Review by Martin Robinson

1 Mar 2015, 19:30

Teach Like a Champion 2.0

In this follow-up to Teach Like a Champion 1.0, Doug Lemov returns to the classroom to see how teachers are adapting and adding to the tools he shared in his first book.

I used some of the ideas from his first book in my own teaching, so I recognise the format.

I do, however, have misgivings. Why 2.0 when 2 would suffice? My first thought was this is so American, but that is patronising; it is an American book but that’s not where our roads diverge. I have a suspicion that it is not poet Robert Frost, but businessman Henry Ford who might be the godfather of this book. It is the brash business language that obfuscates some of the useful ideas within.

Let me give you an example. Whilst writing this review I received three “cold call” phone calls, all trying to sell me something, a technique I used myself when I sold double glazing. I believe the language that surrounds us shapes the culture we create. Hence, when Lemov writes about a classroom management technique called “cold call” and says that it is “an excellent tool for ensuring a high participation ratio [that] …also helps boost think ratio by backstopping other techniques that are cognitively demanding”, I prefer a more humane feel and so I annotate my version by writing in the margin: “Asking questions of your pupils helps them in their thinking.”

These two different approaches to the same thing create very different classroom cultures. Where Lemov urges teachers to retain “emotional constancy”, I have annotated that we should: “keep calm”. Where Lemov recommends teachers “engineer efficiency”, I write: “establish rituals”. And instead of “teach like a champion”, I prefer ‘teach a bit better”.

Clive James, journalist, poet and academic, describes Proust’s À la recherché du temps perdu as a book that exists to be annotated as “it is, itself, a set of annotations…” This is the way to approach Lemov’s book: every teacher should annotate it to introduce his or her own poetry into what otherwise seems like a stark business manual.

I think there should be more poetry in teaching and so I urge you to use this book as an enthusiastic sounding board for your own thoughts. Robert Frost describes: “the enthusiasm I mean is taken through the prism of the intellect and spread on the screen in a colour, all the way from hyperbole at one end — or overstatement, at one end — to understatement at the other end. It is a long strip of dark lines and many colours.” And not “crude enthusiasm, [which is] more like a deafening shout”. I want more colours and a good deal more understatement and metaphor, an understanding beyond that of the business manual.

Yet, as Frost reminds us: “All metaphor
breaks down somewhere.” In his introduction Lemov writes: “Great teaching is an art.” He talks of the mastery of the tools he advocates for teachers to allow and inform creation. He states that the words he uses might seem like a “gimmick” but he rightly describes the importance of a shared vocabulary.

I just wish the vocabulary was more Frost’s than Ford’s. Frost asks of books: “What is the book? …here is the metaphor… It wants to give you back your freedom of will.” Lemov, meanwhile, gives you permission to “choose something that interests you… and adapt it …without having to redesign your entire approach.”

Do not treat this book as a manual that suppresses your free will. Lemov writes that teachers need a strong voice used intelligently with posture, poise and calmness; in this he is right. Do not use an efficient business model as your ideal. Create a classroom where conversations take place and new understandings emerge, a place in which you would like your child to be taught. Use this book wisely to inform your voice and draw out the poetry from behind the words.


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