Lemov: Train teachers to perform, not just reflect

“Teaching is a lot like acting, but teachers aren’t trained to be performers, writes Katrina Schwartz on KQED’s Mind/Shift.

Actors, musicians or acrobats spend hours perfecting their craft because that’s how they improve. Teachers on the other hand, are often asked to identify teaching tools and tactics they’d like to try and to reflect on how those new elements could be integrated into the classroom.

“Knowing what you want to do is a long way from being able to do it,” says Doug Lemov, managing director of Uncommon Schools and author of Teach Like a Champion. New teachers need more than lessons on “best practices,” Lemov believes. They need a chance to practice the practices.

. . .  in one of his first groups, teachers pretended to be unruly students in a class taught by another teacher present. The teacher tried to give her lesson as her “students” misbehaved. She was unable to do so; they were throwing too many challenges at her at once. “What just happened there is she practiced failure,” Lemov said. “She just got better at losing control of the classroom.”

. . .  he realized that, like learning a new piece of music or the lines to a play, the challenges of the classroom had to be broken down into component parts. In order for the teacher to practice succeeding, to feel the satisfaction of a well-given lesson to a controlled classroom, she needed to first practice controlling simple behaviors. Then gradually, the pretend students added in new types of challenging behaviors, adding layers of complexity so she could improve at a manageable pace.

Teachers and students need to “embrace the normalcy of falling down and picking yourself back up,” says Lemov. “But it needs to happen in a manageable way.”

Lemov’s latest book is Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better.

Lemov: How teachers get better

Doug Lemov’s new book, Practice Perfect,gives teachers (and others) “42 rules for getting better at getting better.” In an Amazon interview, Lemov and co-authors Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi, call for practicing strengths, instead of focusing on weaknesses. It’s a myth that practice should stop when you achieve competence, they say.

What marks champions is their excellence at something—they may have weaknesses, but their strengths are honed and polished to the level of brilliance. The value of practice begins at mastery!

Practice has a reputation for being dull, but its “fun, exciting, and ideal for adults,” they believe.

“Educrats have long warned of the perils of rote and repetition,” writes Kathleen Porter-Magee in an Education Gadfly review. ”But they’re wrong.”

Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion, “based on thousands of hours spent observing outstanding teachers in action” argued that “great teaching requires the mastery of seemingly mundane but crucially important knowledge and skills,” Porter-Magee writes.

Practice Perfect‘s 42 rules “are simple, practical, and grounded in common sense, as well as respect for the practice and repetition that we need to help teachers (and students) achieve mastery.”

They also present a damning critique of the multi-billion dollar teacher professional-development industry. By shying away from skill repetition, most PD programs offer the equivalent of art-appreciation courses and then ask teachers to paint masterpieces.

Teachers need to hone their skills with one another — with coaching and feedback—before they try new skills in the classroom.

To create champion teachers, blend

Blended learning can create more champion teachers, writes Allison Akhnoukh in Education Next.

Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion shows what the teaching craft looks like when effectively mastered, she writes. But we don’t have “remotely close to enough” champion teachers “because the job we’re expecting our teachers to accomplish is superhuman.”

When a teacher can effectively utilize all 49 of Lemov’s techniques in perfect harmony, it is feat at which to marvel. Much more commonly observed, however, is the teacher trying heroically – yet unsuccessfully – to fully engage each of his 30 students in the lesson he stayed up half the night planning.

Blended learning lets teachers focus their energies on the most critical teaching tasks, Akhnoukh argues.

 

Transforming teacher ed

Relay Graduate School of Education, based at New York City’s Hunter College,  aims to “transform teacher education to fit the needs of urban schools,” writes June Kronholz in  Education Next.

The school trains novice teachers, usually without an education degree, in New York and New Jersey. Most teach in charter schools or are Teach for America teachers working in low-performing district-run public schools. All must show their students are making progress to earn their degrees.

During their second year in Relay’s two-year masters-degree program, elementary-school teachers are asked to show that their own students averaged a full year’s reading growth during the school year. They must also set a reading goal for each child, perhaps two years’ growth for a child who is three years behind, for example. Students can earn credit toward an honors degree if 80 percent of the children they teach meet their individual reading goals.

Elementary teachers must show students averaged 70 percent mastery in another subject, usually math, and middle-school teachers must show 70 percent mastery in their subject.

About 40 percent of Relay’s instruction is online. Teachers attend twice-monthly night classes, once-monthly Saturday classes, and two summer terms taught by master teachers and “charter school heavyweights.”

I logged onto an online lesson for a module titled Engaging Everybody, taught by Doug Lemov, managing director of Uncommon Schools. In the 3¾-hour lesson, Lemov lectured for three or four minutes on each of four techniques that he promotes to keep youngsters involved in class, techniques he labels “wait time,” “everybody writes,” “cold call,” and “call and response.” Each of Lemov’s minilectures was followed by a few pages of online reading from his book Teach Like a Champion, and an essay question or two that students answer online. Then came several short videos showing teachers using each technique in the classroom, with Lemov noting the teachers’ use of an apt pause or effective gesture.

. . . Next came practice scenarios—what do you do if only three children raise their hands to a question about angles?—online group exercises, and instructions to prepare a lesson plan that incorporates the techniques.

. . .  At the second Engaging Everybody evening class, Relay students are expected to present a 10-minute video of themselves using the techniques in their own classrooms.

Teachers pay about $4,500 for the two-year program with philanthropies covering about $13,000 and charter schools and federal grants funding the rest of the $35,000 cost.

Building better teachers

Since Krypton can’t supply enough SuperTeachers, can we build a better teacher out of ordinary mortals? Elizabeth Green in Sunday’s New York Times Magazine looks at training teachers in the techniques developed by successful teachers and developing teachers’ knowledge of how students may misunderstand new ideas.

Doug Lemov, author of the upcoming Teach Like a Champion, thinks what looks like “natural-born genius” is often “deliberate technique in disguise.

“Stand still when you’re giving directions,” a teacher at a Boston school told him. In other words, don’t do two things at once. Lemov tried it, and suddenly, he had to ask students to take out their homework only once.

It was the tiniest decision, but what was teaching if not a series of bite-size moves just like that?

Lemov believes “students can’t learn unless the teacher succeeds in capturing their attention and getting them to follow instructions.”

Lemov’s view is that getting students to pay attention is not only crucial but also a skill as specialized, intricate and learnable as playing guitar.

EdWeek blogger Walt Gardner thinks it’s harder to imitate successful teachers than Lemov thinks.

Good technique isn’t everything, argues Deborah Loewenberg Ball, a University of Michigan education professor. Neither is mastery of the subject.  Good math teachers must know what math looks like to learners.

It’s one thing to know that 307 minus 168 equals 139; it is another thing to be able understand why a third grader might think that 261 is the right answer. Mathematicians need to understand a problem only for themselves; math teachers need both to know the math and to know how 30 different minds might understand (or misunderstand) it. Then they need to take each mind from not getting it to mastery.

Ball calls this Mathematical Knowledge for Teaching, or MKT.  She developed a test of math knowledge and MKT and compared teachers’ results with their students’ test scores.  Students of teachers with above-average MKT scores learned “three more weeks of material over the course of a year than those whose teacher had an average score, a boost equivalent to that of coming from a middle-class family rather than a working-class one.”

Sixty percent of mathematicians who took the test “bombed” on the MKT questions.

Inspired by Ball, other researchers have been busily excavating parallel sets of knowledge for other subject areas. A Stanford professor named Pam Grossman is now trying to articulate a similar body of knowledge for English teachers, discerning what kinds of questions to ask about literature and how to lead a group discussion about a book.

As a tutor, figuring out what was going on in my student’s mind was a huge challenge — and I only had one kid at a time.  I wonder to what extent this can be taught to new teachers.