kitchen table math, the sequel: I/We/You

Monday, April 12, 2010


Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College on the subject of inquiry:
There's a consistent progression to the lessons of the champion teachers who informed this book. It's best described as "I/We/You." (As far as I know, Doug McCurry, founder of Amistad Academy Charter School, coined this phrase. Others use the terms direct instruction, guided practice, and independent practi to describe what McCurry means.) This name refers to a lesson in which responsibility for knowing and being able to do is gradually released from teacher to student. It means beginning with "I" by delivering key information or modeling the process you want your students to learn as directly as possible, then walking your students through examples or applications. In the "We" step, you first ask for help from students at key moments and then gradually allow them to complete examples with less and less assistance on more and more of the task. Finally, in the "You" step, you provide students the opportunity to practice doing the work on their own, giving them multiple opportunities to practice


The recipe may sound obvious to some, but it doesn't happen this way in many classrooms. Often students are released to independent work before they are ready to do so effectively. They are asked to solve a problem before they know how to do it on their own. They're asked to infer the best solution by "inquiry" when they have little hope of doing so in an effective and efficient way. In many cases, they independently and industriously practice doing a task the wrong way. They reflect on "big questions" before they know enough to do so productively.

Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College
by Doug Lemov
p. 71 - 72

These are the teachers whose practices he is describing:
[H]e decided to seek out the best teachers he could find — as defined partly by their students’ test scores — and learn from them. A self-described data geek, he went about this task methodically, collecting test-score results and demographic information from states around the country. He plotted each school’s poverty level on one axis and its performance on state tests on the other. Each chart had a few outliers blinking in the upper-right-hand corner — schools that managed to squeeze high performance out of the poorest students. He broke those schools’ scores down by grade level and subject. If a school scored especially high on, say, sixth-grade English, he would track down the people who taught sixth graders English.

He called a wedding videographer he knew through a friend and asked him if he’d like to tag along on some school visits. Their first trip to North Star Academy, a charter school in Newark, turned into a five-year project to record teachers across the country.

Building a Better Teacher
by Elizabeth Green
New York Times | March 2, 2010

Lemov's taxonomy
Teach Like a Champion is out
more words you don't see in Teach Like a Champion


Linda said...

I'm halfway through the book as a practicing certified teacher and so far agree with everything he says. I think that those who oppose inquiry as an instructional approach need to be careful that they do not become as dogmatic as those who fetishize it. Lemov has what I believe is the correct approach (see pg. 65) where he specifically speaks to several different constructivist strategies and explains they are neither good nor bad, their facility depends upon what is the most efficient way to meet your goal. He effectively takes on teachers who are to enamored with trendy instructional approaches, as well. Good teaching is always pragmatic and inquiry can be a powerful strategy when used in exactly the right way at the right time.

Catherine Johnson said...

His book does not endorse eclecticism, and it does explicitly endorse 'direct instruction.'

The book also repeatedly states that students should be taught to mastery, a core tenet of 'instructivism.'

Lemov went to business school; he says explicitly that student data is essential to everything one does in the classroom - and that the use of data in charter schools is the equivalent of what has happened in the business world, where data & measurement became important some time ago.

Catherine Johnson said...

The only form of 'inquiry' I've seen Lemov discuss is guided inquiry, which is a form of direct instruction.

The Saxon Math elementary school books have guided inquiry lessons throughout, and I have never seen or heard a constructivist teacher or administrator applaud Saxon Math.

One last point: the people involved in this book are so opposed to conventional education school doctrine that they have founded an education school to teach the techniques explained in Teach Like a Champion: Teacher U at Hunter College.

Teacher U was headed by David Steiner.

Catherine Johnson said...

He also uses the word 'scripted' repeatedly. The champion teachers in his book script their lessons; a number of them memorize their lessons - in particular the questions they will ask students - before class.

Catherine Johnson said...

I just looked at page 65, which contains the passage I thought you were probably referring to: "[T]he criterion is mastery of the objective and what gets you there best and fastest. Group work, multisensory approaches, open inquiry, Socratic seminars, discussions, and lectures are neither good nor bad for a teacher to use except in how they relate to this goal. Take the shortest path, and throw out all other criteria."

I read this passage as essentially diplomatic.

The taxonomy includes 49 techniques, and not one of them is group work or open inquiry. If Lemov had seen champion teachers using open inquiry and group work over and over again, open inquiry and group work would be amongst the 49.

This is a work of description; Lemov identified outlier teachers - teachers who were producing far more academic achievement than good teachers (i.e. these are 'great' teachers as opposed to 'good' teachers).

The book describes the techniques he saw great teachers using over and over and over again.

All 49 techniques are direct instruction.

(Sorry to belabor this - !)

Anonymous said...

I only got about halfway through Teach Like a Champion before I had to return it to the library (inter-library loan, so no renewal).

Some of the ideas in there seem to be really good. Most are based on student-teacher interaction, not student-student interaction, but I'm not convinced that group work is useful until you have projects too big for one person to do (which doesn't generally happen except in sports, music, and theater until the third or fourth year of college, if then).

My comments on Teach Like a Champion
can be found at