by Julie Dodd
JEA Mentoring Committee co-chair

Having a break from grading papers, I had time to read Doug Lemov’s “Teach Like a Champion: 49 Techniques That Put Students on the Path to College.” The book is targeted for teachers working with students who typically wouldn’t be planning to attend college (i.e., students in urban schools) but does provide a number of useful techniques for all teachers. High school journalism teachers and those mentoring new journalism teachers and advisers would find the book useful.

The book reminded me of attending a really well-organized and useful teacher in-service. Most of the information was applicable to my teaching or for the teaching of those who I am mentoring. Some of my own teaching techniques were validated. And I finished reading the book with some techniques that I want to try out.

Lemov discusses techniques that he says can help improve teaching — and, thus, learning. He says that not all the techniques will work for every teacher or every classroom, and I’d agree. Some of the techniques are designed for elementary classrooms or for classrooms where the teacher is trying to obtain classroom control, but the book contains enough universal teaching techniques to make it useful reading.

Let me highlight two chapters that apply to teaching high school journalism and advising student media:

Creating a Strong Classroom Culture (Chapter 5) – The concept of a classroom culture especially is important in a media classroom where students are not only “learning” but also are creating a media product — a newspaper, a yearbook, a website, a broadcast program or a literary magazine. Having students adopt a passive mode of waiting for directions or trying to avoid getting involved just won’t do.

Lemov talks about needing to teach students what the necessary work habits are for such a class and how to help students be engaged. The time spent talking about how media organizations operate or the work pattern of a reporter can help students understand the need for individual initiative and personal accountability. A guest speaker from a local media outlet can talk about job duties, organizing one’s time, the consequences of errors, etc.

Those of us who are mentoring can promote discussion with the new journalism teachers about what qualities are different about the culture and climate of a media production class versus other kinds of classes they teach, such as an English literature class. From there, we can help the new teacher consider what techniques to use in making those media classes operate more like newsrooms than the traditional classroom, which will require some different thinking on the part of the adviser but a more engaging learning experience for the students.

Planning That Ensures Academic Achievement (Chapter 2) – When I read on the JEA listserv or other teacher-focused listservs that a teacher is pleading for a lesson plan to use the next day, I’m concerned. Is this a teacher who will take the lesson plan and adapt it to the school’s curriculum and standards or is this a teacher who is teaching day by day by piecing together dozens of other teachers’ lesson plans. Even if those borrowed lesson plans work well for the teachers who created them, that doesn’t mean that those same lesson plans will work for the borrower — especially if those lesson plans are used as is.

Lemov talks about the importance of developing daily lessons based on the big picture of the curriculum (Technique 6 = Begin with the End). Instead of just teaching individual topics or chapters, the teacher should first be thinking of the learning goals or standards. Starting with those big outcomes then becomes the basis of deciding what to accomplish each day.

Those of us who are mentoring can help our mentees think through those big goals and then how to break those down into weekly/daily instruction and then how to organize those lessons to be most effective.

“What should be taught first?” can be particularly challenging for high school media advisers, who need to work with students to create a product that requires dozens of skills. The first newspaper, for example, can’t be just news stories — saving photography, headlines and ad sales until a later edition. So management of what to teach when and to whom is a skill that we can help new teachers work through.

JEA Mentoring Committee member Nick Ferentinos first alerted us to Lemov’s book in a blog post back in March when the book was launched. Nick had read a review of the book in the Education section of the New York Times and noted that the review didn’t discuss the role of mentoring new teachers to help them develop effective classroom techniques.

If you have read Doug Lemov’s book, what techniques do you think apply to teaching journalism and advising student media?

How to help new teachers develop those techniques was missing from the book, also. Strategies for teaching new teachers isn’t included. Lemov said he observed dozens of great teachers to develop his list of techniques, and the book includes a DVD of teachers demonstrating some of the techniques. He briefly criticizes colleges of education for not providing instruction for pre-service teachers on a number of needed techniques, including how to effectively manage class time, but he doesn’t address how to transfer these techniques to new teachers.

Certainly teachers can read the book on their own and assess which of the techniques apply to them and then incorporate those techniques. But an important part of the developing new techniques for new teachers in particular can be having a mentor to talk through the technique and discuss how it could be effectively used.