Doug Lemov, admits that he himself was no “champion teacher,” but he has studied, through countless hours of observations, what it is that successful teachers do. He focuses on public schools, primarily those serving the inner city.
Taking a page from the playbook of Jim Collins who studied what separated the “good” from the “great” companies, Lemov looked for those teaching techniques that separated the merely good teachers from the great ones. This book is a compilation of those techniques and is presented as a toolbox for teachers who want to improve their craft. Lemov purposefully presents “techniques” and not “strategies.” He has memories of going to workshops as a teacher and returning with inspirational and yet vague initiatives to “hold high expectations” or “teach kids and not content.” Yet it was the more specific suggestions from a peer about what to say and do that helped him to improve his teaching, “When you want them to follow your directions, stand still.” It is with the goal of providing teachers with more specific guidance about their teaching craft that Lemov compiled and now presents 49 specific teaching techniques in this book.
At first glance, the techniques introduced may seem uninspired and banal. They may not be intellectually stimulating or follow the latest educational trends yet they yield impressive results. Consider one technique for collecting and distributing class materials. Lemov often shows a video clip of Doug McCurry, the founder of Amistad Academy in New Haven, Connecticut, taking the time to show students how to pass back papers at the beginning of the school year. He explains the correct way to do this (pass across rows; start on his command; only the person passing gets out of a seat; etc.) Then McCurry times the students with his stopwatch. “Ten seconds, pretty good, let’s see if you can do eight.” Skeptics may see this as a demeaning task that treats students like robots and brainwashes them. However, if teachers collect and distribute materials twenty times a day, and a typical class takes one minute and twenty seconds to do this compared to McCurry’s twenty seconds, by the end of a typical year, MCurry will have saved an additional 63 hours or almost eight days of instruction to teach the causes of the Civil War or coordinate geometry! And yet no school of education in the country would be caught dead teaching teachers how to pass out papers despite the fact that this efficient technique saves a school’s scarcest resource (time!) so students have more time to learn.
While not every teacher uses every one of these techniques, these are the tools that have emerged from watching some of the most successful teachers teach. These techniques are not meant to be formulaic. There is a craft involved in individuals making insightful decisions about when and how to apply the different techniques. Lemov has given the techniques names (like “No Opt Out”) not to be gimmicky, but so teachers and administrators can develop a shared vocabulary to talk about these techniques as they relate to their own teaching. By using the names, they can talk about a clearly defined set of ideas quickly and easily. Furthermore, a number of the techniques are captured in short video clips in the book’s accompanying DVD. Note that for each chapter, this summary will provide more detail for one to two techniques and just a brief overview of the rest due to space restraints. Read the book for full descriptions!
Furthermore, these techniques do not exist in a vacuum. The techniques will yield the most powerful results when used together with four other approaches that are not described in this book, but with which many educators are familiar:
1. Backwards-Planned Instruction – Great teachers start with the objectives and then plan assessments and then activities.
2. Using Data – Great teachers use results to learn about their students and improve their teaching.
3. Thorough Lesson Planning – Great teachers plan their lesson, often minute by minute, write their questions ahead of time, anticipate wrong answers, and plan follow-up questions.
4. Content and Rigor – Effective teachers choose challenging materials rather than what appeals to students
Lemov studied the teachers who were the most successful at closing the achievement gap. His primary measure of success was state test scores. Given the abundance of misconceptions about their use, he explains that succeeding on state tests is necessary, but not sufficient for students to succeed in college. There are many skills students need for college that are not assessed on state tests. However, there are no students succeeding in college who cannot master the skills required on those tests. Furthermore, the teachers who successfully teach the skills on these tests are most often the ones who are more effective at teaching the higher-order skills as well. That said, Lemov looked at schools such as the Uncommon Schools for which he is a managing director in which the poverty rates is over 80 percent and yet the schools score extremely well on state exams. Given there are many good teachers at these schools, Lemov chose the “best of the best” --those who were often getting 100 percent of their students to reach proficiency.