Monday, July 12, 2010

Summer Reading: Techniques & Strategies

After appreciating the breadth and clarity of Diane Ravitch's The Death and Life of the Great American School System: How Testing and Choice Are Undermining Education, I have devoted some of my summer reading to practical matters of technique with two books for K-12 teachers.

First up is Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov. His book describes 49 techniques that teachers can use to shore up their repertoire's effectiveness.  Speaking from his vantage as an administrator of Uncommon Schools, Lemov goes into great detail with each strategy from the fundamental to the ingenius.  As a teacher with 18 years in the classroom, I marveled at his ability to fill pages with the simplest strategy, but in that sort of detail he makes plain what might be otherwise be missed by the uninitiated.  The book is chock-full of great tips, and I'm surprised he didn't have at least one more idea to make it an even 50. The publisher Jossey-Bass markets the book as germane to K-12 and indeed the ideas in this book fit all grades in that range and some beyond.

No doubt teachers will find a few techniques that are already part and parcel of their practice.  But I must admit that this old dog learned a few new tricks. Lemov starts off with No. 1, for example, "No Opt Out." This is the idea addresses the scenario of a student unable or unwilling to answer a question and ends with the student answering that question as often as possible. Lemove offers at least four formats to make this technique sequence a successful one. Another technique, No. 3, "Stretch It," entails a sequence of learning that does not end with a right answer; rather, an on-target answer is rewarded with follow-up questions that extend knowledge and test for reliability.

Adding to Lemov's clear descriptions, rationales, and transcripted examples from real classrooms, the book comes with a DVD of clips showing great teachers using the techniques on the fly.  You can see some of these at The New York Times feature on "Building a Better Teacher,"which Lemov narrates.  The DVD confirms the feasibility when they return to the classroom this fall.

Akin to Lemov's book is Richard Howell Allen's High-Impact Teaching Strategies for the 'XYZ' Era of Education.  The title is not only giving props to the Generations teachers are serving but also to the ABC organization of the book's contents.  Allen has a strategy for every letter of the alphabet from "Acknowledgement" to "Zones of Instruction."  Allen's ideas might be a bit more basic, but no less essential than Lemov's.  One is strategies and one is techniques, and though there is overlap with these, a difference becomes distinct. 

My summer reading of both will no doubt tighten up my practice and make me more effective. They should be required reading in pre-service education courses and handy to the veteran. If Ravitch's book is a must read backgrounder for the systemic challenges we face, these two books are gotta-have manuals for the first-year and the fortieth-year practitioners on the front lines.

Image credit:  "Oil Lamp." By Jason Pearce. 1 June 2006. Flickr. Used by permission via Creative Commons Licensing.

1 comment:

Catherine Euston said...

I ordered both books and am very pleased. Great resources!