Critical Analysis of the Pacing Section of Teach Like a Champion

There is a pattern in the book where, when the writer is properly aware of what he is communicating to his audience, he’s capable of some relatively high-order thinking. This chapter starts inordinately well but, towards the end, unconsciously reveals things about the approach which shows that the human aspect of teaching humans has not been properly considered. This is why people have questioned his level of teaching experience. There are things he doesn’t get that it’s genuinely important that a teacher gets.

The beginning of the chapter contains a sophisticated discussion of the notion of pace in lessons, possibly the best this has ever been done. Lemov understands its complexities and its complications, and it is a shame that these understandings are not remotely evident in most of the videos. His section on ‘Changing Activity Types’ is so good and so original that I will refer to it again, and his nuanced understanding of the nature of, and the rationale behind, transitions is evident and well presented. But this sophistication of understanding is not matched by any such level of understanding by the teachers in the videos. In these, we see that what sounds good theoretically can result in children being under far, far, far too much pressure. The issue with theories is that sometimes they can have unintended consequences when put into practice.

This whole experiment, which puts an analysis of teaching by a highly analytical but not very experienced teacher, has resulted in a pedagogy that makes teaching a technical undertaking rather than a human one. We know what happens when humans are subject to a regime that denies them their humanity. It is unsafe. You begin to suspect that the children in schools that follow this model are not at all psychologically safe.

He begins a disquisition into why it is useful to cut off a kid who has come up with a rambling answer by saying the monosyllabic single word imperatives “pause” and “freeze” and advises that you should keep such instructions positive. Why not just let the kid speak? He’s a kid! Let him speak! It may be the only time he’s ever had the guts, and you’ve crushed him. The children enduring this pedagogy have no voice that is not subject to the control of the teacher.

The insistence of rigid timings for all activities is not the insistence of an experienced teacher. Most experienced teachers run activities to the feel of the room: we do not rigidly stick to timings as we know that an environment in which timings are always stuck to on the nose discriminates against those who start work slower, who have difficulties, who need to lose themselves in the task, who need support to start, who need the task explained again, who just weren’t listening. Often, we’ll ask the students whether they need more time. It seems democratic to do so; it’s their education after all: they should feel some sense of control over it. This insistence on a rigidity of approach, though Lemov does make theoretical accommodations as to why this might be not what experienced teachers do, destroys any idea of learning as being an experience that is in any way enjoyable, that you can get lost in, and I’d suggest that being subject to such an approach could put you off institutions and, indeed, of education itself for life.

Lemov’s brain is entirely suited to the skills of micro-analysis. He is scarily good at it. But that brain isn’t seeing teaching with the correct and professionally appropriate level of empathy for the children subject to the pedagogy that his analytical view has produced. Were he more experienced in the classroom, were he to have made more mistakes, had he been substantially wrong substantially more times, he may have been able to overcome this, to mitigate it, but he published after a limited time in a classroom, and it shows.

There is a question to be posed, then: what vast successes did Lemov have in the classroom that caused him to be such a guru? What was his track record? Alternatively, was he grown in a very specific culture that had little contact with the outside world? What were his experiences of other schools outside of that very culture? Neils Bohr, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and philosopher, once remarked that an expert is somebody who’s made all the painful mistakes it is possible to make in a tiny field. Four years is well enough time to have ideas. It is not enough time to be fully trusted in a profession in which there are people who have been teaching nearly up to ten times as long. There is nothing wrong whatsoever with the theoretical logic of Teach Like a Champion. It looks fine on paper as an idea … on paper. It is a set of ideals from an ideological idealist who does not seem to properly understand what can happen when idealism is confronted by reality.[1] It is all completely logical. It is also, at points, in my opinion, almost completely and very dangerously wrong.




[1] You could put together quite an interesting argument that the devil is an idealist, I think.

Added Thu, 4 Jul 2024 15:11

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