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A leading teacher of teachers says feedback should be used fast

Good teachers are not born; they’re made slowly, over time, through sustained and deliberate practice.

That’s the theory behind “Practice Perfect,” the new e-book by Doug Lemov, managing director of the Uncommon Schools network of charter schools and author of “Teach Like a Champion,” a 2010 book with 49 concrete strategies for improving student engagement and classroom management. (GothamSchools’ Elizabeth Green wrote about Lemov and his approach in a 2010 New York Times Magazine story.)

“Practice Perfect” aims to provide similarly user-friendly ideas — 42 of them — for attaining  incremental improvement. Lemov and his co-authors, two of Uncommon Schools’ top educators, say the strategies would be useful in any field — but they are particularly apropos for teachers, whose performance carries high stakes for their students and, increasingly, for themselves.

The city’s current teacher evaluation system lets educators know whether they are considered satisfactory, but it doesn’t tell them about their strengths and weaknesses in the classroom, or how to build on them. The city is piloting an observation model now that would give teachers more feedback about their performance.

But feedback is meaningless if it does not change practice. In an exclusive excerpt from “Practice Perfect” in the Community section today, Lemov outlines ways to make feedback more useful.

He describes testing out a teacher observation protocol in which teachers received one item of praise and one suggestion for improvement immediately after delivering a three-minute lesson — and then were required to repeat the lesson incorporating the feedback right away. Lemov writes:

One benefit of this structure was its implicit accountability: it was hard for teachers to ignore the feedback. For one thing, it was public. Six or seven people had heard them get it; they were explicitly asked to try it just a minute later. It would be egregious not to try it at all. Another benefit was that after the feedback, the role play went back to the beginning — it was a replay of the same situation, not a continuation of the role play in which the requisite situation may not have occurred. This made the opportunity to use the feedback a reliable event. A third benefit was that the coach got to see right away if his or her feedback was effective — and this was important too since we were training instructional leaders whose job was to give effective feedback.

Read the entire chapter in the Community section. “Practice Perfect” is available as an e-book now.