Book Review: Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov

Book Review: Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov

Do you remember that scene at the beginning of Dead Poet's Society where Mr. Keating has the boys rip the J. Evans Pritchard scale for measuring poetry out of their textbooks?

This book and its techniques are the equivalent of Mr. Pritchard's poetry scale.

We ask whether our actions will result in learning, but this is the wrong question. The right question is whether our actions yield a return that exceeds our hurdle rate. That is, yield more learning per minute invested than does the best reliable alternative use of classtime.

There's nothing terribly wrong with these techniques, but they perpetuate the factory model school system. If you've a veteran teacher who is looking to change how you teach your students and shift our education paradigm, then this book is definitely not one you want to read.

The teachers declared champions by Lemov come from charter schools, mostly Uncommon Schools and KIPP.  These schools are success stories if you consider teaching to the standardized test a measure of success.

These schools boast their college acceptance rate. How many of those same students are graduating with a degree from college? Funny how I don't hear that statistic.

Another broad criticism I'll levy is that most of the techniques shared, including specific ways to phrase statements and pose questions, apply to the elementary classroom.

The examples given of how to adapt the techniques for middle school or high school would work for students who have learned to conform to the charter school environment, or a successful public school where the teachers and administrators know how to teach to the test.

And therein lies this book's value.

If you're brand new to teaching, particularly if you're a secondary teacher who has earned a bachelor's in your subject area, but you've never taken education, pedagogy, or methods classes, then this book along with Harry Wong's The First Days of School will help you through your first years.

Lemov breaks down how to write objectives also known as daily learning goals. He shares numerous lesson planning tips and ideas on how to execute those lessons. Additionally, he does a nice job of offering concrete examples of how to phrase questions and then rephrase that same question to either elicit a more specific or complete answer or clarify what information is being asked for.

If you've never taught before, then you will find value in the techniques, particularly if you're teaching at-risk disadvantaged students.

Lemov has one more value-added section at the end. In the last few chapters, he presents the argument that every teacher is a literacy teacher, which I do have to agree with. Teaching literacy is every teacher's job.

Oftentimes, secondary subject area teachers push back on this concept because they consider teaching literacy to center around phonetics and decoding. That elementary stuff. Not their job.

In these last chapters, Lemov defines decoding, fluency, and reading comprehension. He explains the power of literacy in relationship to vocabulary for the students from lower socioeconomic areas.

Students who know more words, learn more words. In fact, research suggests that a 10,000 word vocabulary gap exists between students of privilege and students from less advantaged backgrounds by the time they reach 10th grade.

He also defines and gives examples of Tier I, II, and III words in terms of vocabulary acquisition. And he describes how teachers can get the most bang for their buck, if you will.

If you've been teaching your secondary subject area for a while, and you find yourself having to write language objectives, or you're lost when it comes to these reading terms, I'd skip the majority of this book and just read chapters 10-12.

Aside from these two groups of teachers (newbies with no education background, and cranky secondary subject area teachers who are clueless about what literacy truly is, but are being held accountable for teaching literacy), most other teachers should skip this book.

You know these techniques. You already practice them. Sure, you could think of reading this book as a refresher or a visit back to your teaching toolbox, but I just don't think the return on investment is high enough to warrant spending a lot of time with this book.

Now I did listen to the audiobook, and it took me over two months. And that's even with the soothing dulcet tones of Grover Gardner's voice. If I read the ebook or print edition, I could have skimmed.

While these charter schools seemingly make strides in closing the achievement gap, I do wonder what becomes of their graduates. Are these schools truly serving the needs of disadvantaged students or do they just look good on paper?

Book Review: The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

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