Book Review. Teaching in the Online Classroom

Doug Lemov’s Teach Like A Champion made me angry the first time I read it.

It made me angry because after ten years of teaching I still felt barely competent, and the improvements I’d made had been hard fought and difficult. Years of trial and error, of contradictory suggestions around approach, of VAK and brain gym and thinking hats all mixed in with probably really useful stuff that I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to separate from the rubbish.

TLAC made me cross because here, for the first time, were simple actionable strategies and techniques sourced from outstanding teachers all collated in one place. “This would have saved me years”, I thought as I read about effective methods it had taken me ages to stumble upon. “Ha!”, I thought as I read about “rounding up” and recognised it as something I still did.

The best part of another decade on from the moment I first opened TLAC and once again a book curated by Doug Lemov has made me react emotionally.

More on why later. First why it’s useful.

Teaching In the Online Classroom is the closest thing any of us has to a guide for how to teach without children physically present in our classrooms. Lemov and his team, as humbly and respectfully as you’d expect from them, have gone on an expedition into this unfamiliar new normal and brought back the findings of the teachers they’ve found working out there. It’s more of a map than a manual.

In a manner those familiar with TLAC will know well, Lemov and his team have then broken down what they think makes online learning work best, developed language to describe it and then given clear direction on implementation. The book moves from the basics and then gets progressively more involved, which means those using it can work at their own pace and won’t feel at all overloaded.

Each technique has an accompanying video which exemplifies what’s described. Watching these remarkable videos makes me feel a bit weak. They’re a sort of quiet, everyday heroism. Ordinary teachers, exposed and way out of their comfort zones, often sharing their homes with their classes, doing all they can to replicate the wonders they do with children in front of them through a screen. These teachers, as we all do, have every excuse not to bother; to use the scale of the challenge in front of them as an excuse to fold to passivity and inactivity.

But they have not and they do not just as we have not and we do not.

They experiment and they improve.

They make children feel known and important.

They treat their work with a seriousness that shows without words how much their pupils mean to them and how profound they understand their responsibility to be even at this, the most difficult of times.

My one criticism would be the title of the second chapter “Dissolve the Screen” should really have been the title of the whole book because this is the thread that runs right the way through it; an understanding schools are wonderful things missed by us all, and the best we can do when we’re now allowed to be all together is to make it feel as if we are. 

And it isn’t just Lemov’s teachers who are doing this.

It’s all of us.

It’s all of us struggling to do right by our pupils in a world none of us asked for or wants to live in. All of us working the long hard and frustrating hours trying to make a quiz work so we can better know whether what we’ve taught has landed. All of us with the honour of being welcome in someone else’s classroom to learn from what they have learned. It’s all of us, every day, trying to things that make us uncomfortable better because we know how important it is we get good at this new thing that both is and isn’t teaching.

And Teaching in the Online Classroom knows all this. It isn’t a bossy tome on what we’ve all been doing wrong. It doesn’t scald or sneer. It’s a love letter to our profession at a time we need one.

It’s a call to arms and it’s weapons to fight with.

I know you’re busy. You should still read it.


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