Charter Schools Standardized Testing Teachers and Teaching

Peg Robertson Eviscerates “Teach Like a Champion”

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Peg Robertson has been teaching for 19 years in elementary schools in Colorado. To say that she is a passionate teacher would be an understatement. Peg is the founder and leader of United Opt Out.

Can you think of a better person to review Doug Lemov’s “Teach Like a Champion”? Lemov’s book is the Bible of pedagogy for no-excuses charter schools. It is used as a canonical text in the Relay “Graduate School of Education,” where successful charter teachers train new charter teachers how to get higher test scores.

To Peg, teaching is an art and a craft, not a science. To Lemov, teaching is a process that can be standardized to achieve the goal of education, which is higher test scores. To Peg, the goal of education is to inspire a love for learning, curiosity, and wonder.

To be fair, Peg reviews only half the book. She read half, then started writing because she disagreed so strongly with Lemov’s advice.

A few snippets:

“To be honest, after reading over 100 pages of the book (there will be a follow-up blog when I finish reading the entire book), I have to say it’s incredibly shallow and simplistic – yet the scary part is the dictatorial demand to keep everything shallow, uniform and simplistic. And as mentioned above, Lemov’s beliefs about “teaching like a champion” are beginning to co-opt what true educators really understand about teaching, child development, and engaging learners. This book is a great primer for reducing learning to uniform and robotic student behavior which is easy to “track” (Lemov’s word – not mine) and manage, in order to get the results that you want. And the results that they want are high test scores. Lemov is clear in stating that this work is gauged via state test scores.

“True learning is incredibly messy, but with an inherent structure in place to support the messiness. Those of us with vast experience in public education know this. And we also know that in order for true learning to occur, we must embrace the messiness, while all along keeping a structure in place to allow for the ebb and flow of learning. We create routines and structures, with student input, to foster an environment which supports student engagement, student learning styles and interests, all the while making certain that our teaching is developmentally appropriate and meeting the needs of each learner. If we have the necessary resources, the autonomy to teach, and a class size that allows for us to address each child’s needs – amazing things can happen. If children have food, healthcare and books in their home we can move mountains. However, in this day and age – having everything necessary for all public school children to thrive mentally, physically, academically and emotionally – is rare, if not non-existent.”

Here are her examples of what learning should be:

“In the 90’s I had great autonomy to teach. The inquiries and projects my students completed would not even be possible under today’s testing conditions. Several of my classes opened restaurants – we literally opened a restaurant in our classroom and charged for meals. We designed the restaurant, shopped for the ingredients at the grocery store, and we made the pasta from scratch in our classroom. Students applied for jobs at the restaurant. We took reservations for parents and district staff to come and eat! Another example was with a sixth grade class in which we created a partnership with a nursing home. Each sixth grader had a friend at the nursing home where we visited weekly to plant flowers, read, sing, and develop relationships with these women and men at the home. The sixth graders interviewed their friends, researched the corresponding time period, and wrote biographies. I had a fourth grade class who researched activists across the country who were making changes in their communities. These students really wanted to know how they could give back to the community. We created our own service learning project and gathered food for food banks and worked at the food banks and served at a soup kitchen. We canvassed the neighborhoods gathering canned goods and other items to support families in need. I had other classes who raised money to end landmines that were harming children – we researched these countries and read about the impact on children and created a public campaign to end the landmines. What is interesting about all of these inquiries and projects is that we could connect them to every facet of our day – math, science, social studies, language arts, music, art, and on and on. Those are just a few of the learning opportunities my students had….”

“On page 12 Lemov states, “Few schools of education stoop to teach aspiring teachers how to train their students to pass out papers, even though it is one of the most valuable things they could possibly do.”

Wow. I don’t even know what to say to that. Perhaps the best thing to say is that that statement pretty much exemplifies the depth of the entire book. Honestly, reading the book and watching the videos is terribly depressing.

The sections I have read in the book so far deal with getting students to answer questions and making sure that the answer is (god I hate this word) “rigorous.” Students must answer questions and if they can’t answer the question they must repeat the answer after another student or the teacher gives the answer. At one point in the book (p.92) he shares an example of a student who doesn’t parrot back the answer and he states that the child will have to come in at recess because this is a “case of defiance.” So – not “parroting” back an answer is defiant? Defiance is defined as a daring or bold resistance to authority or to any opposing force. I personally wouldn’t parrot it back because I’d find it insulting. I’m not a dog who needs to repeat a trick in order to be “trained.” If this is considered defiant I fear for the child who feels the need to scream and throw these worksheets in the trash.”

There’s much more of Peg’s explanation of her keen disapproval of the Lemov model. You will enjoy the review. Meanwhile, I await part 2.

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