Teaching like a Champion?

Rereading Doug Lemov’s ‘Teach Like a Champion 2.0’ , I am reminded of the simplicity and practicality of his ideas.  So how does a “Champion” teach and why is this book so powerful?

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Over the past 12 months I have worked hard on improving my swimming technique, and coached sessions have been a valuable part of this.  This sort of direct instruction, aimed at correction and efficiency, rarely happens in teacher development, but it is precisely this that Lemov’s book provides.  The reason this is important is because there is a core similarity in the development of teachers and that of swimmers:  none of the components of good swimming/teaching are particularly difficult, but putting them together with absolute consistency is virtually impossible.Teach like a champion

So Lemov’s book presents techniques that each seem like common sense, but by reflecting on each of them individually we stand a better chance of combining them.  Similarly sports coaching will use drills to ‘practise in’ and exaggerate aspects of good technique.  In ‘Teach Like a Champion’ Lemov describes 62 techniques, clearly and with illustrated examples and accompanying videos.

In this blog, I will explore a few of the techniques from chapters 1 and 2 which I have been trying to implement in my own teaching.

 

Gathering and Using Classroom Data

Part 1 of the book comprises two chapters:  one on gathering information about your class and the other on acting on it.  The focus of these chapters is finding and correcting misconceptions:  arguably our primary role as educators.

 

Technique 3:  Standardise the Format

This technique is about designing tasks so that it is as efficient as possible for you to gather information about pupil understanding.

In other words, when asking pupils to record their responses to a task, how can you make the checking of that task when circulating a room as quick as possible.  For example you might ask pupils to record specific information in specific locations. Stipulating this avoids flicking through books or scanning notes for the info you need.  It might sound obvious, but cutting down the time it takes to check pupils’ work mid-lesson, makes these checks viable and could reduce the need for retrospective assessment.

Key question:  How have you designed the task or instructed pupils to enable you to quickly and efficiently check understanding?

 

Technique 6:  Affirmative Checking

This technique involves putting checkpoints into your lesson that a pupil must pass through before moving on.  This ensures that understanding is secure before that pupil moves to the next stage.

One way which I have implemented this is through an idea I stole from ‘Talk Less Teaching’ by Isabella Wallace and Leah Kirkman. I break down a written task into a series of increasingly complex questions – a bit like a writing scaffold – but I keep these to myself.  Pupils complete a piece of writing by answering one task at a time, bringing it to me, and moving on to the next when I am happy with the standard.

This is another simple idea, but framing the writing as a race between groups secures engagement and the use of the checkpoints makes sure every group reaches the same standard.  This method also allows for simple and invisible differentiation by varying the threshold expectation of each group.

Key question:  How have you structured learning to make sure every child moves on at the right time for them?

 

Technique 7:  Plan for Error

This is a simple one:  think in advance about the likely mistakes that students will make.  We know that there are likely to be common errors, so we should anticipate these where possible and respond to them where necessary.

It is much easier to do this however if we have prepared for the specific misunderstandings pupils make.  So:

1          list 3-5 important questions in your lesson.

2          for each question, list the likely incorrect answers.

3          describe how you would respond to/correct the misunderstandings.

This isn’t something you would do every lesson, for obvious reasons, but it is an important step in teaching a new topic or planning a new scheme of learning.

Once you’ve identified pupil misconception in your lesson you then have to consider the depth in which it is appropriate to reteach or clarify the topic (see Techniques 9:  Excavate the Error).

Key question:  have you anticipated the likely misunderstandings your pupils will make?  How has this been accounted for in your planning?

 

There are 62 techniques in Lemov’s ‘Teach Like a Champion’ and all have some value.  Although each is simple, combining them illustrates the scale of the challenge inherent in being an effective teacher.

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