Monday, 30 January 2017

Book review: Teach Like a Champion 2.0

Let me sum up this review in two points right from the start:

1. All teachers would benefit from reading this outstanding book about how to run successful classrooms.
2. Language teachers will find some of the recommended classroom techniques less relevant.

If you don't already know of him, Doug Lemov is a leading expert in the field of describing successful classroom management. He is the Managing Director of the US group of urban Charter Schools Uncommon Schools’ "Teach Like a Champion" team. His book Teach Like a Champion 1.0, has sold nearly 1,000,000 copies and been translated into eight languages. This revised and upgraded Teach Like a Champion 2.0: 62 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College is the subject of this review. The book can be read in association with videos of teachers in action (referenced in the text) and a dedicated website.

When I began teaching in 1980, I wish there'd been a book like this. I would have made far fewer mistakes! Doug's book gives the lie to the notion that you cannot teach teachers to teach. Whilst he acknowledges in Part 4 that some teachers seem to have a natural poise and presence, this very detailed and readable book, punctuated here and there with personal anecdote, demonstrates that there is a whole host of specific techniques which teachers can apply to improve their craft. All of these are described with admirable clarity by referring to a considerable number of teachers Doug has carefully observed and recorded.

Let me pick out a few of his techniques and reflect on them from a language teacher's perspective.

His "Do Now" technique is to always have a 3-5 minute task as pupils enter with no need for teacher support. This is part of his "Strong Start" technique which he correctly claims is vital for effective lessons. Do Now aims to build habit of independence and make sure "Every Minute Counts". Pen and paper should be used to show evidence and the task needs to be corrected quickly. Many language teachers adopt this technique, although I find it a little too prescriptive and preferred my flying starts to be oral warm-ups (drills and the like).

His Technique 33 "Cold Call" is a key one, in Doug's opinion. It's what many of us know as "no hands-up" or even "hands-down". Doug considers this to be the single most transformative technique for involving all pupils and raising standards. I'm glad he doesn't argue that it should be the sole way of running question-answer sessions. Typically he describes in the variations on hands-up, hands-down and mixtures thereof. What's great about this book is how forensically he analyses every detail and consequence of teacher-student interaction. For instance, he mentions how, when you cold call a question, you should not name the student before the question in order that all students give thought to an answer.

Technique 43 "Turn and Talk" is one which is very familiar to language teachers. After some teacher-led work/interaction you get pupils to turn to. a partner and work orally to a very specific time limit. Doug puts this in the context of discussion (e.g. in an English lesson) whereas we language teachers would use it usually for more structured pair-work tasks with a focus on a structure or area of vocabulary.

One point he makes which I have seen elsewhere and used myself is that you should give very specific time limits, say four minutes, rather than rounded numbers like five or ten. This adds urgency and sends the message that you are precise in your time management. In fact, managing time and pace through effective transitions and mileposts during lessons to make every second count is a significant theme of the book. His Technique 27 "Change the Pace" includes advice on when to excite a class and when to calm them. Old hands know this well.

Doug argues quite strongly for forward-facing seating which has long made sense to me. How else can you effectively scan and track what pupils are doing and insist that they track you? On this point, I like his STAR/SLANT acronyms from Chapter 10. STAR: Sit up, Track the Speaker, Ask and answer questions like a scholar, Respect those around you. SLANT: Sit up, Listen, Ask and answer questions, Nod your head, Track the speaker. He recommends using the acronyms as useful, time-saving shorthand.

Part 4 of the book focuses on behaviour management. These are Techniques 51-57 - how to best manage behaviour through vigilance, calm finesse, the least invasive interventions, "art of the consequence", a strong voice and positive instructions - telling students what to do, not what not to do. Doug stresses how pupils need to be trained into good procedures and routines. He writes: "the more natural and routinised your classroom systems become, the less they feel like restrictions". This is partly in response to potential critics who may argue that his recommendations come across as repressive or undemocratic. Doug is unapologetic about teachers needing to exercise authority effectively.

On the value of quick interventions to manage behaviour Doug writes "if you're mad you've waited too long". He cites this as a useful piece of advice for teachers and he's right. He says that interventions should be quick, incremental, consistent and depersonalised, e.g. when when a class enters too boisterously, get them to do it again immediately. I cannot emphasise enough how much good detailed guidance there is in this book!

Observations of language teaching are absent, which is a slight pity. Some of Doug's analysis does not match so well with the practice of MFL/WL teachers who work within the communicative or TPRS paradigm where question-answer has a specific purpose in developing proficiency rather than developing concepts. Some of the recommended interactions would relate well to discussion of grammar or the teaching of topics, film or literature at advanced level, but less well with younger classes. "Call and Response", however, is widely used by language teachers who tend to refer to one type of it as choral repetition.

Technique 38 "Art of the Sentence" is interesting, since we language teachers often insist on whole sentences to help develop control of syntax. Doug's focus is however more on developing rich vocabulary, complex ideas and clarity of academic discourse, speaking in a scholarly way, if you like.

I could add a good deal more from the notes I took, but I hope you've got my drift by now! Doug Lemov and his colleagues who have contributed through their ideas and classroom practice have done teachers a great service by writing this new edition of Teach Like a Champion. Every department, whatever the school, would do well to get hold of a copy.

Teach Like a Champion 2.0 costs about £17 and is published by Jossey Bass.









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2 comments:

  1. 'How else can you effectively scan and track what pupils ate'? Yes, this is important advice. You must control their eating. Haha, only joking! :) Thanks for the review. Regarding your Language Teacher Toolkit, I've been reading through it. I see that it seems to lean heavily in favour of the communicative approach in some places: i.e. in the number and kind of games you recommend. Some of these games, like bingo, are very ineffective in my experience, however. Bingo tends to take up a lot of time, students all look for 'stars' for completing a line and they learn very little (a handful of words in a class). There are some other questionable games, such as murder mystery, where students may well have 'fun' but don't actually learn that much. I'm wondering if you designed the book in such a manner as to straddle the line between the traditional and progressive approaches, trying to appeal to both camps?

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  2. Hi. I don't agree with you about bingo and the murder mystery game. They both provide great input and practice so I can't fault them. I am pragmatic on approaches, bekieving that input is key, but practice and some analysis help a lot. I don't see it in terms of progressive versus trafitional. These terms refer to different things in language teaching, depending on the era. Thanks for commenting. Always appreciated.

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