Monday, July 12, 2010

Teach Like a Champion, Part 2

This is the 2nd post in a series reviewing Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov.

Chapter 2 is "Planning that Ensures Academic Achievement."   There are a lot of times when I hear about how schools of ed don't prepare their students well enough to teach, and I am grateful for how well I WAS prepared. (Thanks, Warner University!)  The lesson planning criteria in this chapter-- at least, the good ones-- were communicated early and often to me as an ed major, and I was required to put them into practice early and often.

Technique 6, Begin With the End in Mind-- Don't wait until the night before to plan lessons.  Start with unit goals, then break them down into lesson objectives in a logical sequence.  (Seriously, are there ed schools that don't teach this?  Or is this more directed at 2nd career teachers?)

Technique 7, the 4 Ms of objectives-- Manageable, Measurable, Made First (objective precedes instructional method), and Most Important.  Most Important to what?  "What's most important on the path to college, and nothing else. It describes the next step straight up the mountain."   (My emphasis.)

Here's where I had a "whoa, wait a sec" moment.  First of all, while the first 3 Ms are fairly  objective (pun intended), this one is very subjective.  Who says what is "Most Important" on the way to college?  Creative thinking, for example, is absolutely necessary, and we're not doing a great job teaching it-- mostly because we're so focused on kids passing standardized tests.  What about civic values?  Not on the SAT, but something that is undoubtedly part of a well-rounded education.

Educating children is not a hike "straight up the mountain" of college admission and "nothing else." This is the kind of attitude that gets music and PE tossed out of schools.  Kids need to do some meandering, some exploring.  It's not just "Input 5-year-old, output college freshman who is really good at filling in bubbles but terrible at life." What are they going to college FOR? 

Okay, off soapbox.  Technique 8, Post It, advises posting your objective in kid-friendly language.  Great advice.

Technique 9, Shortest Path.  Aaaand... back on the soapbox.  This is where Lemov takes another swipe (there have been several so far) at what he calls "clever" lesson planning.  What he appears to mean by this is any lesson with criteria other than getting the kid to spit out the appropriate answers as fast as possible.  A good lesson, to him,  is one that has the kids perform the desired objective in the shortest amount of time. Engagement, relevance, etc. are to be "thrown out" as criteria for lesson planning.  "Throw out" is not my phrase, it's his.

Absolutely, mastery of the immediate objective is the MAIN criterion, but it is NOT the only one.  I also argue that I can teach quickly and shallowly-- "yours is not to reason why, just invert and multiply" or I can take more time, teach in a more constructivist way, and have my kids actually UNDERSTAND division of fractions.  I can get them to regurgitate an algorithm, or I can get them to think.  Guess which is the shortest path?  Guess which is the BEST path?

Technique 10, Double Plan.  Meaning that you plan not only your actions during a lesson, but also your students'.  (Again, good advice, but what ed school isn't teaching this?)

Technique 11, Draw the Map. This one is about your classroom environment.  Lemov immediately explains why "pods" of desks are a bad idea. (For one, he thinks that with groups you always have some kids with their backs to the teacher--which, nope, not if you do it right.)  He "is a big fan of rows." Get this man to a Kagan Cooperative Learning workshop, stat. I'm not anti-row, and definitely rows are helpful if you have management problems, but it's not the only effective way to structure your classroom.   However, I absolutely agree that planning the physical classroom environment is a necessary element of planning. 

Last chapter, I had some head-nodding and some head-shaking moments.  This time there was a little head-nodding, and quite a bit of me wanting to bang my head against a wall.  Here's hoping that Chapter 3, "Structuring and Delivering Your Lessons," will be less frustrating.

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