[by Roger Loxley]
One of the benefits of having a longish Christmas break is that we get the chance to open a few books and get stuck into some reading. And so, this holiday, I reread Doug Lemov’s rather good book, Teach Like a Champion, because I wanted to remind myself of what he says about framing discussions in the classroom: that’s the collaboration I’m working on with Biology. OK, the book’s got a cheesy title and is, quite understandably, very American, but it nevertheless contains some good ideas and nuggets of truth that are undeniable.
It’s also refreshingly devoid of any systems that dictate processes and structures that should apply to all lessons: so no three-part lessons, no learning objectives on the board, no insistence that every teacher does the same thing. Indeed he does recognise that teachers are unique and each classroom is unique, but there some things that good classrooms exhibit and that’s what he explains in the book.
It was published in 2015, so presumably the information was gathered during that year and 2014. And that shows in the lack of examples of current technology that now exist in so many classrooms. That’s the bit where I think we can add to his ideas. That’s what I reflected on when I reread the book.
So, here goes.
One of the key aspects that he discusses is the ways in which teachers can check for understanding during a lesson. It’s a critical for him – that great teachers really collect excellent data, during the lesson, that helps inform them of student progress and mastery of the content. It is only with this information that teachers can really plan how their lessons are to proceed, for we need to know that students have “got it” at key points in the course of instruction before we can move on.
Lemov is quite clear that simply asking students if they’ve “got it” isn’t good enough most of the time. For a number of reasons – peer pressure, lack of safety in admitting to errors, not wanting to stand out – simply asking for an aye or a nay doesn’t do the job well enough.
Instead he is clear that we need to get better information that more reliably assesses understanding and he proposes a number of ways to do this – carefully written questions that properly assess understanding, questioning the right students in the group to ensure that we know that everyone really has “got it”, for example.
Targeted questioning of a specific sample of the students at key points during the lesson is something Lemov says is a great way to gather information about student mastery to allow the lesson to move forward ensuring that all students understand and can therefore make progress.
Technology does all this for us now, which means we don’t need to target the questioning at a sample. We can ask the questions of all students and have data that gives us all the information we need. Using programmes such as Nearpod, Plickers, PingPong, Kahoot or the software in a Prowise board, teachers can embed questions within the lesson, at key points, gather data on student responses, track the room to gauge progress and assess the detail of understanding and then use that to adapt the plan to go back over something, break students into groups to secure understanding, move on as planned, etc. This is all really powerful stuff!
Here’s an example. During my lessons on Price Elasticity of Demand with Year 10 I embedded a few sections of questions within my Nearpod presentation. So, after some instruction on calculations and meanings, I swiped the slides to a set of five questions. Each student answers on their iPhone (these questions were multiple choice but they could easily have been free text) and I get to see their answers appear on my iPad. Green for correct, red for incorrect. I can then immediately see progress and where errors are being made. I can go round the room to speak to individuals and get them to explain their answer, right or wrong, get a neighbour to explain to a student why they’ve got an answer wrong, etc. At the end of that time I know that all students have got all the answers right (OK, I have no guarantee that they haven’t guessed the answers correctly or copied a neighbour’s answers) and, equally importantly I can download the data showing the answers because each student logs in with their own details.
It’s easy to embed such questions within the lesson using these simple bits of technology and I now realise I need to do a lot more of this throughout my lessons to ensure that students never leave a lesson unsure of what we’ve covered and that they are well on the way to mastery of the content.
But the book covers a lot more than this. I don’t want this post to be a review of the book because there’s a lot of the book that is less relevant to us in our school (the examples he uses are very much from tough US public schools), but there are two other aspects that I would like to mention. But I’ll save those for a post next week, just to keep the tension going: a bit like Sherlock!