I downloaded Teach Like Champion 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College by Doug Lemov this weekend, and have scarcely been able to put it down. Too often in education reform, books are quickly pushed into one of two camps: policy or practice. This is a book so elegant in its simplicity that it has the power to transform the conversations in both worlds. That is, if enough people in both policy and practice read it, get past the "mundane" techniques Lemov proposes, and absorb its true message.
I use the word mundane not because the techniques are insignificant. On the contrary, they are essential, practical, and--done right--transformative in their power to drive student achievement, teacher training and professional development, and related policy decisions. But, some--for instance, the advice on how to train students to pass out papers efficiently--upon first glance seem so trivial that it hardly seems worthy of the pages devoted to it. That is until you realize that investing an hour up-front to getting this right can literally save as many as eight full instructional days. Eight days. In an age when school districts are being forced to cut valuable instructional days, such dramatic time-saving techniques should be the rule, not the exception.
Throughout the book, Lemov calls out 49 specific techniques that are equally simple, though not simplistic. Pragmatic, though at their core truly inspirational.
In fact, Lemov has included video clips that show the techniques in action, as well as scores of helpful examples of how to adapt the techniques to meet different needs. A teacher reading this book on Friday can put the techniques into practice Monday.
That's the point, of course. Lemov wants to put into the hands of teachers practical techniques that will ultimately help them drive student achievement. He explains:
I would like this [goal] to distinguish this book from so many others: it starts with and is justified by the results it helps teachers achieve, not by its fealty to some ideological principle. The result to aim for is not the loyal adoption of these techniques for their own sake but their application in service of increased student achievement. Too many ideas, even good ones, go bad when they become an end and not a means.
I've no doubt that many--some teachers chief among them--will read this book and argue that it oversimplifies the artistry and craft of teaching. Teaching is difficult if not impossible to boil down into something that can be taught (as this is) using some targeted PD, practical video clips, and reading absent a deep theoretical analysis of pedagogy or other educational theory. To such critics, Lemov eloquently says:
Great teaching is an art. In other arts--painting, sculture, the writing of novels--great masters leverage a proficiency with basic tools to transform the rawest of material (stone, paper, ink) into the most valued assets in society. This alchemy is all the more astounding because the tools often appear unremarkable to others. Who would look at a chisel, a mallet, and a file and imagine them producing Michelangelo's David? Great art relies on the mastery and application of foundational skills, learned individually through diligent study.
And, Lemov adds, real-world application and practice. Lots of practice:
...the more you practice it, the better you get. Mulling your decision to run from the front a hundred times doesn't make it any better, but practicing a hundred sprints with just the right body position does. This is why, in the end, focusing on honing and improving specific techniques is the fastest route to success, sometimes even if that practice comes at the expense of philosophy or strategy.
Would that all teacher training and professional development were so targeted, practical, and specific.
In the spirit of full disclosure, as senior director of curriculum and professional development at Achievement First, Lemov's ???Taxonomy of Effective Teaching??? helped transform our PD model. And one of the teachers cited in the book--both in the descriptions of the techniques and in the acknowledgments--is my former boss and AF co-CEO, Doug McCurry.