For many teachers, the final summer half term is something we look forward to from about January. Gained time from the departure of Year 11 and Year 13 to do what we all really want to do be doing: planning fun, engaging – yet rigorous – lessons for September, developing Schemes of Work to be proud of, and locating incredible resources to incite sounds of awe from Year 11 in October.
And then you are faced with Year 9, Wednesday Period 5 and a lesson on the Hungarian Uprising of 1956. It was then that I was brought down to earth with a reminder of how tricky it can be to teach Year 9 during this half term. Behaviour is not the issue – engagement is. As a teacher of an optional subject, this is the half term when you see the spark start to extinguish in your Year 9s as they realise that in only a matter of weeks they will no longer have to ‘endure’ History (quote from Year 9).
Every lesson another student has switched off, amenably completing their work but with no real desire to want to discuss ideas, preferring instead to plough through written task after written task just to get it done and count down those lessons to the summer. As a teacher I have been guilty of allowing this to happen – going through the motions of giving them stuff to do on really interesting topics such as why the USA lost the Vietnam War, thinking this was ok because they were still ‘doing’ work rather than really encouraging them to engage with the complexities and issues. This half term however, I wanted to attempt to keep Year 9 engaged with History for as long as possible – cue Doug Lemov.
Teach Like a Champion 2.0“Teach like a Champion 2.0” is educational marmite. A quick online search will throw up blogs and reviews that both love it and consider it revolutionary, or that denounce it as being too formulaic and prescriptive. Lemov himself says that “good teachers are made, not born,” which goes some way to explaining why many professionals dislike the approach used in the book itself as it can be viewed as a kind of step-by-step guide to allow anyone to teach. I sit more on the positive side of the fence but understand the rationale behind the criticisms levied towards Lemov’s approach.
Context is key
The book’s context is key – many of Lemov’s “champion” teachers are based within economically deprived US cities where there are many issues that teachers have to deal with on a regular basis including low aspirations and low morale, poor behaviour and respect issues. Doug Lemov believes that better teaching will have a dramatic impact on closing the wealth-achievement gaps in school with little other invention necessary. This goes a long way in explaining the approach in “Teach Like A Champion” – chapters on routines, behaviour and self-conduct make more sense when thinking of the initial demographic this book was aimed at.
This is why I believe some of the criticisms aimed at the book are perhaps unfair – you have to think about the context of your own teaching, the nature and dynamic of your own classes when approaching this book, and think about which methods put forward would be of most benefit to you rather than seeing it as a one size fits all approach.
It is an incredibly comprehensive book – Lemov puts forward 62 strategies to turn everyone into “champion” teachers. At times it can seem a bit overwhelming, especially as in many cases these strategies are accompanied by numerous variations (the “Stretch It” section of questioning comes with 6 different approaches and takes up several pages for example), but these 62 strategies cover a broad spectrum of teaching practice and in turn provide variations that can be adapted for any subject.
Consequently I can understand why many PGCE students and NQTs really like this book, as it covers all elements of what makes a good teacher and takes it back to basics – herein lies the criticism from the more hostile reviewers of the book who claim Lemov is creating formulaic teachers with no individuality. Again I believe the argument here is that you have to use the book the way you see fit and take into consideration the context in which it is written. Schools and teachers that have less demanding behaviour to deal with could instead focus on the techniques suggested for stretching the brightest and instilling high expectations into all students.
Whilst the book suggests ways of undertaking particular strategies by providing examples (and for those who want to actually see how it is done there is an accompanying DVD – N.B. beware the hand signals, a technique used in some American schools), as professionals we know best as to how to apply these strategies to our classes so again an element of professional judgement comes into the fore.
Immediately accessible techniques
Despite the book’s density, the thing I really like about Lemov’s strategies is how simple they are. All teachers have been on a CPD day where they have been enthralled by a new, impressive but quite laborious teaching technique that takes a lot of preparation and that consequently gets left by the way side shortly after implementing it. Full time teachers do not have the time to continually be preparing this (if you do, I apologise and admire you unreservedly).
Lemov’s suggestions to do not take hours to prepare, if any time at all, and genuinely have a real impact. Take my aforementioned Year 9 class. After initially scanning “Teach Like A Champion” I decided to trial 3 suggested techniques – “Make Compliance Visible,” “Cold Call/Wait Time” and “Right is Right.” These were chosen based on my complicity in allowing Year 9 to get away with producing O.K. work at this part of term instead of engaging them until the very end. I had to do absolutely no prep work for any of these suggestions and they had a real impact.
Make compliance visible
“Make Compliance Visible” just meant making sure that my instructions had a visible outcome so I could see that everyone was doing it. Instructions included “pens down and eyes to the front,” and “turn and talk to your partner.” I could visibly see that everyone was following instructions and engaging with the task at hand, and if not I could challenge them on it.
Cold call/ wait time
“Cold Call/Wait Time” meant telling students I was giving them 10 seconds to think of their response to a question before choosing one of them at ‘random’ (LAP, MAP, HAP generally) to feed back. This increased pupils’ accountability and meant they all had to prepare an answer rather than relying on the few students who were previously willing to answer. After reading that teachers wait on average 1.5 seconds before accepting answers, I also used wait time which resulted in more developed answers from all students rather than accepting the first hasty response.
Right is right
“Right is Right” involved not accepting a partially correct answer, and instead getting students and their peers to verbally adapt and tweak the answers until they were 100% accurate. This meant maintained high standards verbally as well as in their written work.
All three of these actions have had a large impact on my Year 9 teaching this year as it has meant in this final term Year 9 are aware they need to be switched on right up until the 19th July, and not to tune out early. These pre-existing problems may be down to my tendency to allow Year 9 to get away with this, but I imagine all teachers at some point have accepted a partially correct answer and then used their own knowledge to fill in the missing gaps because it was the easiest option instead of ensuring pupils thought through a well-structured and 100% accurate response themselves.
Healing that Achilles heel
This is where I believe the beauty of Lemov’s book lies. It is there to remind us as teachers of what good practice is and how to brush up on it. I’m 5 years into my teaching career and found this book incredibly useful for reminding myself of how to do the basics and how to do them really well. I think any teacher reading this would be hard pushed not to take something away from it. We all have our strengths as teachers, be it behaviour management, questioning or engagement, but no matter what stage of our career we are at, we do all still have an Achilles heel.
“Teach Like A Champion,” be it formulaic or revolutionary, provides a gentle reminder to us all of how to challenge those bad habits we can occasionally fall into, and how to do it without it becoming a laborious, time consuming process. Try 1 strategy or try all 62 but I guarantee that no matter what stage your teaching career is at, whichever one you try will have a positive impact in the classroom.
(written by VBA)