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Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

04.27.1449 is a Bad Number

A quick blog post in response to a bit of Twitter among fellow educators about TLAC: Specifically how do you use it and get the most out of it if you’re using it in a school.. or even on your own.

Suzanne noted that her school was going to be reading it next year. (By the way I am really honored and happy to hear it, though there’s also a tiny part of me that wants to remind everyone that TLaC is a bit out of date and that the new version, which contains the wisdom of teachers who’ve used them over the past 4 years, is going to be a huge upgrade).

David responded: There are a lot of great strategies in there, but they became overwhelming as one list. [They] can be organized, based on needs of the teacher’s or the class’s. “If you’re experiencing ___ try strategy ___” list

I think this is smart advice.  Trying to do 49 things well is that same as trying to do none well… it’s just too much. So how do you think about what to do first? And how do you do that in light of the fact that everybody is different in terms of their wants and their needs?

Here are a couple of thoughts:

1) Group study is really good. Some of the most successful schools I know in using TLaC ask groups of teachers to decide together on 1 or 2 things they want to accomplish… as a department or a grade level team.  This is nice because it implicitly puts teachers in a position of working mutually to figure out how to adapt and implement in their own setting  This speeds up the learning and makes developing the craft a shared endeavor, a team sport.  Finally it’s positive, I think, for teachers to own their culture and be accountable to one another as much as to formal “authority” in the school for getting better and achieving goals. An argument like, “Hey, we said we were going to work on Positive Framing together to change the tone of the 6th grade.  We need you with us!” is very powerful.  So is, “Hey, it’s tough right now but we’ll get it. I was struggling with that last week too, but i think I’m starting to get there.”

2) Two is a good number.  Two is a nice list of things to work on.  It means sustained focus, and it’s manageable (rather than overwhelming).  Plus you are likely to be able to see yourself or your team getting better. Once you get to mastery on a given technique you can always add another. But the last thing most teachers need to feel is that they have a dozen more things to manage and think about when they go into their lessons.  Two is nice.

3) Break them up.  When a school that I really admire works on Strong Voice and Positive Framing, they don’t work on the whole technique at once.  They work on JUST Economy of Language or Assume the Best.  This allows you to focus your thinking on even more specific, manageable skills. And of course it reminds you that little things have big muscles- i.e. tiny changes can have a very large effect.

4) Practice and study things you’re already good at!  That allows you to get to “great,” and the difference between good and great often makes a bigger difference than the difference between mediocre and good. When someone says “Oh, I already do that,” it’s, to me, a reason to study it and practice it MORE, rather than the opposite.

4) So, Lemov, all things being equal, what do YOU think are the most important techniques?  To be honest, I try to avoid this question. The best technique is the thing that helps you make you better. That said I do have some favorites, and I would say that some of the major changes in the second edition of Teach Like a Champion suggest what some of those things are.

  • Writing, to me, is the hidden element in rigor. If I could do anything to make every class more rigorous it would be to 1) teach students to write brilliant sentences and 2) have every student write one great sentence to capture and important idea after each lesson in a sentence of nuance and precision. In the new version of TLaC there’s a whole chapter on writing.
  • Check for Understanding is the foremost skill of teaching- knowing the difference between I taught it and they learned it. There are two chapters on CFU in the revised book, and a bunch of techniques to help teachers observe their students’ work more reliably.
  • Cold Call still really changes a classroom.  Especially when combined with Wait Time or writing.
  • And all these things are great–if and only if–students are respectful of teachers and peers and do as they are asked. 100% is going to be four different techniques in 2.0 and the section on Radar and Be Seen Looking is my favorite.  Being a great teacher starts with seeing your room accurately and understanding all of the events that happen there.

Hope these very quick thoughts are useful and that others will chime in with their own insights.