Reflections on Teach Like a Champion, 2.0

I recently read Doug Lemov’s updated Teach Like a Champion 2.0.  I read it because I spend a lot of time in classrooms and I want to get better at spotting the things that enable teachers to improve.

I love Lemov’s obsession with the micro-techniques (‘instructional brush strokes’) of teaching.  Teaching is a complex process, and with so many variables to consider it’s easy to resort to intuition to explain good teaching.  A great teacher looks like a ‘natural’ – she is simply ‘being herself’ in the classroom.  Similarly, it’s easy to resort to generic advice – “high expectations!” “Don’t smile til Christmas!”  “More pace!” “Engagement!”.  Lemov blows these platitudes apart by focusing not on the manifestations of effective teaching but on the systems, routines and procedures that underpin it.

To take one example (Technique 7, Plan for Error), Lemov advises teachers to pre-empt incorrect answers to important questions before the lesson begins, and decide in advance how they might respond to these errors.

This focus on the micro-techniques reminds of me of Malcolm Gladwell’s analysis of running in a recent New Yorker interview: “I can say that the thing that pains me the most about non-serious runners is their failure to understand that running is no more a “natural” or “intuitive” act than hitting a topspin forehand is. Do not heel strike—ever! Do not run with a water bottle! Running is not weight lifting! Relax your upper body!”

By identifying, naming and showcasing the micro-techniques of teaching, Lemov provides a framework for teachers to make incremental improvements (‘concrete, specific, actionable’) to key areas of their practice, and for coaches and school leaders to support them in doing so.

I like Lemov’s insistence on getting under the skin of teaching.  It’s all too easy to skim along the surface of a lesson, noticing the manifestations of good or less good teaching, ignorant of the underlying causes.  This is particularly problematic when a novice teacher tries to learn from a more established one.  They might see the fruits of the established teacher’s labour, but not the groundwork that was laid weeks, months and years before.  I wrote last week HERE on the challenge of learning from great schools without resorting to shallow mimicry, and it’s a challenge that applies at classroom level too.

A teacher who has established impeccable behaviour doesn’t have to address disruption, so it might seem that the best teachers somehow circumvent poor behaviour, perhaps through personal wizardry or engaging activities.  Lemov’s demystifying approach reminds us that there are no shortcuts.  With more than a nod to Carol Dweck, he makes effective teaching less about the personality of the teacher and more about the techniques that all teachers can refine over time.

I love the optimism that pours from the pages of Teach Like a Champion.  With the right instruction, students from all backgrounds can excel; and with the right tuition and mindset, teachers can become effective in the classroom no matter what their starting point.   School improvement too often involves changing staffroom personnel.  Lemov provides a framework from which all teachers can improve their practice.

Given the paucity of professional development in schools, we should welcome the emergence of a textbook which allows teachers to take control of their own classroom practice.  Schools are often willing to send teachers off to a standalone training day for £250, yet for the same price they could buy this book for each department in their school.  Better still, I know plenty of schools that have adopted Lemov’s framework to create a shared understanding of effective teaching in their school, focusing on the specific techniques that are most relevant for their context.

Beyond the sometimes impenetrable Americanisms (“at bats”, “pepper”) the easiest criticism or query of Lemov’s work is whether these approaches actually make a difference to student outcomes.   I’m told that Lemov himself recognises that his focus has so far been refining the techniques, rather than gathering evidence of their impact.  But if we agree that Lemov has correctly identified features of effective teaching – calm, orderly classrooms in which all students produce high quality work – then his determination to unpick the systems, routines and procedures that underpin these features can only be welcome.

Lemov challenges teachers to bridge the gap between ‘I taught it” and “they learned it”.  This book gives them 62 techniques to do so.


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