Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

07.24.15100% Upgrades (Video)

While watching video of teachers this morning, I had a realization about 100% that I’m eager to share. Ultimately, it’s going to cause me to rewrite that section of TLaC 2.0, and because of that I am going to use the opportunity to describe a few other edits to 100% that I think are important as well.

The epiphany involves one of the most important concepts in building positive culture in the classroom: Least Invasive Intervention (Technique 53 in TLaC 2.0)–the idea that you want to fix it when students are non-productive or disruptive with the least amount of disruption possible.  After all, if you stop teaching to give a student a ‘talking to,’ or even call him or her out briefly, everyone is ‘off task’ because there is no longer a task to attend to.  Everyone is watching you intervene instead.  This often makes corrections more emotionally intense for students because they are more public. It also provides them with the opportunity for further distractions and disruptions. So when you stop the lesson to address one student, you can unintentionally cause more students to get off task (what we refer to as the “death spiral”).

One of the key ways to avoid the death spiral is to do what Ashley Hinton does in one of my favorite Teach Like a Champion 2.0 videos: lots of small non-verbal corrections while teaching.  But one of the things I noticed in watching video of Uncommon Collegiate Charter High School’s Erica Lim is that she achieves almost the same result with a tool I’d previously discussed as part of Strong Voice: the Self-Interrupt.  For the first time, I realized that this skill really belongs on the Least Invasive Interventions scale since that’s its purpose: to reset the student(s) with the least possible cost to instruction and with maximum privacy. For example, watch Erica here. At the 13-second mark, she uses the Least Invasive Intervention to remind her students to listen carefully. Obviously, a big stop—“Guys, I need you listening”—would be disruptive to her own teaching, but instead of using  the gestures Ashley uses, Erica’s uses her voice to Self-Interrupt. The brief break in her words reminds students to listen more attentively in the least invasive way possible.  (If you want to see another example, you can watch Juliana Worrell use both non-verbals and a Self-Interrupt here).

Watching Erica caused me to revise our guidance on Least Invasive Interventions to reflect that non-verbal interventions can come in the form of visual reminders (Ashley) and Self-Interrupts (Erica). Having non-invasive tools like these to correct enables you to catch distractions early and to fix them before they become big enough to merit a consequence. This is really important for reasons I’ll come back to.

While I was editing the least invasive list, I added a level 0 to it—basically another reminder that prevention is better than cure, and while “discipline” (teaching students the right way to do familiar tasks in the classroom) is critical to that, so is technique 52, Be Seen Looking. In other words, preventing off-task behavior before it starts by intimating (again at almost no cost to instructional time) that you see and care what students do in the classroom and especially whether they follow through on what they are supposed to be doing. Here’s a video of Sean Gavin at Uncommon Collegiate Charter High School doing that. Notice how he swivels his head and cranes his neck very quickly but also intentionally to let students see that he’s looking for their follow through. He cares what they do and he notices. This is the best medicine there is.

While I was at it, I made another change. In our workshops, we used to define the key idea behind 100% as 100% compliance, 100% of the time, 100% of the way as the expectation. But I think the word “compliance” was problematic. It fails to remind one that the purpose for making sure students are always on task is to engage them in rich and rigorous learning, such as a Close Reading of Julius Caesar (which Sean’s kids are engaged in).  It’s sometimes easy for teachers who’ve suffered through a disorderly classroom to forget that the order isn’t for its own sake, but for learning. And for other people the word compliance just bothered them. Anyway, we revised our language to be clearer, and it now reads:

Revised Key Idea for 100%: Ensure that 100% of students are with you for teaching and learning, 100% of the time, 100% of the way.

On a related note, there’s a lot of conversation going on about how to rethink discipline in schools—and justifiably so. Some people have tried to argue that orderliness is unjust. This is a simplistic and narrow view. Orderliness prevents major behavioral incidents that require suspensions and this is one of the primary reasons to be a great manager of behavior and culture—to be able to fix things when they are small and to build a culture where kids can’t really imagine doing anything that could get them in bigger trouble. The way to keep kids in the classroom—even challenging kids—isn’t to drop expectations, but to execute on expectations with skill, finesse, warmth, and caring.  And those things are a lot easier to do when teachers: 1) Know how to solve problems and 2) Do it before they are mad at kids.

Here’s the updated chart on Least Invasive Interventions:

Least Invasive


4 Responses to “100% Upgrades (Video)”

  1. August 5, 2015 at 1:04 am

    I just discovered this resource and have signed up for the newletter. I’ve been teaching for 10 years in California….second career for me. I love it. I think your website is uplifting.
    100% Upgrades, 100% true.
    Thank you.

    • Doug Lemov
      August 10, 2015 at 12:54 pm

      Thanks so much, Elsa. So glad you love teaching and so glad we can be helpful!

  2. David Robinson
    January 6, 2016 at 7:15 pm

    I think one of the reasons why you do least invasive interventions that you don’t mention is to keep the student’s dignity in tact. Sometimes I take issue with your book because it sounds so much like you are trying to control children and that it can seem as if students are doing these things because they want to misbehave or because children are inherently bad or tough. Our intentions and thoughts behind things are just as important as our actions. If one teacher is using nonverbals because he thinks that the students are not paying attention because they don’t care and he needs to show them he knows what they are up to, it will come across very differently than a teacher who is using the nonverbal as a friendly reminder because he understands we all get off track sometimes and need reminders and he doesn’t want you to miss this important part of the lesson. Even in the videos you show, you can read between the lines of the actions and make assumptions about which teachers actually believe in the kids and which ones don’t and are exerting authority. It’s a gray area, but I think it gets overlooked sometimes in Teach Like A Champion. The actions and tools you give are great and I use them all the time, but our philosophy on children and what they need and why is just as important – and kids pick up on it.

    • Doug Lemov
      January 6, 2016 at 8:25 pm

      Thanks, David, for your thoughtful reply.

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