The limits in “teaching like a champion”


Everyone seems to have fallen in “love” with techniques from Doug Lemov’s Teach Like a Champion. Prior to reading this tome, I was none to crazy about Mr. Lemov (as you can see from my comments here). Now that I’ve started reading this book, I can’t say I’m impressed. First his techniques have been around for a while. Look at this description of a consultant I had in my class four years ago, using a number of Lemovian techniques (there is some other stuff there that isn’t, I’m referring to more to the third paragraph).

But, who cares if they are “new” if they work? Frankly I don’t think it will, because of the lack of attention to culture, which Lemov tries to play as a “neutral” stand, and some experiences  with similar strategies to Lemov’s in a culturally diverse classroom and having the strategy fall on its face. For the big picture,  Diane Strasser in her review of Teach Like a Champion, points out how deliberate Lemov is in a “de-cultured” approach and the short comings of this (look under the sub-heading “The Limits of “Data””). I’m going to take us down to the level of practice and a specific technique he recommends to show how this approach can fall short.

Tom Hoffman pointed to this review on Amazon that hits on squarely on how the “no opt-out” strategy may be completely inappropriate for specific students because of cultural norms, and their status as language learners (the reviewer cites Latina females). At my school, we’ve been doing a culturally-based program that has some no opt-out strategies aimed at African American populations. These have proved difficult with other student populations in our school (Mexican American and Hmong language learners).

Practices like “no-opt out” seem may seem neutral on their surface, but they go against the grain with a number of cultural groups, and with some types of personalities in any group of students. A recent workplace training discussed the difficulties that this strategy presents to Hmong students. The trainer shared her own experience and that of her sister as students being “forced” to give answers in front of class, and how uncomfortable this was for them, to the point where her sister was having stomach problems. Teaching should not produce anxiety attacks in our students.

I’ll also offer this quote from an earlier post on “no opt-out” reflecting on other factors to consider:

…(S)ome African American kids are shy too. Not every black boy is a budding Chris Tucker. Attributions of loquacity and verbal fluency to a culture are ALWAYS generalizations, and there will be exceptions (I also have some real Hmong chatter-boxes, go figure). If they are special education students, whatever their race or culture, they will have issues about responding, and you will need to build that same safety net that ELLs need for them to participate.

Beware of global solutions to your classroom management, and if you have a diverse classroom, knowing your students, and knowing which approach will work with which student is not going to be something you learn in a book, but with practice and by having a good ear.

4 Comments to

“The limits in “teaching like a champion””

  1. January 25th, 2011 at 8:00 am      Reply Lemov Fan Says:

    Have you tried any of the other 48 techniques? You seem to be stuck on no opt out. Just wondering.

    • January 25th, 2011 at 10:10 am      Reply alicemercer Says:

      1. I picked this particular technique, because we were doing a version of it at my school, and it did not work. I also thought it was a good example of why a “de-cultured” approach has short-comings.
      2. If you look at my companion post to this, you’ll see suggestions on how to do checks for understanding more effectively with ELLs. In that sense I’m not rejecting the idea of checks and accountability, just making it work.
      3. I would not reject all of Lemov, the problem is that he offers a “complete” program, and parts of it are not appropriate for teaching all students (even though he makes that claim). I usually find something useful even from those I’ve been very harsh in criticizing. See the link above about the consultant that had some techniques that Lemov writes about. I think I was rather scathing in my assessment of that particular “expert”, but I still use some of her organizers and techniques for activating prior knowledge.

      Lemov may work for you. It may be that all those classes he video-taped in are similar to yours. You may be teaching a “teacher-proof” population. I teach a population that is not like the schools that Lemov observed in. In some ways, I teach a rather unique population having Hmong students, and having them mixed in with black, and Latino students. Cold calling on students and demanding an answer in front of their peers requires more finesse than is provided in his book. In that sense it’s incomplete. I could see my peers frustration with this, and so I addressed it. I could go through each technique, but I’d rather focus on what I KNOW is not working, especially when it is a critical problem.

  2. February 3rd, 2011 at 9:44 am      Reply Dina Says:

    I think Alice’s point is well taken. For me, it’s not that Lemov *should* have written something that applies to every single schooling context– obviously, that’s impossible. However, his work lacks the “finesse” that Alice is missing, not even acknowledging the possibility of cultural and social differences in our classrooms which might run up against the effectiveness of his techniques. He does not analyze his data from the cultural or social perspective, either– I would have liked to have seen that.

    I should say that in person, his presentation is far more acquiescent than his writing style. How that reflects his actual thinking on the matter, however, is unclear to me.

    • February 3rd, 2011 at 1:14 pm      Reply alicemercer Says:

      Thanks for the comment, the review, and the incisive thinking.

      I should mention that in your piece in ASCD, you mention some techniques that you did use and found useful. I was already doing some of the techniques that Lemov suggests, some of the same time management/scheduling routines you mentioned. I have to say some of them are very reminiscent of Harry Wong though, which has been around for a donkey’s age. This means that there is some value in this book, but like many books of this type (i.e., Harry Wong), they can never cover it all (but they will promise that they can).

      Now, I’m thinking about what is the one technique that might be universal to all “good” teachers. My initial instinct is that some of the teacher questioning techniques (not the cold call, but others) or some version of them may be used in a variety of settings from hippy-dippy non-time structured classrooms, to no-excuses charters, but I need to do a re-read. I don’t know why I find that intriguing but I do.


  1. The limits in “teaching like a champion” | Reflections on Teaching « Parents 4 democratic Schools

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