Published Online: February 22, 2011

Book Backgrounder

Becoming a 'Champion' Teacher

Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College
By Doug Lemov
Jossey-Bass, 2010, 352 pp.
Teacher Book Club Dates: April 12-14, 2011 | Go to discussion


Doug Lemov relates that as a young teacher, he received plenty of advice. People told him to "have high expectations" and "teach kids, not content," but those words meant little once he was standing in front of a group of students. Then a peer gave him a concrete tip that helped more than any before: Stand still when giving directions. Lemov began using it right away—and students responded.

In Teach Like a Champion, Lemov—now the Managing Director of the charter school network Uncommon Schools—offers 49 such "concrete, specific, and actionable" techniques that teachers can implement immediately. The techniques are not ones Lemov invented, but rather ones he has seen time and again in his observations of highly effective teachers. Some of the methods described may seem "mundane" or "unremarkable," or even "fail to march in step with educational theory," writes Lemov. "But they work."

So what kinds of things does he prescribe? Here are a few snapshots from the book.

Book Resources

For more on Lemov, see this widely dispersed New York Times article about his research and work as managing director of the Uncommon Schools charter school network.

Technique #2: Right is Right.
Teachers should insist on answers being 100 percent correct. "The likelihood is strong that students will stop striving when they hear the word right (or yes or some other proxy), so there's a real risk to naming as right that which is not truly and completely right. ... In holding out for right, you set the expectation that the questions you ask and their answers truly matter."

Technique #10: Double Plan.
In planning lessons, account for what both the teacher and the students will be doing at any one time. "What will they be doing while you're reviewing the primary causes of the Civil War? Will they be taking notes? If so, where?"

Technique #22: Cold Call
During class, call on students regardless of whether they raise their hands. "If students see you frequently and reliably calling on classmates who don't have their hand raised, they will come to expect it and prepare for it."

In addition to the 49 techniques, Lemov includes strategies for pacing and questioning, and a few chapters on the fundamentals of teaching reading—from decoding to fluency to comprehension.

The task of soaking it all in and implementing dozens of new techniques can be daunting for any teacher. So Lemov suggests teachers focus on their strengths. "You might be tempted to skip a chapter because you are already good at the topic it discusses, but I encourage you to study that chapter with special attentiveness specifically because you are good at it," says Lemov. Investing in your strengths, he writes, "can be as or more powerful than eliminating all of your weaknesses."

For as much praise as its gotten, Teach Like a Champion has also been the subject of controversy, with detractors saying great teaching is much more than a routine set of discrete instructional tools. The book is sure to spark an animated discussion that you won’t want to miss.

Watch an Uncommon Schools teacher demonstrate the "Cold Call" technique.

Author Doug Lemov will be joining us for an online discussion of his book from April 12-14, 2011.

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