Better Teaching through Practice
Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better
By Doug Lemov, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi with a forward by Dan Heath
(Jossey-Bass/Wiley, 2012 Learn more)
Reviewed by Renee Masterson
“Admitting Error clears the Score, And proves you Wiser than before.”
The first step of improving any practice often begins with admitting that things could be done differently. In Doug Lemov’s book, Practice Perfect: 42 Rules for Getting Better at Getting Better, teachers are thoroughly exposed to the importance of honing teaching skills inside and outside the classroom in order to more effectively serve students.
Several times in this book, teachers in the classroom are paralleled to coaches on the playing field. Both are influential in a young person’s life; however, unlike coaches, Lemov notes that teachers often fail to practice ways to enrich their methods to better facilitate student learning.
Lemov offers 42 explicit guidelines for becoming a better teacher. These rules are designed to be rehearsed with colleagues; moreover, most of these improvement strategies can be carried out in as little as ten minutes each day. They include making a plan to practice, modeling and describing your teaching style, isolating a skill set, shortening the feedback loop, and creating a fun atmosphere for teachers to hone their teaching skills. Though these practices are simple (yet powerful when applied), Lemov stresses a quality work ethic because “practice makes permanent.” People may “assume that practice is something that stops when you get good. Practice implies a judgment. It assumes a lack of competence. But of course this isn’t true.”
This book allows teachers to reflect practicing before teaching, provides example plans of how to practice with fellow educators, outlines models for teaching, describes ways to constructively communicate feedback to colleagues, attempts to change the culture of schools and the attitudes of teachers, and illustrates proven ways in which educators can make the newly learned skills second nature. The guidelines in Practice Perfect, Lemov says, must be applied and carried out in the classroom on a daily basis in order for students to personalize their learning experience and for teachers to effectively support the learning environment.
I personally appreciated the insight that this book provided for functional application within the classroom. I was able to find positive ideas that allowed me to shift my focus from one of no need to practice my skills outside the typical school day, to one that thrives on actively practicing and implementing these techniques in the classroom with the expectation of improving instruction.
Because deliberate practice to become a better teacher was essentially a foreign concept to me, this book was revelatory. And it also showed how I could practice with and learn from fellow teachers. Lemov does not just say, “Here’s a bunch of things you should and shouldn’t do as an educator. Good luck.” Thankfully, he gives a detailed outline of how I can incorporate these practices within my school and describes real-world examples of how practicing has created better educators.
In the Appendix, Lemov generously provides practice activities to carry out with other teachers. Just as students gain from feedback, teachers, too, need to receive feedback on their teaching styles from time to time. Lemov not only provides helpful hints for interpreting feedback, but also for supplying feedback to my colleagues when we practice becoming better teachers. We are all responsible for providing the best education for our students, and working together to ensure that our methods are top-notch for our students is imperative.
As a pre-service teacher, I am just beginning to see how practicing specific elements of an educator’s role will be vital to my teaching efficacy. Practice Perfect opened my eyes to the need for this profession to be practiced just as doctors need to practice their surgical skills and athletes need to practice the particulars of their respective sports. I would recommend this book to every teacher dedicated to his or her students. There is so much to be learned, and the 42 rules Lemov recommends provide an excellent framework to pursue our professional growth.
Renee Masterson, a native of Indiana, is currently a graduate student at Mississippi State University where she is pursuing a Master’s degree in Secondary Education. She received her bachelor’s degree in Biological Sciences in 2012 at the same institution. Renee aspires to actively engage high school students in the learning process of various science disciplines for real-world preparation and application.