Dr Jim’s Lemov Moments

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At the moment when Jim Henry served as guest educator at the Directors Weekend I ran for the Ladies Association of British Barbershop Singers back in July, I had just spent two months dipping into Doug Lemov’s intensely useful book Teach Like a Champion. Having by then written a good handful of blog posts about how Lemov’s classroom techniques can play out in the choral rehearsal (and having made notes for more posts, which came along later), my brain was primed to spot them in action. And Dr Jim - seamlessly and without fanfare - provided a walking compendium of their application throughout the weekend.

Here are some of Dr Jim’s Lemov’s moments. You can see him in action in the clip above, but these comments come from notes made over the entire three days

  • 100%: This is the principle that you expect everybody to follow your instruction, and thus you do not move on until everyone has. Lemov introduces it as an element of discipline, but, as I have remarked of several of his techniques, the distinction between discipline and content is rather less clear-cut in a choral context. This principle was repeatedly in evidence in all Jim’s sessions - with patience and charm he would repeat whatever he was working on until everyone was doing it reliably.

    Possibly the purest instance came when he said, ‘Congratulations to 97% of you’. In this one short sentence, he drew attention to the requirement of 100% compliance, measured how near the group was to achieving it, and added the Cialdini persuasion technique of social validation into the bargain.

  • Right is Right: This is the related principle that nearly right isn’t good enough. In a choral context everybody getting it (100%) and each person getting right (Right is Right) tend to get elided for practical purposes. But it’s a useful distinction to make conceptually because there will be times when we need to work with individuals to enable to get things right in order to achieve 100% at a group level. Dr Jim was pretty subtle in his work with individuals over the weekend, but his gaze behaviour showed he was carefully monitoring achievement/compliance and directing his eye contact to those who needed the help getting the hang of things.

    I should add: it may have been subtle, but it was part of what made the extensive repetition of small details compelling rather than dull. Every repetition was purposeful and responsive to the learning needs of the people in the room.

  • No Opt Out: Jim is a great proponent of kinaesthetic techniques in rehearsal - the use of gesture as a learning aid for singers as well as a communication aid for directors. Indeed, he cited Ramona Wis on one of his handouts, whose PhD dissertation was one of the first studies in the choral literature to make the connection between Lakov & Johnson’s theory of metaphor as embodied knowledge and musical understanding.

    Anyway, there are all kinds of excellent educational and philosophical reasons to ask singers to participate in gesture during rehearsal, but it’s also a great way to check that everybody is on the case and actually joining in with the learning activity. A more text-book way of making compliance visible I cannot imagine.

  • Name the Steps: 1-2-3-4 breathing takes a while to explain and work through as a technique, as people are not usually accustomed to thinking about ribs, diaphragm, abdominals and transversus muscles separately. But once the concept has been explained, there’s no danger anyone is going to forget how many steps they need to practise.

At a level deeper than these techniques of execution, Jim’s commitment to the development of the individual resonates with that of Lemov. The uncompromising adherence to certain standards of achievement is not about imposing the director’s will, but about a belief that everybody there can achieve what is being taught. In this framework of value, refusing to move on isn’t about stubbornness, but about inclusiveness: no singer left behind.

It is also what necessitates the acquisition of a much larger armoury of rehearsal tactics than you might guess: the challenge of the weekend (well, one of them!) was for anything you might want to work on, think of 20 ways you could address it. If you’re going for 100% and your first five attempts don’t sort it, you need to discover or devise some more methods PDQ. These kinds of expectation should be putting pressure on the director’s resourcefulness and diagnostic powers, not on the singers.

And to finish, a bonus technique - this one is from Daniel Coyle rather than Doug Lemov, but one of the delegates in my class on rehearsal techniques spotted the connection and it was too good not to share:

  • + - + demonstration: This is where you demonstrate what you want, demonstrate it wrong so that the singers can grasp the salient point of your first demonstration, then model the correct version again for them. It is a very efficient and clear way of working on detail. Jim had a habit of, once he had succeeded in teaching everyone how he wanted something sung, asking them to go back to doing it the old way briefly, and back to the new way, and as the delegate pointed out, this employed the same + - + structure, but embedding it more deeply into the learning process.

    While we’re doing cross-references, it also engages the Inner Game principle of Will: if you can change between different ways of doing something, you have developed the capacity to control that element of your activity with conscious intent.

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