“I don’t know” is Not an Option

imagesMoving into Part 2 of Teach Like a Champion 2.0¹, Academic Ethos,  the reader is asked to consider the qualities of “champion classrooms”.  “Champion teachers are always pushing to create an environment in which the maximum level of academic rigor is expected, practiced and valued.” (p.84).  The emphasis on Chapter 3 , ‘Setting High Academic Expectations‘, which presents 5 techniques, is the improvement of the small, iterative interactions, your expectations, as a teacher, and management of students’ responses.  Lemov posits these next techniques are a means toward engineering an ‘academic ethos’ (of rigorous caliber) into each lesson.


noopt2I strongly believe that the ‘No Opt Out‘ technique would be an invaluable tool in any teacher’s toolkit; in fact, it goes beyond “technique”, rather, should invariably be a practice in all classrooms.  All students need to a have an ‘ethos’, a responsibility for their learning.  All students should be accountable and proactive participants in the learning process.   ‘No Opt Out’ ensures that students who “don’t know” or won’t “try” to respond to the teacher are given opportunities to practice getting the right answer.   Moving forward from establishing a Culture of Error, the teacher now strives to achieve a “culture of individual accountability”.   This sections is full really strong phrasing, that reinforces this well-ingrained, yet subtle norm of the American classroom, where a shrug or mumbled “I don’t know” let’s the student off the hook.  “If you’re pretty sure a student is trying to establish his privileged of ignoring your questions when he sees fit, using No Opt Out to revise his expectations is quite possibly the more important than any other objective.”¹ (p.100).    Before delving into the specific strategies of this technique, here’s a quick video clip of a couple teachers using No Opt Out, circling back to students and requiring that student verbalize the correct response.

There are 4 video clips to view along with this technique at www.teachlikeachampion.com, and they all clearly demonstrate that once a question has been asked of a student, they are required to respond with the correct response.   There are four basic formats for ‘No Opt Out’; what’s consistent of all four is that the student who does not initially respond to the question, ultimately is expected to vocalize the correct answer.  The resulting ‘vocalization‘ of the correct response is what is truly engaging about this technique; even if the student in question is unable to arrive at the target response, once given clues or storng direction, either from other classmates or from the teacher, the student must verbally state the response.

  • Format 1:  You provide the answer, the student repeats the answer.
  • Format 2:  Another student provides the answer; the initial student repeats the answer. (Another variation is that the entire class provides the correct answer.
  • Format 3:  You provide a cue; your student uses it to provide the answer.
  • Format 4:  Another student provides a cue; the initial students uses it to find the answer.

imagesIrregardless of the fact that in 2 of the formats suggested above, the student is just repeating an answer provided by someone else; it works towards empowering the student, however subtly, to hear themselves verbalize correct answers.   Ideally, Format 3 & 4 set a higher standard of academic rigor in the classroom; students working towards ‘solving’ for a correct answer by using clues or ‘cues’ given to them by the teacher or their classmates.   Here are some great examples of cues, hints or questions that bolster the No Opt Out technique:

  • The place where the answer can be found   (“Who can tell James where he could find the answer on this page?”)
  • The next step in the process that’s required. (“Without telling her the answer, who can tell Amber what the 2nd step in this equation should be?”).
  • Another name for a term that’s a problem.  (“Who can give John a synonym for the word we’re looking for?”).
  • An identification of the mistake.  (“Who can explain what Ellen might have done differently to arrive at another answer?”).

rigor1 The case studies in this chapter, elaborate on improvements to this technique and describe a means toward “leveraging initial success” toward adding more academic rigor in the classroom.    Providing that the initial student has supplied the correct response, Lemov notices that “champion” teachers, quickly ask the student to respond to a second or follow up question.  Not only is the student #1 not off the hook for the initial question but is expected to stay tuned for question #2.  I love the practicality of Teach Like a Champion 2.0¹ in the amount of resources, examples, videos, key phrasings, and case studies that are available to the reader.

Here is a tutorial video from the Kaizen Teaching School Alliance , http://www.kaizentsa.org/ that utlitizes teaching strategies from TLAC as a resource:




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