Thursday, March 8, 2012

Book Review: Teach Like a Champion

The book is "Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College" by Doug Lemov the managing director of Uncommon Schools.  I mentioned it a few weeks ago in this post.

For my professional development plan this year, I suggested that I write a book review on my blog so that I could open a dialog with other educators. Since September, I've been reading the book off and on, wherever I could find little snipits of time throughout the school day. I took extensive notes because the book 

If you have read the book, feel free to open a discussion in the comments. Also, if you would like contrasting opinions or additional information about the book, look it up on Amazon to read what other people said about it by clicking here.

After starting the book, I realized that it was written from the perspective of a charter school educator....and I teach at a public school, but I kept an open mind and finished the book anyway.

This book would be a wonderful choice for a new teacher, a teacher who is struggling with classroom management, or someone (like me) who is experienced, but looking to sharpen basic classroom management tools. As a teacher that works with a lot of pre-service teachers, this book gives me a way to describe techniques to my student teachers. I can see where an experienced teacher might scoff at the most basic, almost remedial way that the book describes common classroom management strategies (For instance, popcorn, in the book is renamed 'cold call').

I really loved how the author described on page 12 'good teacher plan activities minute by minute, often scripting them in advance. ' He describes a model teacher planning and memorizing and rehearsing the lesson on the drive to work so that the teacher can better focus on what the students are doing, and not what she is going to do next. My lesson planning is very repetitive and I often have the activities planned down to the minute. I definitely practice my lesson before I teach a new skill for the first time. This is something every new teacher has to learn eventually.

I wrote in my last post about the questioning techniques in the book. Since I tend to do a lot of modeling and demonstrating, I often don't include a lot of questioning in most of my lessons. But my goal this year is to really push for high understanding and more critical thinking as it relates to art.

Next year, I would like to implement more call and response things at the beginning of the year. I will definitely come up with some that relate to art. Like "Why are we here?" "To Learn and Create" or something fun like that. 

This year, I had one of my kindergarten classes practice lining up with a stopwatch. I modeled the appropriate way to line up (this was the middle of the year, and they were still crazy at the end of art!!), how to push in their chair, how to walk with hands in a safe spot to the line, how to stand quietly. Then I had a student show how to do it. Then I had the class practice with a stopwatch, always striving for a better, more perfect time. I think it helped, and now I will keep a stopwatch on hand for such practices!

I really liked number 32, the "SLANT" technique. Smile, (or sit up), Listen, Ask and answer questions, Nod your head, and Track the speaker. I think this would be great to post at the door and use as a reminder at the end of art, have them spell SLANT instead of SMILE....since each letter would actually be a reminder for classroom behavior.

Next year, I would like to implement more seat signals. Non-verbal requests that students often ask for during art with a poster in the room describing these hand signals.

I also really liked technique 35 Props. Public praise, 'two-stomps for...' or 'two claps for....' things that can be cued in one second, the entire thing being finished up in less than 5 seconds. It encourages the activity to be visceral, including claps or stomps; universal, so that everyone can participate, and enthusiastic. A brief, fun break from work.

The book gives some fun examples like 'the lawn mower', 'the roller coaster', and 'hot pepper'. So fun! I would love to create an 'art version' of this for my classroom.

Since starting this book, I've developed a list of big 'NO-NOs' that teachers shouldn't do....and I feel guilty when I notice teachers doing these things in the hall or around the school. One of those things is 'don't waste time explaining what not to do.' 'You need to be all business, be clear, crisp, and stop talking.' 'Do not engage', once you have set the topic, do not engage in others until resolving the initial topic. This is a tough one. Try to resist engaging in 'called-out' answers from students, require hands-up.

One of the things I really appreciated about the book was its constant reminder that it is okay to expect students to do something not just better, but the BEST that they possibly can. From something small, like writing their name neatly, to big things like an important test. We should expect the VERY BEST at all times. Also, the book reminds teachers how much every single minute matters. It is easy to get lazy and zone out while students are doing mundane, every-day things, but it is important to utilize that time effectively for learning.

Also, the book reminded me about 'No Warnings'. Warnings tell students that a small amount of disobedience will not only be tolerated, but is expected. While I won't give up my warnings entirely, it is easy to get relaxed about things when students don't think I will enforce consequences for minor offenses.

The thing I really like about this book, is that it doesn't just tell a new teacher what not to gives specific instructions on powerful methods that will work. For instance, it says not to use contingencies like "I'll wait.....", 'We need you with us", is much more powerful. And I agree.

As an art teacher, I know that what I say about a student's work holds a lot of power. They are constantly looking for a little bit of love, attention, and praise from me. This book describes the power of praise, especially in a classroom built on character and trust. It says, "Praise must be genuine, students often read praise as an indication that their work is inferior. By praising one student in order to 'tell' another one what they should be doing, undercuts the integrity of your praise. It sets the first one up, and jeopardizes the relationship you have. It also does not solve your situation with the other student.

These are things they just don't tell you in college!

Technique 45 discusses warm/strict. You must be caring, funny, warm, concerned and nurturing. But you must ALSO be strict, by the book, relentless, and inflexible AT THE SAME time.

Technique 46 discusses the JOY factor in a classroom. It mentions the thrill of having a mystery box or activity. Something hidden in a wrapped box, like a present, and reminds the teacher to build excitement around the object inside (could be a still life, landscape, carving etc.), saying 'I can't wait to show you....' or "ouch it bit me', tempting them, building suspense and by the time they show it, they can hardly wait to see!

The book concludes with, "Artists, athletes, musicians, surgeons, and performers of a thousand other varieties achieve greatness only by their attention to the details of their technique....A focus on technique and on its constant refinement is also the path to excellence for teachers....Too many ideas, even good ones, go bad when they become an end and not a means."

This was a great book for a book study. There are many things I would like to implement in my classroom, and it was a good reinforcement to the things I already do. I know that  I will be teaching many of the strategies to future student teachers.


Dana Richards said...

Thanks for the suggestion! I just requested this from the library and can't wait to read it! Maybe we can even do a little discussion afterwards...

honeybee said...

I just ordered this and can't wait to read this book. This will definitely be part of my professional development goals for next year. I loved the idea of saying "we need you with us," though it has yet to actually work in a class very well. At least I am trying! :D

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