Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

09.14.16Dept of Synergy: Feign Ignorance Meets Reject Self-Report

The TLAC team has been thinking a lot lately about combinations of techniques.  What are the techniques that work well in synergy?  What are the peanut butter-and-jelly, pairings of techniques where the melding of flavors makes the whole more than the sum of the parts? Why do such pairings and groupings work so well?  What’s the impact on kids, culture, and achievement?

For example, we’ve observed teachers use Cold Call to effectively “backstop” their Turn and Talk. Turn and Talk used without Cold Call can work to engage students around a topic or question, but when turn and Talks are used without Cold Call, they lack accountability. Simply adding a Cold Call changes the Turn and Talk entirely, increasing both Participation and Think Ratio. Other pairings include Do it Again and Positive Framing, Wait Time and Cold Call, Self-Interrupt and Square Up Stand Still…the list goes on.

My colleague Erica Woolway had an insight about one such pairing while watching a magical clip of ace music teacher John Burmeister leading an orchestra practice.

We love to study new combinations of teaching tools that work well together.  Consider John Burmeister’s orchestra practice, which we watched last week. One of our favorite techniques from Check for Understanding is using Targeted Questions to Reject Self-Report.  Instead of teaching a concept and then asking students “Everybody got it?” when the answer is almost always a mumbled “yes” or collective head nod, we see teachers replace these moments of Self-Report with a brief set of Targeted Questions to briefly Check for Understanding before moving to the next part of the lesson. For example, “What’s the difference in shape between a plant and animal cell?” “Which one has cell walls?” “Which one has chloroplasts?” “How do you know?”  This is Check for Understanding in action.

What we love in this clip of John is how he adds yet another technique here to Reject Self-Report and Targeted Questioning – Feign Ignorance. He playfully pretends that he doesn’t know the answer and leverages the levity of his feigned ignorance with some stellar CFU (not to mention Cold Calling).


John Burmeister.Feign Ignorance and TQ.Blog from Uncommon Schools on Vimeo.

This is how it unfolds:


John: [Pausing the entire orchestra] “What do I see there? What’s the road map? What should I do now? Go right onto the coda right? I’m the teacher you’re the musician, I’m right always right? Go right onto the coda?  You’re going to disagree with me Jaziel? You better defend your answer.” (This playful bit of Feigning Ignorance gives kids the opportunity to show Mr. Burmeister what they know. It’s a critical time to pause the orchestra to make sure that they know where to go next, and why. He engages them in this brief bit of Check for Understanding by pretending not to know himself.) What do I do now, Jaziel?

Student 1: “Go back to the beginning.”

John: “The very beginning, great.”  (More Feign Ignorance to playfully make sure the student is specific in his answer.)

Student 1: “Not the very beginning.”

John: “Oh, not the very beginning?”

Student 1: “When you see the sign.”

John: “Oh, I go back to that sign.  What measure number Celia?” (Reject Self-Report and a Cold Call by the way. John calls on Celia and her peers even though their hands aren’t up. This helps to keep them in the game, but he’s smiling as he does it. It’s fun to be in the game.)

Student 2: “Three.”

John: “Ohhhhh, I get it now. I get it now. And then I play the whole thing again right?” (Feigning Ignorance here to get other students engaged in the back and forth.)

Student 3: “No.”

John: “No? What then Matthew?” (Reject Self-Report and a Cold Call, Matthew is in the game now too.)

Student 3: “You play to get to the coda and the Cadenza del fortissimo clear to the coda and then play it again. ”

John: “So I play to the ‘to coda’ at what measure Lizzie?” (Reject Self-Report and another Cold Call)

Student 4: “Um, 34.”

John: “Ok, and then I jump to where Cleo?” (Reject Self-Report)

Student 5: “You go back up.”

John: “Oh my gosh.” (Normalizes error a bit here.  This signals, “This is hard stuff.”)


John has 29 students in his orchestra – all playing in unison.  If he doesn’t briefly review the complexity of where to go next in the music based on the coda, then he will soon have 29 students playing different parts of the piece.  Lots to learn from his application of these techniques with his musicians and consider how we could apply them in other subject areas.  The combination of the lightheartedness of his Feigning Ignorance mixed with the accountability of his Cold Calling with Targeted Questions sets extremely high (but also enjoyable) expectations for his kids. A great combination of techniques for maximum effect – as always, thanks to John for this great clip, and for teaching us about yet another useful way of combining techniques.


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