The New York Times Magazine just featured a few teachers who are changing the way American elementary school classrooms work.  Doug Lemov, a leader of the movement, is coming out with Teach Like a Champion, a book of his teaching tenets, and you can see his neat instructional videos HERE.



One key to teaching math would be knowing the common mistakes students make about the manmade, intimidating things we call “numbers.”  As Elizabeth Green wrote in the NYT article, “It’s one thing to know that 307 minus 168 equals 139; it is another thing to be able understand why a third grader might think that 261 is the right answer.  Mathematicians need to understand a problem only for themselves; math teachers need both to know the math and to know how 30 different minds might understand (or misunderstand) it.”  In other words, a good math teacher remembers what it’s like to manipulate numbers for the first time, and anticipates students’ mistakes.


The best teachers in any field are probably those who can anticipate the mistakes most people would make.  I think of effective teaching as similar to the talent it takes to give directions in a place that’s badly marked.  If the roads to a cabin aren’t clear, you might tell a visitor something like, “when you hit the lake, take a right.  It might be confusing, because there are two ways to turn right, but take the sharpest turn.  If you’ve taken the correct turn, you’ll see a tackle shop on your left in five minutes.”


That is, a good teacher can remember where the usual wrong turns are.  She remembers what it’s like to see some piece of land for the first time--before the habits of familiarity kicked in.  A good communicator gets in the head of the person she’s talking to, so that she’s delivering information at its most effective level.


What do you think makes a teacher a good teacher?  I’d be interested if the videos of Lemov’s tenets, captured HERE, seemed as effective to you as they did to me.



Ilana Simons is a therapist, literature professor, and author of A Life of One's Own: A Guide to Better Living through the Work and Wisdom of Virginia Woolf. Visit her website here.




by Moderator Melissa_W on ‎03-12-2010 01:09 PM

Some of the best teachers are ones who truly listen to their students, like in the paragraph above: "A good communicator gets in the head of the person she’s talking to, so that she’s delivering information at its most effective level."


You can throw 100s of homework problems at a student but until you understand where that student goes off the rails the extra work won't help at all.

by on ‎03-12-2010 06:11 PM

Excellent teaching techniques on the video.


Being flexible with students  - They will respond in a more positive manner. Encouragement.  Listen to them as an individual.  Eye contact.

by on ‎03-12-2010 08:55 PM

Some of what I previously said was directed towards older adults.


Fifth graders can punish you beyond your wildest imaginings.  Structure in lesson plans is very, very, important.


I know K-6, and believe me, you have to be one step ahead, and out-think them!  Learn who your students are.  Learn how they think.  Anticipate, anticipate, prepared!  When I talk to people on these boards, I think like a 12th grader...yeah, I elevate my anticipation and expectations a tad, here.

by on ‎03-13-2010 03:53 PM

When I said, I think like a 12th grader, that was meant to be a joke, more or less.  But, there really are times, here on these boards, that you do have to know these people who write, by watching them write their sentences;  how they write, and what they write about.  You see the interaction of many, many people on these boards.  Some people can be the most stubborn, and write the most insane things, forcing you to think like they do, to truly understand the way to approach that person with your replies.  Again, a form of out-thinking them. 


This past week, we had a situation in which a few of us tried to maneuver a concept around a participant so it would be easy for her to understand.  She started by putting us all on the defensive.  Our reaction was just that, a reaction.  Four different approaches, four different writing styles, to no avail....and I ended my thoughts by drawing a very elaborate picture.  I'm such a visual person, that's the bottom line to my approaching someone who really can't get it.  Unfortunately,  it doesn't always work.  There are just some adults with already preconceived ideas, and nothing.....I mean nothing, and no one, can change that view of that participant.  Adults are probably the hardest ages to teach, especially where it comes to concepts in behavior.


I'll try to recall these different age groups I've taught.  I've never really defined them before.  I was lucky to be able to stay with each child through these years.  This isn't always the case, because each year a student gets a new academic teacher.  In teaching PE, and art, I kept them all as students.  I watched them grow and develop in their own right.  I found that initially, my time was spent in giving them boundaries in social behavior.  That was always the main issue from the onset of the year.  Because of teaching PE, I learned to use both hand signals, as well as using a whistle, to instruct, and move physical bodies. Verbal language on a loud playground is sometimes impossible, unless you want to loose your voice...which I did when I first started out teaching.  So I'm familiar with this usage of sign language.  I also observed all of the teachers I worked with, in their classroom.  Some didn't stop talking.  Some were loud.  Some were quiet.  Some rewarded.  Some reprimanded.  Some were excellent teachers, some shouldn't have become teachers.  So many personalities, and so many teachers teaching what they know to kids who don't have a clue.  These kids were from all different backgrounds.  Five hundred kids learning how to learn.


I think back to Kindergarten.  In teaching these little ones, they are the most innocent of all the ages in school.  They are giving, and they are accepting.  They are shy, and some just come bounding out to you with a ton of exuberance, wanting to suck up all kinds of fun stuff you can teach them.  The more you can see their level of thought processing, the closer you can get to what appeals to their ability to learn.  Whatever you bring to them, it needs to please them, as they want to please you.  From coloring a picture, to cutting a piece of paper, arranging puzzle pieces, working out numbers and shapes and sizes....all the different ways of expressing themselves within these new concepts of learning.  You need to hear what they are telling you as an individual.


The first grader shows the child in a more open environment.  They can now see and start to associate themselves within this large space around them.  They feel more comfortable, but still shy of it.  Still hesitant of the teacher, and others around them.  This is the age where you really have to work on getting their confidences built.  In themselves, and in their association with their peers, and in you as a teacher.  Trust is a big issue at this age.  Consistency in your teaching approach is imperative.  Children want and need consistency, positive reinforcement, and know that you care about them as an individual.  Respect is also taught, throughout all ages.


The second grader is probably my favorite age to teach.  They are now more receptive to you, and to what you are saying to them.  They are little magnets that love that attention, and the more positive your approach, not continual reprimands for bad behavior, or wrong answers..Etc.,  they will come around to you the fastest of all students.  It's a love affair of the minds.  It is really a beautiful age.  They aren't rebellious enough to be disruptive in a classroom.  You give to them, and they will reciprocate with their attention.


The third and fourth grade, I can generally put together.  They are developing as individuals.  That individual can turn positive, or they can turn negative.  It all depends on several things.  Home environment, home room teachers, and peer association.   More social attitudes comes into a perspective they aren't always ready for.  Positive guidance is important.


At the fifth grade level, they've learned a lot, and have grown, physically, at a fast rate.  This can either be a good solid age,  being eager to learn, or it can be that turning point where attitude adjustments are needed, because it seems to be an age of testing...and their bad behavior is taken out on everyone around them.  Misconceptions are common.  What they see is not always the truth because their minds will skew these visuals.  They put more trust in their peers.  They can do and say no wrong as a group, in their eyes, and their eyes aren't always trained by a good teacher, or parent.  I've seen this happen.  They test their teachers.  Again, consistency on your part is always, always what they need.


Sixth grade is a rewarding age to be around.  Full of imagination that is eager to interact with more imaginations.  Creative thoughts, and visuals in art concepts evolve.  To both teach, and learn from these kids, I find this a wonderful age.  I can ask questions of them, and they can help find answers that we all can learn from.  Give and take on both sides.  Expectations are opened up, and talked about.


I was lucky in my short time as a teacher, because I was able to grow along with these kids, and get to know each one as if they were my own.  By the time I was teaching, my two daughters were already grown.  I learned a lot from these K-6 grade kids, things I wished I had learned years ago.  it was some of the most rewarding years of my life.



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