Review by Kamraan Khan

Teacher of English and head of year 10, John Hampden Grammar School

4 Dec 2022, 5:00

Book

The Review: Reconnect by Doug Lemov

By Doug Lemov

Publisher

Jossey-Bass

ISBN 10

1119739977

Published

13 Oct 2022

If you were to speak to any parent whose child is currently at school, whether in the United Kingdom or anywhere across the world, they would tell you anecdotally of the impact that the global pandemic has had on the education of their children. Those in the profession would probably echo these sentiments. What Doug Lemov and his co-authors do in Reconnect is to articulate in depth and with great clarity what that looks like in the classroom.

Drawing on experience in schools in England and the US, Lemov and his co-authors use real-life examples to illustrate not only the pandemic’s impact through lost learning, but also its significant social impact on children and its repercussions for their ongoing education. However, this isn’t some fatalistic documentary. The authors all set out to suggest ways in which educators, parents and society as a whole can attempt to heal the divide.

Lemov’s attention to detail, particularly in relation to the way technology has adapted our behaviour, is what makes this book sing. What he refers to as ‘the decline of waiting’ – the change in human behaviour characterised by the constant presence of technology in our pockets – is just one example of the challenges facing young people and those responsible for educating them. When faced with the prospect of waiting, Lemov tells us that ‘they simply scroll through their phones instead’. If this sounds judgemental, it is not meant to be. It is simply one element of the situation that teachers ought to be aware of when children are entering our classrooms. We are, after all, bidding for their attention.

What Lemov wants us to know, primarily, is that classrooms are first and foremost cultures, and that within these students’ interactions must be “deliberately orchestrated  to build a sense of connection, belonging, and shared scholarly endeavour”. This is the thread that runs through the book and which Reconnect returns to repeatedly.

An encroachment of technology is reshaping our lives and our social structures

In a section explaining the ‘habits of attention’ and ‘habits of discussion’, he explains how as individuals we seek affirmation in our responses. Having got too used to counting our likes on social media, young people may rightly be hesitant about foraying back into academic conversations with peers, sharing their thoughts for all to trawl over.

Having laid out the challenge, Lemov passes the baton back to us in the classroom, asking us how we will create an environment where students can feel safe and prosper academically. To do this, he argues, teachers must re-establish their authority in the classroom, while vitally making the distinction that ‘authority is not authoritarianism’. For the many students whose experiences of boundaries and expectations have been so variable at home for the period of remote learning, Lemov argues that they are ‘the students who are harmed most’ by a failure to establish clear rules. A vacuum of authority leaves young people with no model or mechanism to learn ‘how to control their impulses, delay gratification, and exert self-discipline’. To establish the learning habits we want within our classrooms, we must enforce the principles by which we want students to learn.

On a basic level, Lemov’s much-needed book is a useful guide to support new and experienced teachers alike in the face of the pandemic’s ravages. But more than that, it draws our attention to what existed before and has only been exacerbated by the experience of the past few years: an encroachment of technology that is reshaping our lives and our social structures, causing many to experience a sense of detachment.

In that sense, Lemov’s call goes far beyond the classroom: it implores all of us to look up from our screens. The result is a relentlessly optimistic book about what can be achieved if we re-commit ourselves to our profession and reconnect with its principles and ambitions, aware of but not bound by the impact of the years we have all lived through.

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