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A Survival Guide for Remote Teaching: TLAC’s “Teaching in the Online Classroom”

Doug Lemov may be one of the most influential Americans who isn’t a household name outside education circles. Together with his team at the non-profit Teach Like a Champion, Lemov analyzes the techniques that highly effective teachers use. As The Guardian notes, he analyzes them with a highly specific eye, much like a professional sports coach reviewing game film. The TLAC team shares their findings widely in books and trainings, so thousands of classrooms across the country and around the world have adopted the strategies he and the TLAC team identify—impacting hundreds of thousands of learners.

In the months since remote learning became widespread as a result of the pandemic, Lemov and his team have directed their energies to identifying those strategies that can maximize student learning online. They’ve collected their findings in a new book: Teaching in the Online Classroom: Surviving and Thriving in the New Normal.

This week, journal Education Next features a review of the book by Partnership Superintendent Kathleen Porter-Magee. In it, Kathleen notes:

In this age of ever-increasing polarization, it wouldn’t surprise me if Teaching in the Online Classroom gets ensnared in a debate about education reform or compared to the caricature critics paint of instruction in high-performing charter schools. But that diversion would miss so much of what the book has to offer and what its talented team of editors and authors have done from their perch at Teach Like a Champion to elevate the craft of teaching in this time of unprecedented disruption in our schools.

Teach Like a Champion is an initiative run by Doug Lemov and a team of educators who research, analyze, and share the practices of effective teachers. The project is affiliated with Uncommon Schools, a network of 54 charter schools in New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts. Teaching in the Online Classroom, edited by Lemov, is a collection of essays on remote teaching by an array of his colleagues, who spent several months studying videos of effective teachers at work online.

Reflecting the Teach Like a Champion approach, the book opens with a highlight from the team’s observation of a great teacher in action. Eric Snider is leading a remote English class for students at Achievement First Illuminar Mayoral Academy Middle School in Cranston, Rhode Island.

Eric asks if anyone is willing to try to answer a question that they know is difficult. Eric has already told them, calmly and without judgment, that many of them misunderstood a key passage—that the question they’ve been asked to answer is a hard one. Many of the students are undaunted, and they volunteer. “Thanks James. Thanks, George. Thanks, Jaylee,” he says as each hand is raised. He’s showing students that he sees them embrace the challenge. Soon, there are more volunteers.

“It’s a great moment,” Lemov and his colleague Erika Woolway explain in the introduction, “because it reminds us how important it is for people to feel seen.” Before calling on a particular student, the teacher has taken care to acknowledge each one who has raised a hand.

This moment could easily stand as a metaphor for the book’s mission and purpose. While there are nearly 200 pages of analysis, discussion, and explanation of techniques for driving student learning from afar, the heart and soul of this book is about how teachers can put the student at the center of the online classroom…

…It’s important to be realistic about what Teaching in the Online Classroom is and what it isn’t. For starters, Lemov and Woolway explain that this is not a treatise on how we can use the current situation to “disrupt” education with technology. “We’re no futurists,” they explain in the introduction. “We won’t be making any TED Talks on the seamless, frictionless, automatic teaching future waiting for us if we could just embrace technology.”

On the contrary, they are clear that their goal is to make the best of a situation that they hope disappears as quickly as it arose. “We believe the experience of learning online will likely be less productive for most students than classrooms are,” Lemov and Woolway explain. “It’s a sort of second, educational pandemic, and the best way to fight it, we think, is by focusing on the core of the craft: the foundational moves that shape each interaction with young people and that can improve the experience and mitigate its limitations as much as possible.”

At the same time, this volume is decidedly not the Teach Like a Champion version of a distance-learning guidebook. In contrast to the best-selling Teach Like a Champion, which drew upon more than a decade of careful observations, Teaching in the Online Classroom was researched and written in just five months, to ensure it could be in teachers’ hands for the 2020–21 school year. This is a different kind of book for this different era: scrappier, less polished, humbler, but no less useful. It is a survival guide full of practical tips and techniques for classroom teachers just trying to make it through this difficult year.

For Kathleen’s complete review, click here