The Chalkboard Bookshelf: Teach Like a Champion 3.0

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The focus of this month’s Chalkboard Bookshelf collection is the popular education book Teach Like a Champion, now in its third edition. It is written by Doug Lemov, who is the managing director of Uncommon Schools, a successful non-profit charter school network located in the northeast United States. TLaC has become a near-ubiquitous work on the shelves of teachers across the country, and for good reason. The author of several books, including Reading Reconsidered (2016), The Coach’s Guide to Teaching (2020), and Teaching in the Online Classroom (2020), Lemov is an influential figure in the school reform movement, and TLaC is largely responsible for his respected status.

Having gone through two previous editions, Lemov has made an effort to include sound scientific backing for each of the techniques which survived into this edition, along with a few more which are new to 3.0. With 63 techniques in total, Teach Like a Champion has a wide array of strategies focusing on the “moves” a teacher can make in order to reach their students. The book is the end result of Lemov and his team watching innumerable teachers with an eye towards specific actions they take in the classroom. It is a massive effort in observation, categorization, and communication, iteratively performed by an author and his team.

Beginning with a new preface, this edition makes it clear from the start that the ethos behind Teach Like a Champion is one which centers achievement for all students, regardless of their backgrounds. This preface is especially important in the face of criticism levied at previous editions, but also is valuable as a read-alone as it confronts those who would lower expectations in a misguided attempt at empathy, an action that hurts the populations it purports to help.

From there, the book delves into its second major addition with five science-backed principles from which each of the 63 techniques finds support. Presumably, the explosion of education books in recent years which are geared towards an audience interested in the science of learning has led to the inclusion of these principles; the book greatly benefits from it.

Lemov’s talent for the elucidation of difficult concepts makes what could have been a confusing section easy to understand and provides a great launchpad for learning more about science-based classroom practice.

The rest of the book is arranged into chapters focusing on one aspect of teaching each. Within each chapter are several “techniques,” or applied steps a teacher can take to improve their classroom practice. These chapters include everything from lesson preparation (chapter 2) to academic ethos (chapter 4) to high behavioral expectations (chapter 11). In total, there are 12 chapters, spanning nearly every major aspect of teaching.

If the chapters are arranged according to their broad strategies, the techniques themselves are the tactical maneuvers used to achieve strategic success. 

Are you worried that you don’t have a clear picture of what your students know? Then read chapter 3, “Check for Understanding,” where you’ll be given techniques for collecting data points on how all of your students are doing, rather than the few “go-getters” who volunteer this information.  Are you worried that you as a teacher are doing more of the cognitive work than the students are? Chapters 7, 8, and 9 all focus on “building ratio,” which means structuring your lessons in a way that students will carry more of the workload than you. This can be done through questioning techniques, structured writing, and habits of discussion. Depending on what your needs are as a teacher, you can either read the book cover to cover, or delve into the chapters which interest you.

Key Ideas

  • Teachers can best improve their classroom performance by focusing on small “moves” which help to create an effective learning environment.
  • There are scientific principles which can help to inform your classroom practice. Knowing these can help you understand and guide your practice.
  • High expectations are not meant to be onerous for a student, but rather to give them the discipline it takes to succeed; this is compassion.
  • You can’t decide what to teach students unless you know what they already know.
  • Students could be doing a lot more than what they typically do in a classroom.

Should you read the book, and why?

A resounding “yes” to this question. Along with a very few other books, Teach Like a Champion, especially considering the changes made for the third edition, is required reading.

Though I would argue this book is especially important for new teachers, even seasoned teachers would benefit. Teach Like a Champion doesn’t try to be what it isn’t; it isn’t a book on curriculum, but if you want to be an effective teacher within the classroom, you won’t find a better guide.

James A. Furey
James A. Furey is a high-school English teacher from Wisconsin. He is a regular contributor to Chalkboard Review and has been published in City Journal and National Review.