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I finished reading Teach Like a Champion (TLAC) a couple of days ago and needed to reflect a bit lot before actually writing this post. In my opinion the model presented in TLAC is very heavy into a Behaviorist, Teacher-centric model of teaching i.e. what has been characterized as the “Factory Method”.
A method that relies on “external locus of control” of students, to bring order and subsequent learning to a classroom. TLAC does focus, define and suggest improvements to that model of teaching.
I am basing a lot of this post from my personal experience, not on anybody’s research, so bear with me.
I worked for almost eleven years in a Private Special Purpose School called Good-Will Hinckley (GWH), that relied heavily on a similar behavioral model when I was there. Our population was mostly those students who didn’t succeed in the public schools, special education identified or probably eligible and those coming out of the legal or mental health systems.
I was a Certified Behavior Technician and a Special Education Teacher. With my military background, I did very well in that environment and scored consistently in the top 5 in our monthly program reviews, so I have a bit of in-the-classroom experience using similar strategies to what Lemov describes in his book, especially the behavior parts.
GWH had a token economy, (which Lemov alludes to their use in a couple of places in TLAC), scripting of how to address student behaviors, among other key behavioral components. Reading through Teaching Like a Champion was like going back in time to where it was expected that the staff “had to be in charge”, “control the classroom”, you are “in charge”of students while in class, an obedient student is a good student, etc.
On page 148 of TLAC Lemov states “In fact, my definition of control is “the capacity to cause someone to choose to do what you ask, regardless of the consequences.”
Pg 176 “Command obedience not because you can or because it feels good but because it serves your students.”
Yes I cherry-picked those statements, but they are a general reflection of the tone that is present throughout TLAC. This tone towards how teachers should view students is what I believe caused many teachers or administrators who have a different philosophy, to stop reading TLAC.
The methods in Teach Like a Champion can and do work for many teachers, administrators and some students. I believe that the a behaviorist teacher-centered model or some variation is still officially or unofficially the preferred educational philosophy/system in the majority of schools or classrooms today in the United States. It is not always as successfully implemented as it is shown TLAC, but that is what many teachers, administrators and even parents expect. So for that reason this book remains pertinent.
However, as I have become a more experienced teacher, I noticed that a small but significant number of students either didn’t respond to these methods, chafed after initially making significant progress or simply just didn’t “fit” within the constraints of the constant rules and controls that were in place, to control negative behaviors in the classroom and in the schools.
At GWH we tended to believe that the behavior modification system worked reasonably well for many of our students, so something had to be “wrong” with the student, not the system, when a student failed or was asked/told to leave.
Looking back I wonder if that was the case or was it that the “system” was failing a larger number of students than we believed and the positive results that we had, were skewed by the very high-end behavior student population we served and it was the personal relationships that they forged with the staff became the turning point in their lives, not the “system” that was in place.
I don’t think that numbers told the complete story there, just as they don’t tell the whole story in many instances.
Personally, I now want my classroom to be an inviting place where they will want to learn and grow as independently as they are able, I want to make lasting relationships with my students. However, I also realize that until the students learn the school’s and my classroom expectations, that I will use pieces of my behaviorist background to provide initial guidance and stability in the classroom. As students show they are ready, offer opportunities for more responsibility and independence to allow my classroom to become their classroom.
Isn’t that our objective to have our student become more in charge of their own learning? I know that it is my goal.
Teach Like a Champion is in my opinion worth reading and I did learn some new techniques that will help me in my classroom. Lemov also provided names to techniques that are similar to what I (and many others) have used in the classroom, which provides us a common language, instead of a vague description of a strategy. I will also refer back to this book when I am struggling with certain academic issues to let me reformulate or refine different techniques that I can use to help me teach my students more effectively.
I may not agree with all of Lemov’s underlying philosophies, but that does not mean that I will not take what will work for me from this book and adapt them to a more student-centered viewpoint.
I would give the book 3 stars.