kitchen table math, the sequel: Teach Like a Champion

Friday, April 9, 2010

Teach Like a Champion

The book is out.

It's incredible. Teach Like a Champion is about the techniques used by "champion" teachers as opposed to merely good teachers, champion meaning these teachers reliably produce very large gains in student achievement. Year in and year out, their students do better than students in the classrooms of good teachers.

The book has the potential to be revolutionary. In fact, it is revolutionary. These are some of the best teachers in the country, and not one of them is a facilitator or a guide on the side. They are instructivists leading teacher-directed classrooms.

Words you do not see in the index:
  • discovery
  • inquiry
  • constructivism
  • balance
  • cooperative learning
  • projects
  • balanced literacy
  • reading workshop
  • writing workshop
The NY Times carried an article about the book a few weeks ago. Building a Better Teacher by Elizabeth Green. When it appeared, two parents here publicly urged our school board and administration to read the article and help our teachers use the techniques Lemov describes. One of those parents was the former president of the board.

What do parents want?

Parents want the teachers and methods described in this book.


Catherine Johnson said...

Another word not in the index: literacy.

Apparently champion teachers still teach reading.

Ben Calvin said...

Ordered my copy from Amazon.

Catherine Johnson said...

You're going to love it.

We need to promote this book at every turn.

It is ***everything*** we've been writing about for the past 6 years. (I can't believe it's 6 years...)

These are teachers who have produced measurable results.

It's going to be very hard for ed schools to argue with this book.

Which probably means they'll ignore it.

Catherine Johnson said...

Another term that does not appear in the index: risk taking.

Barry Garelick said...

When the National Math Panel came out with their final report, I was taking a class in math teaching methods at ed school, taught by my advisor. She took some time during class to give her thoughts on the report. She rolled her eyes at various recommendations. One that comes to mind is her reaction to the NMP's recommendation of what should be covered in an authentic algebra course. "What do they mean by 'authentic algebra'" she asked. "Is there an inauthentic algebra?"

I was about to answer this, but I had a self-imposed limit of one outburst per class and I was already up to quota.

Ed schools persist in their belief that there is a right way to jump out of an airplane without a parachute without dying.(See this for more on that topic).
In another class (ed psych) I remember giving a presentation on constructivism--that is to say, my partner and I presented both sides of the arguments and drew from the Sweller/Kirschner study as well as others as to why minimal guidance is ineffective.

Yes, we looked at the other side as well (Kamii's seminal study on The Harmful EFfects of Algorithms on Young Children, which my partner couldn't say without laughing (I had a $5 bet with her that she couldn't do so), so she just didn't say the title of the report. Anyway, the teacher said she liked the presentation very much, but I overheard her talking to a student a week or so later, talking about how teacher-directed learning may produce good results in the short-term, "research has shown" that in the long term, students who have learned by discovery have a deeper understanding that is long term.

All this to say that I agree that ed schools would ignore Lemov's book.

SteveH said...

"Is there an inauthentic algebra?"

You should have answered "Yes." ... but not in an outburst sort of way.

SteveH said...

"Parents want the teachers and methods described in this book."

What does it say about a curriculum with fixed grade-level goals? How high are those goals? What do you do if kids do not reach those goals?

You really can't talk about great teaching without talking about curriculum and grade level expectations. You couldn't go into our schools and just talk about great teaching. It sounds like how Lemov defines great teaching is incompatible with how our schools define great teaching. (Our teachers really don't teach; they facilitate.) Lemov's approach seems to presume the acceptance of many other assumptions about teaching. It requires a different definition of what education means in K-6.

I was hoping to find more details on the Uncommon Schools site about curriculum and grade level expectations, but I was disappointed to find very little of anything. I assume that Lemov's approach would not include trusting the spiral. What math curriculum do the Uncommon Schools use?

They also talk over and over about rigor and hard work on the video; double reading, double math,..etc. This isn't just about great teaching.

Redkudu said...

Lemov's book is doing something very interesting in that no, he doesn't talk about curriculum - that's not his purpose. He is specifically targeting teacher behaviors (movement, vocabulary of instruction) in the classroom, and promoting techniques that can improve any curriculum. A conversation about curriculum in this context would be fruitless - teachers don't get to choose or the curriculum anyway. However, they can begin using these techniques with any curriculum and move toward a more effective, direct teach model with effective classroom management built in.

The book and DVD are excellent, and that's part of what I enjoyed about it. Maybe you can't talk about great *education* without speaking of curriculum, but I believe you can talk about the specific acts and techniques of presenting material and maintaining order effectively without it. Within the macrocosm of all things education, classroom technique - the simple day-to-day - is one of the most important and most ignored elements. I pre-ordered the book when I first read the article specifically because of the story of the teacher who walked into the classroom with a Master's degree and realized she was missing one crucial element - simply how to teach children to read. And while she may have been talking phonics, I think she was referring to something else as well, and that is just getting students to say printed words out loud.

The book is specifically for teachers who, amidst the greater debate of education, have to walk into a classroom full of kids lacking the traditional motivation of grades and graduation and teach whatever they are told to, every single day.

Allison said...

Books you don't see celebrated in the NYT:

Heal like a champion
for doctors

Litigate like a champion
for lawyers

Fight fires like a champion

Police like a champion

Engineer like a champion

and why is that? because these are professions, so such things are taught in the courses, training, and apprenticing that leads to the certification/qualification.

The book may be wonderful; it may be necessary. But it's more evidence that there's nothing about teaching that is professional yet. Maybe this is a step in that direction. but exactly what do ed schools purport to teach ?

ChemProf said...

"exactly what do ed schools purport to teach?"

From an ed school, here are six principles they purport to teach:

Working in education is a moral act based on an ethic of care.
Working in education is a collegial act.
Working in education is reflective and inquiry-based.
Working in education is a political act.
Working in education is acquisition of subject matter and professional knowlege.
Learning is a constructivist and developmental process.

Notice -- nothing about classroom management, discipline, student achievement, or fundamentals. Lots of philosophy of education, constructivism, and (buried in the principles) diversity. At my own school, I've been to admission events with folks from the ed school. Things they talk about -- reducing the achievement gap, making sure to teach history students about the genocide of American Indians and similar politically correct stuff. Things they don't -- gifted students, subject matter, science/math education, actually teaching.

I'm afraid I have to agree with Barry -- this book won't crack the ed school shell. It is just too thick.

momof4 said...

You don't see Heal like a Champion for nurses, either.

I find it incredible that ed schools can't seem to prepare teachers for the real world in four years. The most incredible part of it is that, for k-8, incoming college students should already know most of the subject-area content; unlike the situation in almost every other field. In four years, they apparently can't be taught how to teach it effectively.

Catherine Johnson said...

You really can't talk about great teaching without talking about curriculum and grade level expectations.

Curriculum is a big gap in the book, and I hope he'll write a second book on that subject.

That said, he pretty much assumes that teachers are writing their own curriculum guided by state standards.

The goal of all teaching, he says, is college prep. I'll post some of the terrific passages he has on the primacy of college prep at all times and in all instructional design & decision making.

Catherine Johnson said...

re: Allison's point about "Heal Like a Champion" and so on, Vicki Snyder's book is **the** work on the need for a "science of teaching." (imo)

Catherine Johnson said...

There is no trusting the spiral.

In place of trusting the spiral, there are DAILY assessments of the kids' knowledge & skills.


Redkudu said...

Since I'm re-reading it anyway, I went back to the introduction. He does talk a bit about things he didn't include and why, and in doing so mentions a book by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo called "Driven By Data" which I think I'll look into next.

elrobotomuerto said...

More eduspeak - In spiral we trust.

One of the criteria that is not in the book of good teaching is whether parents or students are getting actual enjoyment or satisfaction from what they are learning.

There are textbooks used in this world where students actually enjoy learning from.

If reading and learning about linear regression from Core plus was more enjoyable for students than the satisfaction of learning algebra in Singapore than I wouldn't have an argument for changing textbooks. Unfortunately for math teachers and public schools, the reverse is true and publishers need to listen to their readers.

rocky said...

Barry, what is inauthentic algebra?

I hope it's not the conversion factors that I like to show everyone within earshot, where you convert, say, miles to hours by multiplying by the constant (inverse speed) and cancel out "miles", though I guess you could call that only arithmetic and not algebra.

Or were you thinking about the heavy use of Singapore bar models where you solve problems with pictures and don't define variables at all?

Allison said...

The issue is not dimensional analysis or bar models. Those are specifics methods of elucidating the principles in algebra.

The issue is the content of the course itself.

The NMAP final report (available here:

says "The word authentic is used
here as a descriptor of a course that addresses algebra consistently with the
Major Topics of School Algebra (Table 1, page 16)."

that table is The Major Topics of School Algebra:

Symbols and Expressions
• Polynomial expressions
• Rational expressions
• Arithmetic and finite geometric series
Linear Equations
• Real numbers as points on the number line
• Linear equations and their graphs
• Solving problems with linear equations
• Linear inequalities and their graphs
• Graphing and solving systems of simultaneous linear equations
Quadratic Equations
• Factors and factoring of quadratic polynomials with integer coefficients
• Completing the square in quadratic expressions
• Quadratic formula and factoring of general quadratic polynomials
• Using the quadratic formula to solve equations
• Linear functions
• Quadratic functions—word problems involving quadratic functions
• Graphs of quadratic functions and completing the square
• Polynomial functions (including graphs of basic functions)
• Simple nonlinear functions (e.g., square and cube root functions; absolute value;
rational functions; step functions)
• Rational exponents, radical expressions, and exponential functions
• Logarithmic functions
• Trigonometric functions
• Fitting simple mathematical models to data
Algebra of Polynomials
• Roots and factorization of polynomials
• Complex numbers and operations
• Fundamental theorem of algebra
• Binomial coefficients (and Pascal’s Triangle)
• Mathematical induction and the binomial theorem
Combinatorics and Finite Probability
• Combinations and permutations, as applications of the binomial theorem and Pascal’s Triangle

ChrisA said...

I haven't visited in awhile, I should have taken my meds, the BP is through the roof I'm sure!

Although this book is not math specific, I wonder if "algorithm" is in the index?

OK, having some initiative and my elevated BP having not caused a stroke (yet) I went to Amazon and determined that I could check the index myself. Unfortunately algorithm isn't in the index, THAT would have been icing on the cake. Looks like a great book.

Authentic Algebra, I'd give (almost) anything for "authentic Algebra II" next year, we have "fake" geometry this year and I'm just trying to get my daughter through it. I wish she could take her Algebra II at the local community college.

ElizabethB said...

I've only read about 1/3 of the book, but I skimmed the rest and was happy to see decoding specifically mentioned, and mentioned as necessary and something to correct for, even at upper grade levels. There are several examples of how to teach by rules, not just telling the word. (p. 263- 270)

lgm said...

ChrisA, Algebra II can be taken via distance learning. Transfer the credit in to the high school diploma under your state's rules if needed. Look at Univ of Mo or Nebraska or any talent search provider.

The issue here in Algebra I is poor instruction and incoherent sequence. The course looks like the book pages were scattered on the floor, then someone picked up a section randomly to teach today. The instructor presents algorithms instead of teaching mathematics. The instructor must follow the Dept Chair's sequence and method of presentation.

Catherine Johnson said...

Hi Chris!

"Algorithm" isn't in the book, but long division is!

(Actually, long division isn't in the index.)

Catherine Johnson said...

Elizabeth - yup

they are phonics people

He has a stern moment towards the end where he says something like, "By this age your students have learned or should have had phonics"...

I'll find that & post.

Catherine Johnson said...

He also says champion teachers seat their students in rows.

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Robin said...

I loved this book. It made a difference in my teaching on day 1 when I implemented it. My students are so much more attentive and well behaved AND they learn more. I keep rereading bits of the book for follow-up.