It is encouraging to see “Teach Like a Champion” being, er, championed around the Twittersphere, and wonderful to see people posting pages from the book and others cooing and cocking their head in curiosity and wonder – with an open mind. Why you would do anything else?
I have heard rumours that there are some people that call it “teaching by numbers”, or similar. Having read the book, I find it hard to make this work in my mind. I do have some sympathy with teachers who come across the ideas and say that it is nothing new. However, it does not pretend to be. After all, the book is billed by Lemov as a “Field-researched guide” to the best strategies and techniques that he has pulled together from master teachers whose impact on pupil outcomes is proven. Rosenshine garners similar criticism from certain corners (Tom Sherrington has written about this in detail. Link below).
What the book talks about is not doing something new, but doing something well. I hope Dylan Wiliam will forgive me for misquoting him as I recall he sensibly suggested “Let’s stop looking for the next big thing, and start doing the last big thing properly”.
A year or so ago, I shared a document which was named Rosenshine vs. TLaC. In it, I linked Rosenshine’s 10 Principles of instruction to some of the Strategies in Teach Like a Champion. It started out because I was keen for teachers at our school to look at TLaC through another lens – we have invested in the strategies and I wanted to find an efficient, visual way for teachers and coaches to identify and name action steps which would have a linked strategy. A discussion piece, to lift the petticoat on some undiscovered techniques which appear in the book. I suppose it was inspired by Tom Sherrington’s wide sharing of the research paper itself (pre-book), OliCav’s wonderful poster and the genius that is the Scope and Sequence from “Leverage Leadership” (Bambrick-Santoyo).
I wanted to collate a few thoughts on the Rosenshine vs. TLaC poster and thought I could do it here – for clarity – we do not grade lessons in our school, have not done so for 5 years and our coaching system operates completely separately from QA – there is no link and no “reporting back” to SLT. Ever.
- Everyday is a new day
Every class everyday presents a new challenge. Experience can bestow expertise but does not denote it in every circumstance. The most reflective and honest practitioner in any field will always seek to fine tune skills and improve knowledge: building, developing and seeking out a “frustrating” catalogue of known unknowns to keep the job interesting and make them more effective at their chosen endeavour. It would be hard not to find something to reflect on in one of the 10 principles or the 62 techniques which would help as you look back on a lesson which left you feeling like something wasn’t quite in place. Don’t get me wrong – these research pieces do not encapsulate all that it is to be a teacher. As an excellent teacher once said to me, aged 12, when looking into the exception that proved the rule in a particularly challenging piece of grammar “Justin, every horse has four legs, but not everything with four legs is a horse”. I think about this a lot.
2. What no scaffolding? “What to Do” (TLaC 57) EX vs AC
With this in mind, I did run into some problems when carrying out this mapping exercise, it was necessary to make some small tweaks to one of the techniques, and having done this, a gap began to appear. In TLaC there are excellent techniques for creating the conditions for modelling, scaffolding and guided practice. There are excellent videos demonstrating how to incorporate positive framing and how not to “show your tell” when creating a “Culture of error”. All potentially yielding effective instructional environments. However, when you begin to cross reference with Bambrick-Santoyo’s techniques in “Leverage Leadership” for data driven instruction – where close analysis of data gathered in class (back to TLaC again with “Tracking not Watching”) informs a requirement for a re-teach or whole-class modelling of identified concepts or problems – then the detail begins to thin out. The answer I came up with was to modify “What to do”, a routine based technique for giving instructions about preparing for activities, and add EX for explanations and AC for incorporating scaffolding to enable all learners to reach the high levels of academic rigour/challenge planned for. I posed this question to Doug Lemov in London on a Reading Reconsidered Training course in December 2019. Lemov was typically magnanimous and considerate – not dismissing me out of hand or pointing to obvious areas of the book that I might have missed. Instead, indicating that he was not yet done and further publications were in the pipeline! Looking forward that.
In the meantime, to build knowledge and develop applications in this area we are fortunate to have people like Stephen Tierney (@leadinglearner on Twitter) who writes about scaffolding effects here:
3. Novice vs Expert
The real impact of this poster has been, unsurprisingly, among novice teachers who – now more than ever are being directed to get to the root of what makes people learn. It is not a case of what makes it nice to learn, or what will make people “happy” to absorb the perfect subjunctive / water cycle / Battle of Hastings – but how can I deliver this material so skilfully and be as certain as possible that it has been understood and retained? It is such an exciting time to be a teacher – so inspiring to have all of this incredible opportunity and expertise at our fingertips. Many expert teachers have been exploiting techniques to achieve learning in this way for years. Clearly and accurately naming the steps has, in my experience, been less widespread. Now, with the proliferation of, and wide exposure to, this type of research we can all find a way to talk about what works and how to improve it.
When coaching more experienced teachers, sometimes it is appropriate to use this document as a discussion point, for example with a particular class to improve the culture or when complex content means instructional efficacy falters. At other times the subtle nuances of pupil output may require a more tailored approach – analysis of in-class data gathering techniques, use of this data, lesson study type activities, assessment review through data driven instruction activities (again, care of Paul Bambrick-Santoyo).
4. Convergence vs a culture of “no”
It feels to me as if currently there is a convergence that goes beyond the language. The wide acknowledgement of the four simple pillars of culture, pedagogy, assessment and curriculum that has seeped out through the teacher standards for years is writ large across popular research-informed literature. The circle is visible and the ends are meeting. That tiny dose of “the practicable”, which you held out for in order to sweeten the bitter pill of nonsense which made up the majority of the terrible courses of yore, has grown in quantity and availability. We have, for example, the Early Career Framework – which is, quite frankly, galling to see arrive 20 years too late for me – new teachers of today rejoice!
Yet it is not everywhere – the culture of “no” persists. There are those who still think it is ok, literally, to make things up and share them. People who can profit from saying what is not: the wonderful British quirk of finding success and turning on it. The “Ofsted don’t want this” list is exactly the same as the recent and very damaging “Ofsted does want this” list that it purports to be rejecting. Caveat Emptor!
5. Science and Nurture
Much of the core of these developments is couched in the coalescence of cognitive science and teaching. What a joy to be able to clasp at the the coat tails of scientific surety, and to witness the same messages coming through loud and clear. Pragmatism and rigorous context specific choices are key. Panaceas are not on the lunchtime menu in education – nothing comes easily, or for “free”.
The desire that teachers all share, to develop the minds of young people into curious, capable, independent systems with which to operate the world around them will, with luck and determination, win out over the petty disagreements that persist – but not, I sincerely hope, at the expense of successful strategies which support the effective education of young people.
I cannot help thinking that a lot of the debate around the various merits of Teach Like a Champion et al might come from the difference between the function of a school and the function of teaching. While these things are interconnected they are at their heart different. Teaching, in essence, is about ensuring learning happens. Schools are about that too – but they have a greater stake in the child. Teachers are providing building blocks of knowledge in their subjects within the large edifice of learning that a school both literally and figuratively represents.