Sunday, June 13, 2010

Book Review: Teach Like a Champion

I rarely, if ever, abandon any book that I set out to read, especially professional books. An eternal optimist, I keep hoping that it’s a slow start and that I’ll reach the good part in the next hundred pages. But this past week I found that I couldn’t continue reading “Teach Like A Champion” by Doug Lemov.

I’d read an article online somewhere months ago describing the work Lemov is doing to transform inner-city schools into bustling hives of inspiration, sending hundreds or thousands of kids to college who wouldn’t otherwise go. He’s observed the best teachers in these schools and compiled 49 techniques they use to “put students on the path to college”. My hope was that Lemov’s book would help pinpoint those critical teaching moves so that, as a coach, I could bring them to other teachers.

While Lemov does discuss some useful techniques, the majority of what he promotes in the book and accompanying DVD are very old-fashioned. Teachers stand at the front of the room, students sit in silent rows or stand beside their desks, and interaction consists of the teacher barking out information or questions while the students call back in unison or respond when “cold called” by the teacher. Most examples consisted of whole group instruction, and even round robin reading, or reading from basal texts. Check out some videos at this link to see some examples. Scroll down to “check out related media” and look for teaching examples.

It’s a very behavioralist methodology, and perhaps the only use I can think of for the DVD is as a contrast to the constructivist approach that I’d much prefer teachers use. Learning is not about regurgitation, or following orders, or rote memorization. Yes, it is about time on task, but it’s also about thoughtful participation, about individual opinions, and about groups of students working to construct their knowledge together. As a contrast, check out this 4 minute video on Teacher Tube by Lucy Calkins discussing the Reading Workshop approach. The contrast could not be sharper.

Last week I read an article from a British online magazine discussing Lemov’s book. Here’s what one teacher had to say:

Many of the points he gives are related to what you could call an autocratic style of teaching – constantly asking questions. There are fewer ideas to improve the dynamics of group work – if you were to pick up a British book on modern teaching it would be about how to create a dynamic learning environment. If you stood in front of a class of British schoolkids doing question-and-answer all lesson, you would lose them. It's not the way we teach. After reading this book, my perception is that British teaching is ahead of the game.

It’s disturbing to think that 1) new teachers might pick up this book and think it’s a good way to teach and 2) that other countries might judge us on the basis of this book. I’d hope that most people have moved into the 21st century and beyond this very old-fashioned way of teaching.

No comments: