Teach Like a Champion: A Guide for the 21st Century?

Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov is a book that came out in April 2010. It has the byline “49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College” and comes with a DVD of real teachers demonstrating 25 of the techniques in the classroom.

The author, Doug Lemov, is the managing director of Uncommon Schools in the USA which aims to prepare low-income students for college through an education that differs from that offered by the mainstream “common school.”

Lemov conducted research into what exactly are the magical elements that make a good teacher and found that it is not simply a natural ability but a combination of applied techniques.

There seemed to be a lot of hyped discussion around the release of this book on blogs, Twitter and even through a (very lengthy)  New York Times article.

Having read some very positive reviews of Teach Like a Champion and after seeing some short video clips that appeared powerful, I decided to buy the book.

I find that a lot of documents from government bodies that outline effective teaching techniques are unnecessarily wordy and unspecific. For a systematic and logical person like myself, this jargon can be frustrating. I was therefore looking forward to reading some clear, concrete and specific teaching techniques.

It turned out that my initial excitement soon waned as I turned each page and watched each chapter of the DVD.

Granted, there are some useful techniques in the book and I did agree with some of the 49 techniques, such as

  • Cold Call – discourage hands up and expect that all students will have a contribution to make. I have been using this technique since reading the book and am finding it very useful. It encourages more class participation.
  • Strict and Warm – the book noted that these don’t have to be contradictory terms and I agree. Strict yet warm is the approach I like to take with my students.
  • The Joy Factorsometimes I feel like I over plan and have so much I want to fit into a week that we don’t have time for a game or a singalong. I was reminded of the importance of allowing time for some “fun and joy.”
  • Wait Time – giving students time to think after asking a question. I’ve found this important so that the students can think more deeply and compose a quality answer.

My main criticisms of this book and DVD include

  • the “chalk and talk” method was the primary means of instruction; teacher out the front, students sitting in rows. The approach taken appeared to be more teacher-centred rather than student-centred
  • there weren’t any examples of using technology and collaborating, communicating and creating
  • the focus in a lot of the classrooms was on facts and drills
  • there was an emphasis on probing students to utter an answer that is correct in the teacher’s mind rather than encouraging creative and independent thinking
  • the focus of the book is about preparing students for a college education rather than preparing them to be active, useful and creative citizens in the 21st century.

Teach Like a Champion

What are your thoughts on Teach Like a Champion?

8 Replies to “Teach Like a Champion: A Guide for the 21st Century?”

  1. Tamra Lanning says: Reply

    Thanks for your comments. I am just starting the book (finally) as it just arrived in the mail last week. I can certainly relate to your criticisms. I must say that I’m a little bit disappointed, though! I had such high hopes for this book after watching the videos and reading the news articles. I will share my thoughts as well when I finish.

    1. @ Tamra, I was very disappointed too because I really had high hopes! Love to hear your thoughts when you’ve got through the book. I think there are certainly some positive aspects although they seemed to be weighed down the negative! They publicised it well I guess 🙂

  2. Tamra,
    Our High School staff heard Mr. Lemov speak on National Public Radio in the US, and read the article in the New York Times. I too was very excited to see these techniques in action.

    I could not agree more with your critique! Every example is “teacher-directed” with students in rows. To me this is training, not teaching. The students may be able to regurgitate the facts and do well on the standardized tests currently the norm, but I see little so far that helps prepare students to become life-long learners. Very disappointing!

  3. Thanks for your review of this book Kathleen. Much as I love to hold books and read novels when I’m on holiday at the beach, I have to say that I truly believe that the “next new thing” will be published (probably collaboratively) online.
    In fairness to Doug Lemoy, I would guess that he was aiming this text at American teachers. I am not American, nor do I pretend to be an expert on the American Education System, however from the outside looking in, it certainly appears that the American system is heavily standard driven. We all know that when teachers are pressured to tick so many boxes, teach to tests and collect hard evidence for every tiny little statement about their students, creativity is suffocated.
    Perhaps this book is so teacher-centered and fact-driven because it is a reflection of the cultural bias of the writer?

  4. Thank you for reviewing this book for us, Kathleen. Your views are insightful.
    I was wondering if the author’s cultural bias is the problem here?
    I assume the author is American, is he? Firstly I must say that I am neither American nor an expert of the American Education System, but from the outside looking in, the US system certainly seems very standard-driven ad stressful. It would appear that many teachers are feeling pressured to achieve so many targets and to produce hard evidence of each that teacher-directed lessons, ticking boxes and teaching to the test becomes inevitable. And as we all know these practices are the certain enemy of true creativity!

  5. @ Susan,

    Yes the author is American and that is a bit of a problem. While the US system is standard-driven, unfortunately we’re starting to see a bit of that here. However I hate to think we would have to sacrifice creative and collaborative learning for drilling for tests!

    I was actually quoted in an Age article yesterday about Doug’s book becoming popular in Australia.

    Unfortunately, the reporter made it seem that I was negative about strategies such as Cold Call when I actually love this strategy; just not for the drilling exercises that appear on Lemov’s videos.

    Anyway I do wonder if Lemov’s work will become popular in Australia as The Age article suggested or if Australian teachers will see past the rigidity of his taxonomy!

    Time will tell I guess,


  6. Sorry guys but I think you have missed the point of the book. There are a myriad of small actions that one can take in a class that enables the learning process to proceed with the minimum amount of interruption. Yes I agree that it is very formalised and when I began reading the book I almost gave up but the I started to see some of the strategies that I had developed myself over a forty year career. I wish that this book had been around when I started.
    Sure all the strategies are not for me but even after all my experiences there was something to learn. I am a firm believer in grouping and explorative learning, I use ICT whenever I can and there were no computers when I started teaching, however, there is a place for explicit teaching and Lemov’s strategies can help.
    We should always be prepared to look for new or old methods that work. Too often we throw out the baby with the bathwater and if you read all the work around Lemov you will see that he set out to find out what similar in successful teacher’s classrooms.

    1. Mrs Kathleen Morris says: Reply

      Hi Chris,

      I think you misunderstood me. I am a huge believer in a having a structured classroom with clear routines and explicit teaching. This is definitely the way I work!

      As you can see from my post there are a number of strategies I enjoyed however I still stand by my criticisms if you are looking at a balanced 21st century classroom.

      I appreciate your comment and am happy to agree to disagree 🙂


Leave a Reply