Are you rounding up student answers? Teach like a Champion.


“Deep in thought” by RPatts on Flickr

An essential part of being a better teacher, manager, student or leader is the ability to review and refine your practice and to be open to new ideas.  I am currently reading a book “Teach Like a Champion: 49 techniques that put students on the path to college” by Doug Lemov.  Lemov is managing director of a group of ‘Uncommon Schools’ who are independently run charter schools aiming to be high performing regardless of social profile of the students.

Some may consider the advice in the teaching manual to be for new and inexperienced teachers but there is something there for everyone who is keen to refine their craft and improve the performance of their students.

Lemov has sought out and observed high performing teachers, especially those from schools whose level of social deprivation is preventing students from achieving. He has identified common themes and techniques that can be applied in your classroom now and will improve performance.  These have been organised into areas:

  1. Setting High Academic Expectations
  2. Planning that Ensures Academic Achievement
  3. Structuring and Delivering Your Lessons
  4. Engaging Students in Your Lessons
  5. Creating a Strong Classroom Culture
  6. Setting and Maintaining High Behaviour Expectations
  7. Building Character and Trust

Within these seven areas are 49 techniques, each with catchy names (Precise Praise, Sweat the Details, Right is Right), simple explanations and successful case studies. I am part way through the book but a technique that grabbed me in Setting High Academic Expectations is Right is Right.  This is my summary of that section.

Right is Right

This section is about having high expectations for ‘correctness’ in the classroom.  A partially correct answer is not good enough in the high achieving classroom.  There are a number of ways that teachers can ensure that students are always fully correct and are achieving the highest standards. 

1. Hold out for all the way

Teachers try to encourage students and stay positive but their rounding up of answers lulls students into a false sense of security.  Consider the situation

Teacher: Katie, how will the introduction of computers into the factory affect the workers?

Katie: Well, they won’t be very happy!

Teacher: Right, they won’t be very happy as the new technology could mean that they would lose their jobs.

The teacher has ‘rounded up’ Katie’s answer here and set a low standard of ‘correctness’.  Katie may feel happier and more confident but this confidence is misplaced as she would not get the marks in an exam situation.  This situation is all too familiar in the classroom; it’s important that Katie is told that she is ‘almost there’ but that she is not completely correct.  The teacher can improve Katie’s performance in the final exam by using simple techniques.

The teacher should praise the student but prompt them and assist them in expanding their answer to be fully correct.  They can do this by using phrases such as

“You’re getting there.  Can you expand that answer?”
“That’s part of the solution.  Can you complete it?”
“Can you develop that answer further?”
“Okay, but there’s a bit more to this answer than that”

2. Answer the question

Students can often answer the question they WANT to answer rather than the question that is being asked.  Quite often they can get away with that as the teacher is delighted that they have learned something and can recall it, but the teacher should stick to their guns and insist that the question asked should be answered.

Example

Teacher: Who can tell me what a high-level language is?

Tim: C++ is a high-level language.

Teacher: Thank you Tim but C++ is an example.  I am looking for a definition of what a high-level language is.

3. Right answer, right time

We’ve all had the keen student who want to demonstrate their understanding by jumping ahead of the question that you asked.  This is fine for that student but it doesn’t help the other students in the class who need the process to be broken down into the manageable chunks that you originally planned.  It also creates the impression that the pace of understanding is much faster than it really is.  

Effective teachers should tactfully but forcefully ask the student to explain the NEXT step, not the whole process. They should then carry on as they originally planned the delivery of the material.  This is not to say that if you should not move ahead if the whole class has genuinely understood the concept faster than you expected.

4. Use of technical vocabulary

This final point is about getting teachers to not only use technical vocabulary in the classroom but to expect it back from students and not ‘round up’ the vocabulary.  Great teachers should insist on precise technical vocabulary.  

In Lemov’s book he illustrates this with video clips, one of which shows a maths teacher asking a student about how ordered pairs of co-ordinates work.  The student answers that “the x-axis comes first and then the y-axis”.  Many teachers would accept this answer as it is or ‘round up’ and say “That’s right, the x co-ordinate comes first and then the y co-ordinate”.  In this scenario the student probably wouldn’t even realise that their technical vocabulary was wrong.   The teacher in the video clip questions the student to coax the correct vocabulary out of them and then insists on them answering the question in full using the correct technical vocabulary. 

Summary

Regardless of whether you are new to teaching or have been teaching for a number of years, “Teach like a champion” allows you to identify the little things that make a big difference in the classroom.  I have already used some of the points in my classroom and will be using some of these suggestions for staff when observing lessons for professional development and mentoring. 

Teach Like A Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students On The Path To College (Doug Lemov) is available from Amazon.co.uk 

RRP: £18.99
Sale Price (at time of publishing): £13.67

Amazon also have a live preview where you can read a sample of the book before you purchase.

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