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Many of Lemov’s techniques are easily applied to homework help or communicating with teachers:
Cold calling: When teachers call on all kids regardless of hand raising, the entire class is engaged because anyone may be called on anytime. Worried that your kid isn’t engaged in class? Ask your child’s teacher about how he or she chooses who speaks in class.
No opt out: Great teachers don’t allow kids to skip out on participation with a simple “I dunno.” If your child seems to be a non-participator, talk to the teacher about what can be done.
Positive framing: This means correcting students with positive statements — try it with your child when helping with homework. Focus on the present and assume the best of intentions (not laziness or carelessness). Guide your child by offering corrections ("You can do it this way") instead of criticism ("Don’t do it that way").
Right is right: If your child's teacher doesn’t insist on fully correct answers, you can still help your kid understand the idea of a completely accurate answer in conversations and projects. When your child makes a sloppy or less than true comment, ask questions to draw out a more complete and accurate answer.
Ratio: This refers to getting students to do more of the intellectual work as the lesson proceeds. Even though your child’s teacher may not be using this technique, you can try it at home in any situation where you’re teaching your child a new idea. First describe the idea, then talk about it, and gradually move through questioning, helping your kid think it through on their own.
The J factor: Teachers who are able to inject joy into their lessons (not as an aside) — adding unpredictibility, suspense, drama, and humor — are far more likely to open kids to learning and ensure that students remember the material. If your child is struggling, bring levity to the loathed subject matter with a song, dance, or joke.
By Carol Lloyd
By far, the most useful fodder from the emerging field of “teacher effectiveness” comes from Doug Lemov’s Teaching Like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College.
To be clear, Lemov hasn’t conducted double-blind experimental studies — something that could and should now be done to test whether his observations are correct. What he has done is analyze the behavior of the best teachers at Uncommon Schools, a group of successful charter schools in New Jersey and New York that serve mostly low-income, urban children.
His perspective is breathlessly simple but devilishly detailed. According to Lemov, great teachers use repetitive classroom-management techniques to make optimal use of every moment, implement high expectations, and differentiate learning. Based on his observations, Lemov has carefully described these techniques to show how, taken as a whole, they empower teachers to reach more students at a variety of levels and still keep the focus of the class.
What makes the book (and the accompanying video clips of teachers demonstrating the techniques with real students) so riveting is that it captures the detailed craft of teaching from its most banal (how to call on kids in class — see "cold call" in the sidebar) to its most elevated form (how to inject joy into your lesson plan — see "the J factor"). Exceptional teachers draw from a shared bag of tricks (as developed by the charter schools where they teach), but taken together they offer a powerful picture of what it takes to keep a class fully engaged in learning every moment of the day.
Lemov’s observations on great teaching offer an inspiring, if sometimes painful, reminder of what engaged learning can look like (and how some teachers don’t have the requisite classroom-management skills, high standards, or planning skills to accomplish this). Watching Lemov’s teachers at work is breathtaking and, if your child isn’t blessed with a teacher with such skills, a little heartbreaking too.
Being able to recognize a great teacher is all good and fine. But since when do parents have any power over motivating, choosing, training, or hiring teachers? Isn’t that the province of the politicos, unions, and principals?
Sure, parental influence in the arena of teaching is limited. Still, parents influence teaching every day in many ways. We choose schools, we lobby principals to get certain teachers for our children, and we communicate and collaborate with teachers on projects. Though individually we don’t always get to handpick the perfect teachers for our kids, we do have the ability to affect standards around teaching every time we interact with teachers or principals. And taken together, the potential power of parental expectations about great teaching for our children is immeasurable.
At the very least, the new findings about great teaching show us one ideal. It may not be enough, but it’s a beginning.
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