Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Teach Like A Champion: What Worked

When I first told my parents that I was considering becoming a teacher and that I had started applying to grad school, they were interested but maybe on the verge of skeptical. However, when I told them that it was in lieu of becoming a whitewater kayaker professionally and moving to Asheville, NC, they became more intrigued. My dad told me one time that the only other thing that he ever wanted to be was a history teacher, however my grandfather said an engineer or the army were his options, coincidentally he wound up doing both. I did ask my dad if he regretted it. He has always told me that he doesn't regret anything because then we wouldn't be where we are now. This is a value that I hold true every day.

So, after this announcement to my parents last year, the first thing my dad gave me was a copy of Teach Like a Champion - he is the master of finding "the best resources." I had read this book prior to arriving in my program, so as we started working through from the Digital Classroom course to the Baltimore as Your Classroom course, I began recognizing elements from the work. I was less than surprised that it was our text for our seminar. Little did I know how both effective and difficult some of the strategies are, not just to implement but to be consistent. However, if I have learned anything from the past months in the classroom - consistency and ultimately predictability is absolutely key.

For the past two weeks I attempted to effectively implement some of the strategies outlined in Doug Lemov's collection Teach Like a Champion. I focused on No Opt Out, Cold Call, and Wait Time.

No Opt Out (A student is called on and does not answer, the student is then returned to for the final answer) - The first time I tried this strategy was while I was doing the class warm up everyday. I started it with a class that is very quiet when they get called on and sometimes will simply just say "I don't know" for everything, and of course that results in about two students answering everything. What a surprise. Anyways the first time I did this I think I received the closest mortal equivalent to the eyes of satan drilling through my body in a way only an eighth grade girl is capable of. But she answered. And she does nearly every time now, or at least I receive the truly confused eyes not eyes of the laser death ray. More interestingly, it created more of a class culture of helping each other find the answer to questions. I use the phrase "Can someone help him out." And then once the answer is reached, I return to the student and for the most part they then elaborate on the answer if possible.

Cold Call (Calling on a student regardless of it their hand is raised) - I found this technique both tricky and effective. There are some students who when called on are not paying attention and it becomes a refocusing tool as they scramble for a response or look to their peers for assistance. On the other hand there are many students who have answers that they are prepared to respond however for whatever reason, being shy, looking cool, not feeling like raising a hand, then have the opportunity to answer and let their voice be heard in the classroom. I believe that this technique was familiar to the students because their science teacher also uses this technique both straight and through the use of popsicle sticks with the students names on them. He says "I am drawing an opportunity."

Wait Time (Delaying a few seconds after asking a question to give students a moment to think) - I believe that this was the most important technique to use with students because it gives the students who are eager to answer a moment to actually think of what they want to say other than just that they want to answer, you know the flailing hand waving type, and it gives the students who need time to process a moment to work through the question. I found it very important to use care with this when coupling it with Cold Call because I did not like it when I knew I caught a student who was still working out their thoughts. This really resonated with me because as a kid I would not talk in class because of this very thing, it is something that I still have issues with.

Conveniently enough I received comments from my university observer that I was using these strategies well and that she specifically noticed me use them during one of my observations. That definitely made me aware of their effectiveness. Additionally, for the students the use of these strategies has made an impact in their understanding of the expectations for the class. They have demonstrated their understanding by being much more inclined to be on their toes and paying attention during the warm-up and I have definitely seen a substantial increase in the number of hands raised.

Oh, and the Death Star has not been present in the classroom in a while.

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