ends.
These arguments are quite important, but may also be thought of as academic in
the recent policy context of the United States. Many educators, most of the general
public, and particularly the politicians whom the public elects, demand that the
performance of expert teachers be judged through their performance in some
objective, tournament-like event. These individuals concentrate only on the
dimensions of successful teaching and ignore, for the most part, the dimensions of
good teaching. Fiscally conservative politicians who might be coerced into paying
expert teachers more money, would either like some objective measure to be used to
designate expert teachers, or they would like expert teachers to be determined on the
basis of their students’ performance. These demands are not insurmountable
obstacles to the study of expertise in teaching, as will be noted in the following
section of this paper. But these are problems that researchers of expertise in bridge,
chess or wrestling do not have.
2. Objective deﬁnition of expertise and the validity of that designation
A recent program of research and a well-designed validity study answers both
demands by the public. Objective criteria for designating expert teachers have been
created. This was an exercise in deﬁning the good teacher through speciﬁcation of
what their classroom performance and professional behavior should look like. In
addition, the ability of those designated expert teachers to inﬂuence student
achievement has also been assessed. This was an attempt to identify the successful
teacher. The entire research program was designed to ﬁnd and celebrate good and
successful teachers (Bond, Smith, Baker, & Hattie, 2000).
The program of research was begun in 1987 by a newly formed National Board of
Professional Teacher Standards (NBPTS). In its mission statement the Board
promised to establish high and rigorous standards for what accomplished teachers
should know and be able to do, and to develop and operate a national voluntary
D.C. Berliner / Int. J. Educ. Res. 35 (2001) 463–482468
system to assess and certify teachers who meet those standards. Through standards
and assessments the Board intended to identify and certify highly accomplished,
expert, or master teachers. The Board has 63 members, over half of whom are
classroom teachers. In approximately 30 different areas of teaching, such as middle
school language arts, or upper level biology, or elementary school generalist, the
Board and its consultants have speciﬁed what teachers should know and be able to
do (National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, 1994).
Rigorous assessments to become Board certiﬁed were prepared for each of the
teaching areas. The assessment of the candidates for Board certiﬁcation includes
portfolios and videotapes of classroom teaching that are submitted by each
candidate, as well as hours of testing at an assessment center. Preparation for
the assessment requires a few hundred hours over a 1-year period. Because the
development and scoring of the tests is expensive and time consuming, the charge per
candidate for taking the test is over US$2000. The passing rate for these various tests
is low, making them a challenge; a tournament of sorts, that does identify expert
teachers as would a bridge tournament or an Olympic competition. But the question
for skeptics remains, do teachers identiﬁed as accomplished on the basis of this
assessment actually perform in their classrooms in the ways that experts are expected
to, and do they affect student achievement in a positive way?
On the basis of the literature (e.g., Berliner, 1994a, b; Shulman, 1987; Shulman &
Quinlan, 1995) Bond et al. (2000) chose to specify expert classroom performance as
consisting of a number of prototypic characteristics, and invented unique measures
to assess each one. For example, following the logic of Sternberg and Horvath (1995)
among many others, Bond et al. asserted that the expert teacher (like other experts)
has extensive and accessible knowledge. For teachers this would be knowledge about
classrooms, subject matter and classroom context. Trained observers and analysts
assessed this feature by analyzing and numerically coding teachers’ classroom lessons
and transcripts obtained from interviews with the teachers. In this case highly trained
raters were looking for evidence of organization and re-organization of knowledge,
connections of the teachers’ knowledge to other school subjects, and the connection
of the teachers knowledge to the prior and future learning of their students.
A total of 13 prototypical features of expertise were hypothesized, and measures
were created for each feature. For each prototypical feature raters were trained to
acceptable levels of reliability and performed their analyses blind with regards to the
skill level of the teachers they were assessing. The 13 prototypic features were:
*better use of knowledge;
*extensive pedagogical content knowledge, including deep representations of
subject matter knowledge;
*better problem solving strategies;
*better adaptation and modiﬁcation of goals for diverse learners, better skills for
*better decision making;
*more challenging objectives;
*better classroom climate;
D.C. Berliner / Int. J. Educ. Res. 35 (2001) 463–482 469
*better perception of classroom events, better ability to read the cues from
*greater sensitivity to context;
*better monitoring of learning and providing feedback to students;
*more frequent testing of hypotheses;
*greater respect for students; and
*display of more passion for teaching.
The outcomes of instruction for students of expert teachers were hypothesized as
well. These included:
*higher motivation to learn and higher feelings of self-efﬁcacy;
*deeper, rather than surface understanding of the subject matter; and
*higher levels of achievement.
To assess these prototypic features of expert teachers two samples of teachers were
recruited from among those who had attempted to obtain National Board
Certiﬁcation in the areas of Middle Grade Level/Generalist, or Early Adolescent
Level/English Language Arts. One of the comparison groups (N¼31) consisted of
those who passed the National Board tests, the other comparison group consisted of
those who did not achieve Board certiﬁcation through the assessment tests (N¼34).
All the teachers were well experienced, had prepared diligently for the examinations,
and spent considerable amounts of money to demonstrate they were highly
accomplished teachers. This is important because the comparison of the prototypical
features of expertise, and of the outcomes of the two groups, were not between
expert and non-expert. These comparisons are between equally experienced, well-
prepared teachers, all of whom thought they were highly accomplished. Thus this
was a very conservative investigation of whether the Board assessments could really
identify expertise in teaching.
The results of this recent study are quite remarkable. The Board certiﬁed teachers,
in comparison to those that failed to meet the Board standards on the assessments,
excelled on each and every prototypical feature, with statistical signiﬁcance of those
differences achieved in 11 of the 13 comparisons of the features. When looked at as
effect sizes, the differences between these two highly experienced groups ranged from
just over one-quarter of a standard deviation to 1.13 standard deviations in favor of
the Board certiﬁed teachers. Thus, teachers found to be experts on the basis of the
assessments of the NBPTS were anywhere from 8 percentile ranks to 37 percentile
ranks higher on measures of their use of knowledge, the depth of their
representations of knowledge, their expressed passion, their problem-solving skills,
and so forth.
When discriminant function analysis was performed, about 85 percent of these
highly experienced, well-prepared teachers comprising these two groups could
correctly be differentiated from each other. The features with the greatest ability to
discriminate between the expert/non-expert teachers were the degree of challenge
D.C. Berliner / Int. J. Educ. Res. 35 (2001) 463–482470
that the curriculum offered, the teachers’ ability for deep representations of the
subject matter, and the teachers’ skillfulness in monitoring and providing feedback
to his/her students. This study provides validity for the assessment program. But
what about student outcomes?
Over a dozen scales were used to measure the motivation and self-efﬁcacy
of the students of these two groups of teachers. The results revealed few
Student achievement was evaluated through written assignments. But covariates
reﬂecting initial ability of the students could not be obtained. This untrustworthy
data set did reveal, however, that the Board certiﬁed teachers had students who
performed better on the writing assignment. But the mean scores for the two groups
do not differ signiﬁcantly, and the results are probably not interpretable.
On the analysis of student work samples, however, 74 percent of those obtained
from the students of Board certiﬁed teachers demonstrated higher understanding
through more relational and more abstract student work. Only 29 percent of
the work samples from the students of the non-Board certiﬁed teachers showed
these characteristics. The authors of this study note that the NBPTS, through
its assessments, is ‘‘identifying and certifying teachers that are producing
students who differ in profound and important ways from those taught
by less proﬁcient teachers. These students appear to exhibit an understanding
of concepts targeted in instruction that is more integrated, more coherent, and
at a higher level of abstraction than understanding achieved by other students’’
In sum, the Board certiﬁed teachers who were designated as experts from rigorous
assessments, met the criteria for expertise set forth in the prototypic model. And they
had students whose work samples were of higher quality than a comparable group of
experienced, well-prepared, and conﬁdent teachers. This study identiﬁed both good
and successful teachers. How much more might these teachers have shined if they
were compared to a novice, or less prepared, or less conﬁdent group? And would not
it have been nice to learn of their life histories and about the role of context, practice
and ability in their development?
Neither issues about talent, practice, or context and their affects on expertise,
nor the deﬁnitional issues that the ﬁeld must grapple with, provide insurmountable
problems for studying expertise among teachers. The prototypical model
derived from scores of studies across ﬁelds as diverse as taxi driving, physics
problem solving, race-track handicapping and teaching have yielded propositions
about the nature of expertise in teaching that now seem ﬁrmly validated. Two
conclusions can be reached. First, the use of data from the study of experts in other
ﬁelds is now more clearly warranted than in the past. This is because the prototypical
features derived from these wide-ranging studies have been validated. Second, we
can state with great authority that experts in teaching do, indeed, share
characteristics of experts in more prestigious ﬁelds such as chess, medical diagnosis,
and physics problem solving. This point leads to a declaration: There is no basis to
believe there are differences in the sophistication of the cognitive processes used by
teachers and experts in other ﬁelds.
D.C. Berliner / Int. J. Educ. Res. 35 (2001) 463–482 471
3. Propositions about expert teachers
Propositions derived from research about expertise set the stage for (the now)
validated prototypical set of features of expert teachers. Many of these were reviewed
in greater detail in Berliner (1994a, b) and these served to help the Board derive its
model of expertise. These propositions included evidence derived only from studies
of teaching expertise. Persuasive evidence from more than one research program
seemed to support the following propositions:
*expert teachers excel mainly in their own domain and in particular contexts;
*expert teachers develop automaticity for the repetitive operations that are needed
to accomplish their goals;
*expert teachers are more opportunistic and ﬂexible in their teaching than are
*expert teachers are more sensitive to the task demands and social situations
surrounding them when solving problems;
*expert teachers represent problems in qualitatively different ways than do novices;
*expert teachers have faster and more accurate pattern recognition capabilities;
*expert teachers perceive more meaningful patterns in the domain in which they are
*expert teachers may begin to solve problems slower, but they bring richer and
more personal sources of information to bear on the problems that they are trying
Comments about some of these propositions are in order, based on research not
covered in the 1994 reviews and the continuing research on expertise in teaching.
3.1. On expert teachers excelling mainly in their own domain and in particular contexts
Teachers ordinarily seem not to be ‘‘general’’ experts, with unlimited capacity to
transfer knowledge from one situation to another. They appeared to have limited
knowledge of, say, fourth grade or urban children or history teaching. One expert
teacher, Kerrie, whose development was followed for many years by Bullough
(Bullough & Baughman, 1997) switched from one school to another and became
much less adept as a teacher. Her sense of failure at the new school was utterly
demoralizing. In another study, Zeitz (1994) found that literary experts excelled
literary novices in interpreting literary texts. But they did not do so when interpreting
scientiﬁc texts. The expert’s knowledge was limited to a particular domain. Stader,
Colyer, and Berliner (1990) found that when watching video-tapes of instruction,
expert teachers could not decide whether students whom they did not know were
comprehending lesson materials or not. Experts’ performance at inferring student
comprehension from non-verbal cues was no different than that of novices and
advanced beginners. But when the experts studied videotapes of students whom they
did know, their accuracy in prediction of student comprehension of the lessons went
up. Their knowledge of students was speciﬁc, depending on things they knew about
D.C. Berliner / Int. J. Educ. Res. 35 (2001) 463–482472
the child’s personality, typical behavior, and past performance. They did not have
this knowledge in a generalizable form. Schemp, Manross, Tan, and Fincher (1998)
studied physical education experts in and out of their area of expertise. They found
that the ‘‘same teacher who may be proﬁcient at teaching ﬁtness activities may be
woefully lacking when it comes to teaching racket sports. Even the experts’ passion
for teaching was curtailed if they had to teach in areas in which they were not expert.
So a continuing set of studies informs us that expertise is quite often circumscribed.
But research suggests that we do not push this notion of limited and restricted
knowledge too far. Rather, a distinction may usefully be made between ‘‘adaptive
expertise’’ and a more restrictive kind. Hatano (1990), for example, described the
sushi expert that follows recipes and the one that is more creative, the difference,
perhaps, between artisans and virtuosos (Bransford et al., 1999). Patel, Kaufman,
and Magder (1996) distinguished between speciﬁc and generic knowledge among
expert physicians. Bertrand, Cellier, and Giroux (1994) remarked on the general
indexing skills of professional indexers and the speciﬁc indexing skills that come form
practicing indexing in a speciﬁc scientiﬁc subject area. My own research team in the
1980s privately talked about our ‘‘top experts’’ and other experts in our studies. We
had no name for these unique individuals, but the label ‘‘adaptive expert’’ would ﬁt
the behavior we saw. Bereiter and Scardamalia (1993) also make a useful distinction
about expertise using concepts from the psychology of intelligence. They distinguish
between crystallized and ﬂuid expertise. Crystallized expertise consists of intact
procedures that have been thoroughly learned through experience, brought forth and
used in relatively familiar tasks. Fluid expertise consists of abilities that come into
play when an expert confronts novel or challenging tasks.
Adaptive or ﬂuid experts appear to learn throughout their careers, bringing the
expertise they possess to bear on new problems, and ﬁnding ways to tie the new
situations they encounter to the knowledge base they have. Wineburg (1998) has
studied a case of this kind. Two expert historians studied and talked aloud about a
set of primary documents that were in the area of expertise of only one of these
historians. The historian working with documents out of his area at ﬁrst responded
much like novices did when confronted with the same documents (Wineburg &
Fournier, 1994). But as this historian worked through the documents, his questions
‘‘began to cluster around a set of constructs and relationships that proved crucial to
his understanding. Despite early stumbling, yadaptive expertise was evident by
task’s end, when an interpretive structure that made sense of these issues came into
view’’(p. 280). For the historian working out of his ﬁeld ﬂuid expertise was needed.
Because of these ﬂuid abilities, in the end, the two historians looked much more alike
than they did in the beginning.
So some research informs us that expert, domain-speciﬁc contextualized knowl-
edge can often be a limited kind of knowledge. It can even be costly, resulting in
stereotypic behaviors and rigid adherence to inappropriate methods (Sternberg &
Frensch, 1992). But rich stores of domain speciﬁc knowledge also form the basis for
adaptive and ﬂuid expertise, where transfer of the experts’ knowledge and skills are
demonstrated. Adaptive or ﬂuid expertise may also be related to how talent affects
development of expertise (see above). It may be that only small numbers of experts in
D.C. Berliner / Int. J. Educ. Res. 35 (2001) 463–482 473
a ﬁeld are adaptive or ﬂuid experts. Schiffrin (1996), for example, made the point
that in many ﬁelds of endeavor it may be that as much as 99 percent of the expertise
one sees is explainable by deliberate practice. But practice will not explain the
performance of the very few top performers in a ﬁeld. These may be those with
talent, and some of that talent may be, or may be the genesis of, adaptive or ﬂuid
3.2. On the development by expert teachers of automaticity for the repetitive
operations needed to accomplish their goals
Automaticity is the goal of a good deal of deliberate practice, as made crystal clear
in the study of a golf expert (Starkes et al., 1996). This expert started systematic
practice at age 16, hitting 800 balls a day. At a later age he hit the 800 balls a
day, then played 54 holes of golf on Saturday and 72 holes of golf on Sunday.
Practice resulted in his hitting about 4000 balls a week, perhaps totaling 4 million
balls hit in his lifetime. According to this expert, he was always trying to do some
particular thing during his practice. It was not mere practice, but deliberate practice,
in which he was involved. In the beginning he worked on simplifying his swing, later
on hitting to an imaginary spot on a course or to a particular spot on the driving
range. His swing became so consistent and straight that when he plays on a course
he plays quite swiftly, just going up to the ball and hitting it precisely where he
Bereiter and Scardemalia (1993) have reminded us, though, that in many ﬁelds
automaticity has a function beyond mere efﬁciency. In complex environments
automaticity allows cognitive resources to be reinvested in other and higher level
cognitive activity. If you do not have to worry about your ﬁngers on the keyboard, a
concert pianist can monitor the conductor, the sound, the audience, the vibrato, the
pace, etc. Automaticity itself is not ‘‘genius’’, but it provides the hands and feet for
genius to emerge (Bryan & Harter, 1899).
The role of deliberate practice in the development of expertise provides a lesson
for teacher educators, because practice of any kind is noticeably restricted in the
training and education of teachers. Deliberate practice is usually conﬁned to student
teaching, and is engaged in by few teachers in the course of their careers. But even
during student teaching novice teachers complained they had no time to polish
lessons (Livingston & Borko, 1989). The novices in this study much preferred
situations where they could teach the same thing twice. One novice said ‘‘Just being
able to teach the same thing twice means I can iron it out the ﬁrst timeyI’ll
remember what worked well and what did not work well. And then, [the second time]
I’ve already gone through the material once before, yI’ve got a much clearer idea
of where the snags are in my presentation and where the snags are in their
knowledge’’ (Borko, Livingston, McCaleb, & Mauro, 1988, pp. 65–83). Lesson
study, as in some Asian countries, where colleagues watch and critique a lesson, is
not found in American and European schools. So the chance to ‘‘polish the stones,’’
that is, to hone lessons to perfection, is missing in Western schools (Lewis &
Tsuchida, 1998). Lesson study and other forms of deliberate practice and coached
D.C. Berliner / Int. J. Educ. Res. 35 (2001) 463–482474
performance seems to be beneﬁcial activities in teacher development, but are not now
3.3. On expert teachers being more opportunistic and ﬂexible in their teaching than
This difference has been found among all kinds of experts, though in the study of
teaching it is best described by Borko and Livingston (1989). Westerman (1991),
however, has closely replicated Borko and Livingston’s work. Novices in
Westerman’s study were once again found to be inﬂexible, sometimes ignoring
interesting points students made, letting teachable moments go. One said ‘‘I had my
lesson plan and I just wanted to get to every part of it and get it ﬁnished.’’ Another
said, ‘‘I just didn’t know enough about the topic to discuss it freely.’’ On the other
hand an expert said, ‘‘I think it’s important to be open-ended with kids. I don’t care
if the lesson doesn’t go exactly the way I planned as long as I know where we’re
heading.’’ Thus expert teachers were found to be much more interactive with their
students than novices, who seemed afraid to stray from their lesson plans.
Quantitative data exists on this factor as well. O’Conner and Fish (1998) used the
Classroom Systems Observation Scale with expert and novice teachers. The scale
allows an observer to evaluate classroom environments. These researchers found
a signiﬁcant difference in favor of expert teachers on the dimension of ﬂexibility, a
measure of the teachers’ adaptability and responsiveness to students. Schemp et al.
(1998) conﬁrmed a previous ﬁnding that expert physical education teachers have a
kind of ‘‘plan independence’’, when teaching in areas of their pedagogical strength.
The experts had the ‘‘ability to accommodate a range of learner skills and
abilities,yappeared more ﬂexible and opportunistic, and demonstrated a willingness
to change activities whenever they deemed it appropriate’’ (p. 351).
From stimulated recall of lessons taught, novice and expert health teachers
displayed similar characteristics (Cleary & Groer, 1994). In this study expert teachers
often verbalized how their lesson would change, based on what students were doing
and how the lesson was progressing. The experts, compared to the novices, seemed
capable of ‘‘in-ﬂight’’ decision making in dynamic environments. Novice teachers,
on the other hand, stayed close to their lesson plans. In a study of expert and novice
Japanese teachers a reason for this well-established phenomena is revealed (Sato,
Akita, & Iwakawa, 1993). Teachers were asked to think aloud after watching a
lesson by another teacher, and also write a post-lesson summary. The experts
engaged in what the authors called impromptu thinking during the lesson, but the
novices could not do this. The novices reﬂected on teaching quite well, however, after
the lesson was done. Not surprisingly, novices did not have the cognitive resources to
understand all that was happening in a classroom while it was happening. They
could not think aloud because they were cognitively overloaded, a ﬁnding described
earlier by Carter, Cushing, Sabers, Stein, and Berliner (1988) from my research
Sato et al. (1993) concluded that ‘‘Experts can teach based upon contextualized
thinking, while novices teach regardless ofycontent, [or] contexty. This is the
D.C. Berliner / Int. J. Educ. Res. 35 (2001) 463–482 475
reason why experts can respond quickly and intuitively to events and creatively
improve their teaching. This is also the reason why novices cannot be ﬂexible in their
teaching’’ (pp. 107–108). A good deal of research supports these conclusions. In a
related study by Lin (1999), using think-aloud protocols, evidence was found that
novices and advanced beginners spend signiﬁcantly more cognitive resources than
expert teachers do thinking about classroom management. This may be a partial
explanation for their relative inﬂexibility. Novices appear to be afraid of losing
managerial control. In clinical interviews and from observed lesson segments Ropo
(1987) suggested that this is the case. He found novices to be concentrating on their
own behavior and management of the lesson, while experts seemed to pay more
attention to the contents of students’ answers, just as Sato et al. found.
Two points emerge from this well-established set of ﬁndings about the ﬂexibility
and inﬂexibility of experts and novices. First is the need for novice teachers to
develop functional management routines as quickly as possible. This is needed so
they can, as Bereiter and Scardamalia (1993) suggested, reinvest all of the cognitive
resources they expend on this concern. In particular, increasing degrees of
automaticity in handling problematic classroom activities, might provide the
cognitive space and freedom to ﬁgure out why classroom problems occur, or what
needs modiﬁcation in the curriculum. This was what Swanson, O’Conner, and
Cooney (1990) found in their comparison of novice and expert think-aloud solutions
to classroom discipline problems presented in vignette form. Experts thought about
the deﬁnition of the discipline problem, attempting to represent and deﬁne it clearly.
Novices did not see much beyond the surface of the problem, jumping quickly to a
solution strategy. On the other hand, rather than jumping quickly to a solution
strategy, experts were systematically testing hypotheses about possible solutions.
Fear and inadequate cognitive resources prevent novices from thinking in this more
Expert teachers learn a lot from experience and so they are often slower to start
solving problems than are novices, a ﬁnding reported by Berliner (1994a, b), and
later replicated by Korevaar (1998). Korevaar assessed the intentions of experienced
teachers in dealing with classroom problems. Experienced teachers had more
complex ways of handling these problems than did novices, and thus their reaction
time to the problems was signiﬁcantly longer than was that of the novices.
This brings up the second point about this well-established difference in the ways
that novice and expert teachers cognize and deal with classroom problems. It
suggests an important role for case studies of classroom management in teacher
education. With no experience in these often novel situations, coupled with fear of
losing control, case studies of classroom management seems a natural way to
produce the ﬂexibility of thought that is needed on encountering these situations.
Unlike in preparation for the law or business, case study for novice teachers is not
yet a signiﬁcant part of the teacher education curriculum. Yet it appears that case
knowledge is a key part of expert knowledge. Memory of cases, for the internist and
radiologist in medicine, the player of chess or bridge, or the classroom teacher,
contributes to their expert performance. Problems can be classiﬁed and solution
strategies proposed on the basis of previous experience. When confronted with a new
D.C. Berliner / Int. J. Educ. Res. 35 (2001) 463–482476
problem an expert goes through their case knowledge and searches for what Herb
Simon has called an ‘‘an old friend’’, a case like the one now before them. When that
‘‘old friend’’ is found, a good start has been made in solving the problem. While case
study is not a substitute for genuine experience, its role in teacher education could be
But case study is not just recommended to provide experiences that could reduce
the time needed to go from an inﬂexible novice to a more ﬂexible experienced
teacher. Case experience is likely to be the method that most often helps one ﬁnd the
‘‘old friend’’, the previous case that is like the one confronted in the present. It is case
knowledge that is probably the basis for positive transfer by experts in complex
environments, meaning that the ability to codify and draw on case knowledge may
be the essence of adaptive or ﬂuid expertise. Thus the sooner a novice learns how to
think about cases, the sooner ﬂuid expertise might develop, if it is to develop at all.
Perhaps case identiﬁcation and learning, simple mindfulness about learning to
teach, is why expert teachers take longer to learn their trade. In Turner’s (1995)
study, non-exemplary experienced teachers claimed it took them 2.5 years to learn to
teach. Exemplary experienced teachers thought it took them almost twice that long,
4.5 years. Learning to teach is not simply learning how to survive the ﬁrst week of
school. It is primarily about learning to codify knowledge in order to draw on it
again. And it is probably about complexifying and not simplifying the world. The
exemplary teachers in Turner’s study also developed a ‘‘far more complex view of
their working worlds thanynon-exemplary teachers. It was this [more complex
view] that assisted exemplary teachers to respond to the many challenges, demands,
disappointments, and achievements encountered throughout their careers’’ (p. 224).
3.4. Other ﬁndings about expert and novice teachers
Schemp et al. (1998), and Henry (1995) both reached a similar conclusion, namely
that experts have a good deal of independence of the opinions of others. They believe
their experience and subject matter knowledge give them the autonomy they need to
choose the content and pedagogy in their domain of expertise. They are very
conﬁdent in their domain of expertise. This conﬁdence probably is the reason that
they are more evaluative of other teachers than are novices. This suggestion was
made from weak data in my program of research (Berliner, 1994a), But this was
found as well by Lin (1999). When viewing slides of classrooms, Lin’s expert teachers
produced three times as many evaluation statements as were made by novice and
Another weak ﬁnding in earlier reviews of this research was that experts,
compared to novices, attend more to atypical than typical events during classroom
instruction. This suggestion was given support in the work of Allen (1994). She
studied a small group of novice, intermediate and expert teachers who were observed
and debriefed after they had taught a lesson. Allen found that experts only recalled
speciﬁcally the atypical behavior of the class or the ‘‘problematics’’ of the lesson. She
noted that typical behavior seemed of little or no importance to the expert. Unusual
events are recalled with clarity, other events are recalled at a very general level. In my
D.C. Berliner / Int. J. Educ. Res. 35 (2001) 463–482 477
research program we also looked to see if expert teachers could predict student
performance better. Thus, Mullholland (1991) had expert elementary teachers and
their novice student teachers each predict the rank order of students taught by them
both on standardized tests of achievement. The experts did well, with the correlation
between predicted and actual performance averaging 0.74 in reading and 0.73 in
mathematics. Correlations between predicted and observed scores for novices were
0.51 and 0.54 for reading and mathematics. Besides the means of these correlations
being different, expert teachers in this sample were most often closer to 1.00 in
accuracy of their judgements, and novice teachers were much more likely to provide
correlations that were not signiﬁcantly different than zero. Expert teachers could
predict their students’ achievement level better than could novices working in the
Accuracy in prediction seems to be an important characteristic of experts, as
revealed in a review of expertise in dynamic environments, deﬁned as nuclear power
plants, medical emergency rooms, air trafﬁc control facilities, and the like (Cellier,
Eyrolle, & Marin!
e, 1997). Classrooms, I contend, are not unlike these other high-
pressure environments, and the ﬁndings from the two research strands are similar. In
these dynamic environments expertise is attributed to the experts skill in (1) making
accurate inferences about the processes being monitored, (2) anticipating outcomes,
and (3) holding a more global and functional view of the situation. A host of studies
on cognitive processing of expert teachers would support these conclusions.
4. The development of expertise
Regardless of talent, as experience is gained and reﬂected on in learning to teach,
play chess, or engage in medical diagnosis, some individuals get better at what they
do. The developmental model of Dreyfus and Dreyfus (1986) adapted by Berliner
(1994a, b) describes how expertise in teaching develops. This heuristic model speciﬁes
behavior characteristic of ﬁve different stages of development, as individuals move
from novice,to advanced beginner,tocompetent performer. Some smaller set of these
teachers then moves on to proﬁcient and expert stages of development. These stages
and descriptions still seem appropriate, but more recently Glaser (1996) has
described the development of expertise differently and more abstractly, conceiving of
emerging expertise as a change in agency over time.
Glaser described a progression in terms of three interactive phases. The ﬁrst stage
he calls externally supported, involving environmental structuring for initial
acquisition of the skills needed by the novice teacher, musician or athlete. The
young performer is inﬂuenced by the dedication, interest, and the support of
coaches, parents, practitioners in the ﬁeld, and others who are signiﬁcant in their
lives. Glaser labeled the second stage transitional. This stage is characterized by
a decrease in the scaffolding used for and by the novice performer, accompanied by a
concomitant increase in apprenticeship, so that more guided practice can take place.
During this time period self-monitoring and self-regulation techniques are learned,
and high standards for performance begin to be set. The third stage is called
D.C. Berliner / Int. J. Educ. Res. 35 (2001) 463–482478
self-regulatory. In this stage a developing expert controls much more of their own
learning environment. Here the conditions for deliberate practice are arranged. The
emerging expert receives the feedback they need, and also chooses the level of
challenge for their own development. The three stages focus on changing agency
during learning, from supported learning to increasingly self-controlled, self-
monitored, and self-reinforced learning.
The time for development of expertise differs in every ﬁeld, but a reasonable
estimate for expertise to develop in teaching, if it ever does, appears to be 5 or more
years. Turner’s (1995) exemplary teachers stated that it takes 4.5 years to learn their
tradeFnot even to be exemplary. Teacher’s anecdotes suggest it takes 3–5 years
until things that happen in the classroom no longer are surprising. And Lopez’s
(1995) data suggests that average student achievement on standardized tests goes up
every year for the ﬁrst 7 years of a teaching career.
The US now has 5000 or so Board certiﬁed expert teachers, out of a teaching force
of about 3,000,000. These remarkable individuals have deﬁed the environments in
which teachers usually work. How many more expert teachers might we identify if
we had schools where teacher growth is a priority and fostered, and where deliberate
practice could take place? Conditions like these are hard to ﬁnd in education, but at
least research now points the way to the contexts and practice conditions that could
promote expertise in teaching, should our citizens wish to create them.
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David C. Berliner is Regents’ Professor of Education at Arizona State University. He
received his doctorate from Stanford University in 1968, and spent his career
studying teachers, teacher education, and educational policy. He is a member of the
National Academy of Education, and a past president of both the American
Educational Research Association and the American Psychological Association. He
is the author of over 150 articles, books and book chapters, among them Educational
Psychology (with N.L. Gage), The Manufactured Crisis (with Bruce Biddle) and he
served as co-editor of The Handbook of Educational Psychology (with Robert
D.C. Berliner / Int. J. Educ. Res. 35 (2001) 463–482482