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.