Lemovs teaching techniques influencing Charter schools but also academies here


Doug Lemov, an American teacher and the author of Teach Like A Champion: 49 techniques that put students on the path to college (2010) is having a considerable impact on some US schools in the Charter movement. Lemov is managing director of Uncommon Schools, a chain of 32 charter schools (the US equivalent of academies) operating in New Jersey, New York and Massachusetts. These have become the highest-performing schools in their districts, despite being located in some of the most deprived communities. Lemov’s book has become a “bible” for thousands of teachers in the US . It is also having an impact here. Ark, one of the most successful academy chains here, rather like his ideas .

Teach Like A Champion Field Guide is  a practical resource to make the 49 techniques your own. It claims to provide a detailed look at top classroom techniques used by top teachers -that work. Lemov includes  a DVD of teaching clips that illustrate what these techniques look like in practice. For each technique he  provides enough detail on  the practice  but also seeks to provide an explanation  of the rationale behind it.

The book is not just aimed as a tool for teachers. It seeks to provide  a resource to help school leaders understand the elements of effective  teaching which is vital in both observing and training their own teachers. When Lemov  refers to a  ‘technique’-what exactly  does that mean?  Here are two examples:

Technique 1: NO OPT OUT

In typical classes, when students don’t know an answer, or don’t want to try, they quickly learn the teacher will leave them alone if  they respond to a question with “I don’t know” or shrugging their shoulders. The teacher then moves on to another student. Instead,  NO OPT OUT is a useful tool to get all students to the right answer, as often as possible, even if only to repeat the correct answer.

For example, on day 1 to review you ask Charlie, “What is 3 times 8?” He mutters, “I don’t know” and looks away. Many teachers  don’t know how to respond, and students come to use “I don’t know” to avoid work all year long. Instead, at a minimum, you can turn  to another student, ask the same question, and if you get the correct answer, turn back to Charlie, “Now you tell me what is 3 times 8.”

Charlie, and all of the students, have just learned that they can’t get off the hook and must do the work in your class.  In a more rigorous form of NO OPT OUT you or another student can provide a cue. For example, in a class where a student was unable to identify the subject of the sentence, “My mother was not happy” the teacher asked another student, “When I am asking you  for the subject, what am I asking for?” The second student responded, “You are asking for who or what the sentence is about.” Then  the teacher turned to the first student and said, “When I ask for the subject, I am asking for who or what the sentence is about. What’s  the subject?” This time the student was able to respond correctly, “Mother.” The sequence began with the student unable to answer and ended up with him giving a correct answer. Note that the tone in most classrooms that use NO OPT OUT is positive and academic and using it only reinforces the teacher’s belief in students’ ability to get the right answer.


Technique 2: RIGHT IS RIGHT

Students often stop striving when they hear that their answer is “right.” However, many teachers often accept answers that are partially correct or not totally complete. They affirm these answers by repeating them and then adding information to make the answer completely correct. For example, when asked how the families in Romeo and Juliet get along a student says, “They don’t like each other.” You would hope that the teacher would ask for more elaboration, but instead, she might say, “Correct, they don’t like each  other and have been feuding for generations.” By responding in this way, the teacher is setting a low standard for correctness. The key  idea behind RIGHT IS RIGHT is that the teacher should set and defend a high standard of correctness by only naming “right” those  answers which are truly and completely right. There are four ways to use the RIGHT IS RIGHT technique.

1. Hold out for all the way. When students are close to the answer, tell them they’re almost there. While great teachers don’t confuse effort and mastery, they do use simple, positive language to appreciate what students have done and to hold them to  the expectation that they still have more to do. For example, “I like what you’ve done. Can you get us the rest of the way?”

2. Answer the question. Students learn if they don’t know an answer they can answer a different question, particularly if they  relate it to their own lives. If they can’t identify a story’s setting, for example, a student might start with, “That reminds me of  something in my neighbourhood…” Or, you ask for a definition and a student gives you an example, “Eyeball is a compound, word.” Instead, direct the student back to the question at hand, “Kim, that’s an example, I want the definition.”

3. Right answer, right time. Sometimes students get ahead of you and provide the answer when you are asking for the steps to the problem. While it may be tempting to accept this answer, if you were teaching the steps, then it is important to make sure  students have mastered those steps, “My question wasn’t about the solution. It was, what do we do next?”

4. Use technical vocabulary. Good teachers accept words students are already familiar with as right answers, “Volume is the amount of space something takes up.” Great teachers push for precise technical vocabulary, “Volume is the cubic units of  space an object occupies.” This approach strengthens a student’s vocabulary and better prepares  him/her for college.

The TES reported on 12 April that Lemov’s Uncommon Schools are often visited by Future Leaders, which is why the charity is one of the biggest promoters of US teaching methods in England. Once a year, it flies a group of UK teachers to the US to see how particular schools in some of the poorest regions of the country function. Heath Monk, chief executive of Future Leaders, says that the purpose of the US trips is more to do with school culture than pedagogy. The US as a whole, he admits, does not perform well, but there are pockets of brilliance where schools are working miracles.

“We are looking at very small subsets of very successful charter schools; schools that are achieving, by US standards, outstanding outcomes,” Monk says. “And they are doing so with some seriously challenging kids. It shows what can be achieved with an outstanding school culture, even when their pedagogy would likely be judged by Ofsted as requiring improvement.”



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