Doug Lemov’s work in ‘Teach like a Champion’ sets out to establish a framework for teachers working in low-income, urban areas with historical achievement gaps between children of differing ethnic and financial backgrounds. The parallels between his focus and the children at Dame Elizabeth Cadbury are clear, and as such the strategies he uses are directly applicable and beneficial to the majority of our students.
The first section of his work focussed upon observing hundreds of state school teachers in the United States to ascertain what made certain teachers more effective than others. His conclusions essentially suggest that effective practitioners don’t always necessarily ‘know’ what it is they are doing (they simply are effective) and that many of their techniques are quite easy to embed into any teacher’s craft so long as you make a concerted and conscious effort to utilise them. With this in mind, I used Lemov’s first section in an attempt to streamline my lessons and make them more effective- the first section being ‘Checking for understanding’.
A summary of strategies from Doug Lemov ‘Teach like a Champion’
Lemov identifies 6 key ways to ensure that you effectively check for understanding and equally as crucially that you use the data gathered from your checks to address misconceptions and prevent errors becoming embedded.
1. Reject functional self-report.
In essence refrain from ever asking ‘does that make sense?’ or offering questions with binary answers. Children will inherently avoid risk taking (and often honesty) and act according to their peer group. Ensuring that checks for understanding are open ended, and use individual methods such as whiteboards can help you to replace functionally rhetorical questions.
2. Targeted Questioning
When checking for understanding ask a series of carefully chosen (pre-planned), open-ended questions directed at a strategic sample of the class and executed in a short period of time. This will provide you with data that informs you of class comprehension. Equally Lemov emphasises that you track and use data gained. If students are getting a majority of questions wrong, the lesson will need to be remodelled.
3. Standardise the format
In order to make best use of any checking for understanding the method needs to be consistent. This will embed familiarity with the students and make the checks quicker and more effective. Seating plans are vital as they allow the teacher to streamline observations by designing materials and space so that they’re looking in the same, consistent place every time for the data they need.
4.Tracking, not watching
Be intentional about how you scan your classroom. Decide specifically what you're looking for and remain disciplined about it in the face of distractions. When circulating the room whilst children are actively engaged in lessons, only intervene if a misconception has arisen that may directly prevent a child's comprehension of the task at hand. Try to not treat the class as a 'blank canvas'- waiting to find something through observation.
5. Show me
Flip the classroom dynamic in which the teacher gleans data from a passive group of students. Have students actively show evidence of their understanding. As previously mentioned, students should be proving to you their understanding swiftly and efficiently. The use of mini white boards, hand signals or other cues that allow swift gleaning of data work well.
6. Affirmative Checking
All of the strategies identified so far are for quick checks that allow lessons to be remodelled or misconceptions addressed swiftly. Lemov’s final strategy is more detailed and comprehensive- that a teacher inserts specific points into their lessons when students must get confirmation that their work is correct, productive, or sufficiently rigorous before moving onto the next stage. This could involve providing a rubric that students can use to check work before moving on and ensuring that ‘extension’ or bonus work is included that some students can move onto. For this teachers should not expect all students to progress simultaneously (in fact plan to check asynchronously).