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Teach Like a Champion: A Review (Part 2)

611 techniques. Not strategies. Techniques. Things that can be continually practiced and improved. Things that don’t define what you teach, but by being good at them allow you to do it easier, and get the end result closer to what you want.

These 61 techniques are distributed across 9 chapters

  • Setting high academic expectations
  • Planning that ensures academic achievement
  • Structuring and delivering your lessons
  • Engaging students in your lessons
  • Creating a strong classroom culture
  • Setting and maintaining high behavioral expectations
  • Building character and trust
  • Improving your practice: additional techniques for creating a positive rhythm in the classroom
  • Challenging students to think critically: Additional techniques for questioning and responding to students.

Each of these chapters has 5-10 techniques, and each of those techniques has 3 or 4 variations that give it some depth. For example, the much cited “No Opt Out” technique (I keep wanting to call these patterns) may range from simply having a stuck student repeat the answer given by the teacher, to a lengthier process of having other students provide cues.

As with the earlier pattern languages – these techniques exist as a whole. There is no obvious starting point, no linear progression. So reading the first chapter leads to a bit of a disconnect – it feels as if there is a bit of missing structure that hasn’t been presented yet. I would strongly guard against digesting each piece individually – My current approach is to try to blast through everything to get a large overview, and then revisit the sections as I see fit. It is a credit to Lemov’s writing that I keep getting sucked into the nuances of each technique.

It seems that, given the lack of a starting point, that Lemov simply started with the most important things first – everyone talks about high academic expectations, few people actually can describe what it means. His techniques provide a concrete outline for how that might look in the classroom.

The lesson planning section could be seen as just a reiteration backwards planning, but it’s how he suggests the planning be done that makes a difference. The focus on what constitutes a reasonable objective, as opposed to standards derived afterthought used to justify the lesson is a fresh breath from every other backwards planning description I’ve read.

The structuring your lessons section focuses on how students learn, how their brains work, and how they respond to what you do as a teacher. Once again, the techniques are not presented in the abstract, but as concrete actions, complete with motivations and desired outcomes (which allow you as the teacher to judge whether you are implementing them adequately).

(I can’t comment on the later sections, because I’m still working my way through the book)

There are additional resources at the end: a DVD of videos demonstrating the techniques in action (often times in a variety of fashions), and interviews with the teachers in those videos which allow you to see that those techniques are deliberate, and not just some happenstance.

I have two closing comments.

Firstly: It is very easy for teachers to see something that is somewhat familiar, and say “I do that already”. I would caution against this – even if you do something well, you can revisit it, the motivations behind it, and how well you can apply it in exceptional cases. Throughout this book so far, even for those things I already did comfortably, I found new insights and food for thought. This is a goldmine, and the small nuggets in the cracks can do as much to benefit you as the big previously undiscovered veins.

Secondly: The power I see in this book is less the ideas, and more the common language used to discuss those ideas. Much as the software pattern community continued on development of the ideas started in the gang of four book, I see this as a potential starting point for what constitutes good teaching, to discuss amongst ourselves. In order for this to work, the language needs to make it into the mainstream in our profession. Please get a copy of this book (I get nothing for this) and start using the language with your colleagues. See where it goes.

1 The title say 49. The last two chapters have a dozen bonus techniques for refining those 49.

{ 8 } Comments

  1. Kate Nowak | April 19, 2010 at 5:07 am | Permalink

    I don’t know. I keep trying to sit down and read through this, but he keeps turning me off. Yesterday it was the part where he bad-mouths inquiry learning in math. He seems intent on relating superior ways to transmit discrete facts into brains, when I thought that wasn’t supposed to be what we are about anymore. Am I missing something? I’ll plow through it either way. I just need to hold my nose through some parts.

  2. Julie Reulbach | April 19, 2010 at 2:41 pm | Permalink

    I do like this book. But for some reason I don’t love it. I liked the first few chapters better than mid book. The problem with me is that I can’t stay awake when I am reading it. I too feel as if I must plow through it. And I love to read so it is not often I feel this way about a book. Hopefully the DVD will be better.

  3. Jason Buell | April 28, 2010 at 9:22 am | Permalink

    I kind of sort of like this book….but it’s not really my fav.

    What I like:
    I spend zero (not exaggerating) time thinking about classroom management. This book is very straightforward and allows me to just outsource any thinking I’d need to do about it. It’s very specific and the DVD helps me just transfer directly whatever I wanted. Not an ideal situation, but I’ve realized I can’t get simultaneously better at all things. I’m just not that type of person. I work really hard in one area and then move on to the next.

    Not like:
    Ultimately it’s a behaviorism book. It’s also steeped in politics that I don’t really agree with (The book blurbs are from TFA,KIPP, Charter folks). If you’ve read the TFA book Teaching As Leadership its in the same vein. So it’s philosophically and politically opposite from where I’d consider myself. OTOH, there are certainly times when all I want to do is jam some knowledge into a kids brain so we can move on to bigger and better things.

    I definitely agree with you on the “I’m already doing that” issue though. Clearly one of the messages is that these things need to happen 100% of the time. I can certainly tell myself that I don’t let kids opt out but in truth, I let it slide a percentage of the time.

  4. Sue VanHattum | May 6, 2010 at 6:16 am | Permalink

    Ahh, I’m glad to know I’m in good company. ;^)

    I started reading it, and decided to wait until just before fall term starts to read more. I’ll try to find my favorite ideas, and get myself to use them.

    But I was putting tabs in at the things I didn’t like more often than for things I did like. It was the politics of it…

  5. Mr. K | May 7, 2010 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    After digging through more of the book, I’m inclined to agree with all of the assessments here.

    However, I still think that the biggest potential contribution is not the actual advice the book offers, but creating a common language with which we can discuss the art and practice of effective teaching. This is a primer, and not one without flaws. It does provide us a good starting point to evolve from, and for that alone I still would recommend it to as many people as possible.

  6. David S. | May 15, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    I somewhat agree with the comments above. I found some ideas that I will definitely try to implement. What other books would you recommend (re: improving teaching practice)? Thanks!

  7. Rick | August 23, 2010 at 9:10 am | Permalink

    Thanks for the read through of comments. I had similar thoughts and responses to Lemov’s work. I also questioned if he’s ever really read any ed research in the past twenty years. I especially recommend the work of John Hattie and Graham Nuthall.
    The conversation here reminds me of Richard Elmore’s work where he mentions the need for a common language of teaching.
    Look for the work of Robert Pianta and his crew (Center for Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning at the University of Virginia)for another view of teaching and vocabulary in developing the language.

    [Robert Pianta, Karen La Paro and Bridget Hamre. (2008). Classroom Assessment Scoring System Manual K-3. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.

    Robert Pianta, Bridget Hamre, Nancy Haynes, Susan Mintz and Karen La Paro. (2007). Classroom Assessment Scoring System CLASS-Secondary Manual. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes Publishing.]

  8. Patrick Jones | September 19, 2010 at 6:59 pm | Permalink

    I use this book in my classes and it has done wonders for my classroom culture an my test scores. The school at which I teach has had 90% passing or better on two types of state mandated math tests for two years running. Before the book, the school leaders presented this information to us from a conference they attended at an uncommon schools PD. I felt the info they presented from the conference was better organized and had worksheets to help you dissect what teachers were actually doing in the videos.

    Even though the book seems to be less organized than the PD, please buy the book and implement these strategies. Our kids succeed with them. I have seen mediocre teachers turn into rockstars and demand respect they have never had before.