Teach Like a Champion — Self-Assessment Strategies for Teachers
- Grades: 6–8
There are more than 132,656 school districts in the country that together enroll over 60 million students. Amongst that population, 72% are judged “academically on track” or at grade level. Approximately 85% attend public schools that require them to receive at least 180 days of instruction. Roughly 3,800,000 teachers are assigned this task. In 2010, American students ranked 17th in the world, and critics suggest that the United States has not done enough to encourage the highest achievers (see, for instance, the February 26, 2011, Center for Education Reform report "K–12 Facts").
As teachers, we can all attest to the increasing challenges that come with our jobs, whether it be adapting to the new common core curriculum, adjusting to changes to our evaluation system, or meeting the various needs of all of our students. At times, the pressure can feel overwhelming, especially with the elevated public scrutiny on our ability to be a “good teacher.” This begs the question, exactly what do good teachers do?
Teach Like a Champion Book Study
Each day millions of teachers get up in front of their classes and hope that their instruction will make a direct and immediate impact on their students. I always ask myself, “Is this technique really working?” or “How could I do this better next time?” and a cycle of self-assessment quickly spins out of control. As a special education teacher, I feel added pressure to close the sometimes enormous academic gap between my students and their peers while simultaneously teaching them grade level curriculum. As if on cue, this fall my district announced a book study on Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College, which my fellow blogger, Ruth Manna, lists on her top 10 books for teachers. Since I had never taken part in a book study, I was slightly skeptical about the benefits of one. However, it didn’t take long for me to see that this was the perfect opportunity to meet up with like-minded colleagues to collaborate and to assess our performance in the classroom.
Before our initial session, we were to read the foreword and first few chapters of the book and choose a few techniques to commit to trying. As a group we then discussed our findings, and the results were surprising. Despite the fact that a multitude of grade levels and subjects were represented, everyone seemed to share concerns about their classrooms. Moreover, we were anxious to try out different strategies in the coming weeks.
Lemov suggests that “teaching is an art,” and he has filled his book with a wealth of tools that can help make the most of our instructional time. It is divided into two parts: the essential techniques and helping students get the most out of reading (critical skills and techniques). To see each method in action, a companion DVD with clips from real classrooms is included. I chose the strategies that addressed my students' greatest areas of need, and hope that you will be inspired to try them out in your classroom as well.
Draw the Map
We spend so much time focusing on what we teach that we often forget to manage our physical space. I grapple with this issue because I want students who struggle with socialization to have opportunities to work with their peers closely and to develop friendships. However, this tends to cause problems while they're taking notes because students have to look over each other’s shoulders to see me or the whiteboard. It also can invite disruptions from those who are easily distracted. Lemov suggests drawing a map of your lesson and planning your room setup accordingly. This doesn’t mean frequently shuffling around desks; rather, think of the main points of your lesson and decide what configuration best complements them. Something in between seemed the perfect fit for my room: paired-up desks in traditional rows. So far it has worked out wonderfully. Make sure to manage your walls as well: minimize clutter to avoid distraction and overstimulation. For more suggestions, see Addie Albano's post "Middle School Setup Inspired by Dr. Seuss." Post important tools such as:
- Key vocabulary terms or word walls
- Pictures that represent concepts
- Work exemplars
- Rules or consequences
“What things are on your walls that don’t need to be? Nominate five to take down.”
“What are the five most useful and important things you could put up to help your students do their
work? Are they up?”
Once your lesson objective is complete, post it on a designated spot in your room so that students (or administrators) can quickly find it. I was at a training recently where we received “place mats” of the common core standards that I quickly had laminated and then hung on the theme board in my room. After hitting each target area, I highlight it so that I can easily tell which standards I still need to address. This has helped tremendously in regards to memorizing the newly added strands, and has made me more aware of my curriculum plan.
“Do I have an objective each day with my lesson that is clearly definable to my students? How do they know what it is?”
Right Is Right
This concept revolves around setting a high standard of correctness in your room and maintaining it. In short, it is the difference between being a “pretty good" answer and a "100 percent correct" answer. I’ve learned that students quickly realize that a partial answer that is affirmed is better than no answer at all. A "right is right" teacher holds out for the correct response only. While I encourage my students to take risks, I also insist that they keep going, even if it means extra “look up” time. The result has been students who are more accountable for presenting correct answers in class and who are truly learning from classroom lectures.
“Does my vocabulary encourage the acceptance of partially right answers?”
How do you strive to teach like a champion in your class?