The first tip I ever got about teaching from a mentor-professor, Dr. Kenneth Burk, was that the students need to know how much you care.  He had a reputation as being one of the best professors and he cared deeply about his students.  I use his approach to teaching as my foundation.  I’ve continued my talks with professors over the years to discover powerful teaching techniques that increase students’ learning.  When I was the chairperson of the Childhood Education Department (now a program within the Teacher Education Unit), I sustained my quest through discussions with professors and through reading books about teaching.  I remain passionate about teaching and continue to explore ways to improve.  In previous blogs, I referenced a book by Ken Bain entitled, “What the Best College Teachers Do.”  This is still one of my favorite books about teaching.  The book I am reading now is, “Teach Like a Champion: 49 Teaching Techniques That Put Students On The Path to College” by Doug Lemov.  The target audience is K-12 teachers and teacher candidates, but anyone who teaches can find valuable insights in this book.

Many of the techniques Lemov presents are familiar, but there are refinements and language that make them more powerful.  Today, I share two techniques that I am using in my class this semester that are making a positive difference. The first one is called, “Right is Right.”  Lemov talks about setting a high standard in classes.  He writes, “Many teachers respond to almost-correct answers their students give in class by rounding up.  That is they’ll affirm the student’s answer and repeat it, adding some detail of their own to make it fully correct even though the student didn’t provide (and may not recognize) the differentiating factor” (p. 50).  I admit to doing this before.  He further said, “In holding out for right, you set an expectation that the questions you ask and their answers truly matter.”  Lemov provided some language for teachers to use:

  • “I like what you’ve done. Can you get us the rest of the way?”
  • “We’re almost there. Can you find the last piece?”
  • “I like most of that….”
  • “Can you develop that further?”
  • “Okay, but, there’s a bit more to it than that.”
  • “Kim just knocked a base hit. Who can bring her home?”

The second technique is one we all have used, but becomes even more powerful in combination with the Right is Right technique.  This second technique is called, “Stretch it.”  Lemov said, “When students finally get an answer all the way right, there’s a temptation, often justified, to respond by saying “good” or “yes” or by repeating the right answer, and that’s that.  Just as often, though, the learning can and should continue after a correct answer has been given…  So it’s great to remember to respond, as many champion teachers do, to right answers by asking students to answer a different or tougher question or by using questioning to make sure that a right answer is repeatable, that is, the student knows how to get similar right answers again and again” (p. 55).  Lemov says to ask how or why, to ask for another way to answer, to ask for a better word, to ask for evidence, or to ask students to integrate a related skill so that deeper knowledge is obtained.

Teaching excellence is of paramount importance to me and is a primary focus at SUNY Plattsburgh.  As a community, I feel it is important that we speak about teaching excellence with each other.  In addition to speaking to each other, we also have The Center for Teaching Excellence as a resource.  Our exploration supports a continuous improvement model that enriches our lives and the lives of our students.  Please talk a moment to share by replying to this blog with a teaching technique that has made a difference in your classes – don’t be shy; click on “Leave A Comment” under the title of this blog.

Lemov, D. (2010). Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques that Put Students on the Path to College. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.  http://www.amazon.com/Teach-Like-Champion-Techniques-Students/dp/0470550473#_