Tuesday, July 06, 2010

My (Self-Assigned) Summer Reading Assignment: Teach Like a Champion

This the first post in a summer series on Doug Lemov’s book Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College.

The first chapter/set of techniques concerns“Setting High Academic Expectations.” In each explanation of the five techniques here, I had some head-nodding and some head-shaking moments.

Technique #1, No Opt Out, means that when a student says “I don’t know,” you go back to that student later and have them give the right answer.  Either the teacher or another student can state the answer, or a cue can be given.  This is supposed to teach the student that “I don’t know” is not a free pass to doing nothing in class.  Sounds reasonable, but I could see a student feeling badgered and embarrassed if she is the target of this technique often.  Using a cooperative learning structure such as Think-Pair-Share  prior to asking a whole-class question could make reasonably sure that an “I don’t know” is less likely.

Technique #2, Right is Right, is about demanding exactly the right answer rather than an approximation.  Academic vocabulary and complete definitions of terms should be expected.  Effort should be encouraged, writes Lemov, but not confused with mastery.  I agree, but unless you’re in math class, this is a fairly limited technique in that it only applies to simple recall-type questions.   Get up into those analysis and evaluation questions, and “exactly the right answer” becomes tough to determine.

Technique #5 is No Apology.  Teachers shouldn’t apologize for something being hard or boring.  This one got me. I never apologize when something is difficult (typical response to this-is-hard whining: “Great!  That means your brain’s working!”), but I have apologized when something was boring. I think I’ve looked at is as acknowledging, yeah, this is not terribly exciting, but it’s something we have to do.  However, it gives my middle schoolers an instant mental opt-out clause (“even the teacher doesn’t like it”).  

I know a truly great teacher can make anything fascinating—I’m not there yet.  Working on it. When a lesson rehaul isn’t possible (or falls flat), I have got to use everything I’ve got to communicate that this is important, it’s valuable, it’s relevant. 

Other thoughts: The main thing I’m noticing so far is that these are very teacher-centered and assume a “teacher asks, one student answers” style.  The accompanying video clips reinforce this—rows, silent students, teacher front-and-center.   When I can help it, I don't teach that way, because such a small fraction of the class is observably active at once, and because I find that my kids need to interact and move. It's the Kagan Cooperative Learning school trainer in me.

However, there are times that even the most project-based guide-on-the-side cooperative-learning teacher has to stand up front and deliver content, and some of the ideas here, when implemented thoughtfully and tweaked when needed, can definitely help the teacher do that more effectively.

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