Book review: Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College

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By Rob Rickenbrode, Director, Teacher Preparation Studies

In case you're just skimming here, we love, love, love this book.

Charter school renegade and New York Times star, Doug Lemov's Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College is filled with concrete, actionable, and effective techniques that every classroom teacher should begin implementing tomorrow. As managing director of Uncommon Schools--a network of some of the highest performing charter schools in the nation--and one of the founders of Academy of the Pacific Rim, also a high performing school, this guy walks the talk.

Lemov doesn't bore us with the same generic advice teachers have heard a million times, e.g., hold high expectations, build a supportive classroom culture, plan engaging lessons that assure student mastery etc. Instead, with the aid of anecdotes, interviews and video-clips drawn from years of classroom observations across all ages of students and styles of teaching, we get gold-nugget specifics on how to run a classroom. There is even a discussion of how to efficiently distribute and collect papers from students, a bit of practical wisdom that is unlikely to ever show up in the curriculum of an education school. The book is a lovely ode to practicing teachers and the craft of teaching, conveying a sense of urgency on behalf of the children in teachers' care. Lemov is truly excited by champion teaching and his excitement is infectious.

Here's just one of the pearls, a strategy Lemov labels "No Opt Out" to assure that a student's final answer to a question is never "I dunno" or a shoulder shrug. This technique gives the teacher four tried-and-true options to deal with said students:

  1. Provide the answer and ask the student to repeat it.
  2. Ask a different student (or the entire class) to provide the answer and then ask the original student to repeat it.
  3. Provide a hint which the student uses to come up with the answer.
  4. Ask a different student to provide a hint to the first to use to come up with the answer.

Another strategy, this one called "100 Percent," gives teachers a variety of options to get a class to follow directions every time, without resorting to power struggles--through fast and nearly invisible interventions designed to get back to teaching as quickly as possible.

It is hard not to go on and on. Just when you believe the book is drawing to a close (two chapters of techniques on pacing and critical thinking follow the named forty-ninth technique), Lemov turns to reading instruction, applying the same framework to distill and characterize common practices from champion teachers. As a result, he adds important techniques relating to the teaching of decoding, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.

We could find more eloquent ways to summarize how we feel about this book but none more accurate than "buy it."