Improving my Teaching
Recently, I had the pleasure of reading Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov. Mr. Lemov is the director and former president of a series of highly successful charter schools. In this role, he observed and documented dozens of techniques utilized by his best teachers. He then set about teaching other teachers how to adopt those techniques so they can improve too. This book distills his observations. In all, 49 techniques were identified in this book. As a college professor, I found that many of these techniques are applicable improving my teaching and are not just for grade school teachers.
The best thing about this book is that it’s all about practice – specific things to do in the classroom to improve. It is very short on theory. Yet, I could see how a number of these techniques support various pedagogical theories and best practices. All-in-all, many of the techniques strike me as extremely useful. Some I already do, at least partially. Many I do not. Some I may never do.
Three techniques had the biggest impact on me. My plan for the next year is to hone these three techniques until I master them. Then, I will re-read the book and focus on honing new techniques.
1. Without apology
I’m guilty of this one. I have apologized to students about including some content, saying things like “This subject is a bit dry” or “This is not my favorite subject”. Unfortunately, that can inadvertently kill motivation in my students. Bottom line, I need to own the content and the value to learning it before presenting it to them. If I can’t do that, it’s probably a good idea to cut it from class.
2. Shortest path
This is a more meta-technique which emphases that the ultimate goal of a teacher is to help students learn and anything that is not actively facilitating that learning should be cut. The goal is to develop and use course materials that promote the short path to meaningful learning. Whether lecture, activities, Socratic discussion, homework, or some other technique, the judge should not be what I’m familiar with it or it sounds cool, but with understanding. Armed with the goal of meaningful learning (not rote learning), this technique will help me focus on cutting unnecessary or inefficient stuff from my classes – the so-called busy work.
3. The hook
This reminds me of some public speaking best practices and pedagogical best practices in motivating the students. Bottom line, start each lesson by giving students a strong reason to learn this subject. The stronger the hook, the stronger the motivation for students to want to learn it. Over the summer, I tried to do this with all of my online lectures. From students that watched the lectures, the feedback was very positive.