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Teach Like a Pencampwr (Review of TLaC 2.0)

March 20, 2015

“There is a right and wrong time and place for all of the tools, and their effective application will always fall to the unique style and vision of great teachers” Doug Lemov TLaC2

This blog is intended to be a review of Doug Lemov’s book Teach Like a Champion 2. I must be clear that this is review of the book and not a review of Uncommmon Schools or KIPP Schools. I appreciate that these schools can divide opinion (certainly on the twittershpere this side of the Atlantic). Videos, almost certainly out of context, can be argued that they portray a “cold”, controlling school experience for the pupils that attend. This is strongly contrasted by the results these schools produce and the rave reviews many visitors have given (@ManYanaEd and @HFletcherWood to name 2). I would only ever comment on an Uncommon or Kipp School if I had actually been there for a visit. For what it is worth, I would imagine there is much we can learn from these schools. Replicate absolutely everything? maybe not.

I follow @Doug_Lemov on twitter and what comes through strongly is that he has a genuine passion for and love of learning.

When Teach Like a Champion 2.0 finally dropped through my letterbox, I was very excited to see if I could learn anything from it.I have been a teacher for 16 years. With that experience comes a natural “swagger” and at times a bit of arrogance that “no one can really tell me how to improve things in my classroom”. I was aware that I can think like that and so the 2 biggest factors when I started reading the book were to consciously avoid the “I already do that” and “that wouldn’t work in my classroom” thoughts. For the rationale to how Doug wrote the book (and more besides) then please read this excellent review by @HFletcherWood. Doug describes the book as “data driven” as it is based on the classroom practice of teachers that get great results (often against the odds). So on to the book.

The book is split into 4 parts made up of 12 chapters which encompass the 62 techniques.

Part 1 Check for Understanding I think it is fair to say that this section made me reflect on my teaching more than anything I have ever read during my career. It made me truly reflect on not just what I do but also why I do it. If anybody wanted to read up on Assessment for Learning in terms of how and why I would just direct them to this section. The principles of gathering data on students and then (crucially) acting on it seem so straightforward but the books offers concrete and actionable strategies to make this process better. Much better. I must admit to having a wobble when reading about the first technique REJECT SELF-REPORT as I undertake lesson by lesson RAG123 marking. This involves pupils self reporting on how they have performed against the expected learning outcomes. Fortunately the book suggests that this is more akin to self monitoring.  I won’t go into any more detail here because I think I can squeeze a whole blog out of this. The whole section made me think about how I check for understanding. We know we ask students questions to gauge their level of understanding but when you think about it in terms of collecting data which can then be acted on, it gives it so much more focus and becomes so much more meaningful. Some of my favourite techniques in this section are STANDARDISE THE FORMAT, SHOW ME, AFFIRMATIVE CHECKING and PLAN FOR ERROR. The week after finishing the chapter I used this approach with my Maths class on a few occasions (shamelessly stealing the format from the teacher in video clip 6). Pupils had to complete the table and bring it out to my desk for me to check. If they could successfully convert kg to g and back then they proceeded to the task which was 6 (fairly boring) numeracy questions which involved different aspects of Maths including converting units.

IMG_2184

IMG_2349(the second example was from a different lesson on negative numbers)

The entry ticket STANDARDISED THE FORMAT as I knew where to look for the answers so I could check quickly. The process was AFFIRMATIVE CHECKING because pupils could not attempt the task before they had successfully completed the ticket. I had also PLANned FOR ERROR by including “change 8g to kg” as this is the type of conversion that pupils find most difficult based on my experience. As I have a small class this worked very well. I distributed the tickets to my faster workers first so they would complete, check and move on to the main task before their peers had completed the ticket. This ensured that I didn’t have a queue at my desk. The section of the book offers many solutions to avoid a queue of students at the desk waiting to be affirmatively checked. Doing it this way, rather than just going through some examples on the board and cold calling some students, meant that I could check every student’s work. This includes the conversion where I had planned for error. I appreciate that this ticket may seem a little “gimmicky” as I wouldn’t do it absolutely every lesson. However, it really did add to the lesson. I couldn’t really put my finger on why until I read the chapter on Pacing. I realised that the ticket gave the lesson another signpost, signaling a change in pace. I’ve always known that pace is so important in lessons but I could never explain exactly what it was or what it looked like. The section on CHANGE THE PACE gives great tips on how (and why) to change the pace or to give the illusion of a change in pace.

I was always thought I was a good COLD CALLER (covered in more detail in the book in part 3 Ratio) but again, the chapter made me reflect on what I do and why I do it. I use COLD CALL rather than hands up to keep my pupils on their toes. But I didn’t really use it to collect data (a cross section of the class at “random”) on understanding. I just did it to keep pupils on their toes. Worse still I would regularly COLD CALL pupils that clearly weren’t listening. After reading the chapter I now use Cold Call in a far more positive manner. I am not trying to catch students out; rather I am trying to check for their understanding. If Christian is not listening when I am COLD CALLing, rather than asking him a question that I know he won’t answer (because he hasn’t been listening) I would ask another pupil but quietly tell Christian he needs to switch on and listen to the next question so I can check his learning/understanding. It is early days with this simple change but already the process seems more focused on learning (and more positive and warm).

I have been undertaking DO NOWs for a while now. In Maths every lesson starts with 5 questions based on topics from last lesson, last week, last topic or beyond. After the pupils have completed the 5 questions I show three possible answers for each question and pupils have to rock, paper, scissors their answers. This SHOW ME lets me collect whole class data quickly and easily.

board wideThe possible answers do not go up until the pupils have finished the questions. Pupils show rock/paper/scissors or keep their hands down if they don’t have an answer. I make sure that scissors (other)  is just as likely to be a correct answer. I would then ask a “scissors” what their answer was and see who else had the same answer. the possible answers can be designed to pick up possible student misconceptions (for example q1 if they go for rock they are subtracting the denominator and the numerator and q 4 they are not appreciating that – -8 is actually +8). The data I now collect (I work out a rough % of the class) shows me how pupils are doing on topics we studied back in September. The data can also help me decide what questions I should use in the next Do Now, what can be given a break and what needs to be included but in a more complex question. I wish I had started collecting this data back in September.

IMG_2372

Part 2 Academic Ethos. I thought (rather arrogantly)that this chapter would provide confirmation of much of what I do in the classroom. Again, I was surprised by how much I picked up. RIGHT IS RIGHT is a technique that I have always needed to use, I just didn’t know it until reading the book. I have been very guilty of taking an answer from a student that is good but not perfect, congratulating the student and repeating it back to the class with some of they key elements it needed added in (by me). Not anymore; now RIGHT IS RIGHT. I’ll ask the pupil to expand or ask a peer to build on the response. FORMAT MATTERS is simple but so important. I now tell my year 9 class to talk like Mathematicians when giving me answers. CIRCULATE is beyond simple but beyond effective. My RAG123 marking often consists, especially in Science, of a well crafted EXIT TICKET task. I have fallen in love with EXIT TICKETS and have a blog in draft at the moment. As for EVERY MINUTE MATTERS, this phrase should be on a poster in every classroom across the world. If we are prepared to waste the last 5 minutes of a lesson because we have come to the end and “it is only 5 minutes” then that is not a classroom with a strong academic ethos.

Part 3 Ratio.
This section deals with building ratio through discussion, through writing and through questioning. It looks at the ratio of participation and the ratio of thinking. The section on writing made me reflect the most. Do my Science students do enough writing? Does the task that I am asking them to do cause them to think? I would rarely have used the technique EVERYBODY WRITES, preferring to get the students to discuss their ideas with each other first. Having played around with this technique I can certainly see its value. I am ashamed to admit that I had never used a visualiser in class before. The visualiser is now a staple in my Science class. I will usually get get pupils to do a written task and then select someone’s work for SHOW CALL. Pupils have quickly accepted that their work can be taken and made available for whole class critique. I will circulate during the writing task and choose students work for SHOW CALL for various reasons. It might be to highlight excellence (or asking the pupils if and why it was excellent), to share work that’s promising but has areas for development or to highlight work that may have a common misconception. Classroom climate is important and the book offers lots of advice about what to do and say if a pupil says no to having their work SHOW CALLed. These 2 techniques are now staples of my classroom.

SHOW CALLThe above picture is of a SHOW CALL of a pupil’s EXIT TICKET. The tickets had been completed at the end of the previous lesson. In that lesson I had used SHOW CALL to look at some first drafts and the pupils critiqued each one on what could be improved (The exit ticket was completed without access to their previous draft). I was SHOW CALLing this ticket to highlight an excellent graph of how insulin levels change in response to a change in blood glucose.

LCMIn the above example I SHOW CALLed a student’s work on identifying the lowest common multiple because on q3 he had made the classic error of thinking that the number 12 wasn’t a multiple of 12 so he chose 24 instead. Visually highlighting errors this way as opposed to just reading them out certainly seemed more effective.

I haven’t even mentioned ART OF THE SENTENCE which is a gift to the idea of EXIT TICKETS.

On reflection, after tweaking my practice in light of what I have read, do my students do more thinking? Yes, I think they do.

Part 4 Five Principles of Classroom Culture I have always been happy with my classroom culture. This section reminded me that if I worked on it it could be far better. How often do we not ask pupils to DO IT AGAIN when they produce something slapdash? Not often enough, certainly in my case. How many of our best lessons have a STRONG START? I’d bet pretty much every one. The chapter on High Behavioural Expectations deserves to be read many times. I’ve been teaching for 16 years (have I mentioned that yet) and after reading this section I can’t now talk to a pupil without thinking about whether I am using the LEAST INVASIVE INTERVENTION? Is my (ART OF THE) CONSEQUENCE delivered quickly, incrementally, consistently and in a neutral fashion? Do I tell my pupils WHAT TO DO rather than not what to do? I have started to think about my “script” when I have to deal with issues in the classroom. There are many reflection and practice sections throughout the book. The section on off task behaviours (and possible non-verbal responses) is particularly good.

I have hardly mentioned the videos or the useful tools that come with the book (via DVD or online). It is a privilege to be invited into any classroom and these videos help clarify and make concrete many of the techniques in the book. Many are simply superb.

The book focuses on one thing; learning. Not control. Not making robotic students. Not encouraging conformity. Not on enforcing uniformity. It focuses on learning. As Harry FletcherWood wrote “Lemov’s approach to students appears paternalistic, not authoritarian: teachers must often make decisions in pursuit of students’ best interests, rather than their immediate preference”. That is it in a nutshell. 

 Doug describes the techniques as “mundane” because they are so unremarkable. I think the beauty is that any teacher could focus on some of the techniques and improve. The techniques are not baffling and there is no secret garden to being a better teacher.  We can all improve, not because we have to but because we can (Dylan Wiliam).

In short, I think I have become a better teacher having read the book. Do I still have my unique teaching “style” and swagger? Of course. But I have polished, tweaked, added and adjusted in many areas. If you like my review then why not go and buy the book? If you don’t like my review then I haven’t done the book justice and I still recommend you go out and buy it.

My next step is to re-read, reflect…………. and practise.

Feedback is always welcome.

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From → Teaching

9 Comments
  1. Teach like a pencampwr/pencampwraig, surely?

  2. You certainly provided an excellent review! I will come back and take more time to reflect.

  3. mrlock permalink

    Reblogged this on The Echo Chamber.

  4. Reblogged this on BlogBJMock – Y Byd a'r Betws and commented:
    I have ordered mine!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

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