Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning.

by: Mike Schmoker.

Chapter 1: The Importance of Simplicity, Clarity and Priority.

The underperformance of schools can be directly attributed to a failure to implement three simple well-known elements: becalming curriculum, sound lessons, and authentic literacy. (Page 9)

Literacy is still be unrivaled but grossly under implemented, key to learning both content and thinking skills. But authentic literacy is categorically different from the so-called reading skills and pseudo-standards that have rock such havoc in language arts. (Page 11)

We will never master or implement what is most important for kids if we continue to pursue multiple new initiatives before we implement our highest priority strategies and structures. (Page 15)

Priorities are fragile and high maintenance. Without frequent repeated clarification we start to drift from them. Successful organizations aren’t enamored with novelty technology or complexity. They implement what is already known. (Page 16)

It’s this simple: if we want schools to be better, we have to monitor the implementation of our highest priorities. School children will continue to wait until we monitor and ensure that our priorities are being implemented. (Page 18)

Adelai Stevenson High School’s Focus:

  1. Direct teams of teachers to create and help each other implement common curriculum for every course
  2. Direct teachers to ensure sound, ever-improving instruction and lessons. (Page 22)

Chapter 2: What We Teach!

Strategies for Teaching All Students:

  1. Adequate amounts of essential subject area content, concepts, and topics
  2. Intellectual thinking skills
  3. Authentic literacy – purposeful reading, writing, and discussion as the primary modes of learning both content and skills  (Page 26)

The most simple obvious tasks that prepare students for college, careers and citizenship: meaningful reading, writing, speaking, and thinking. (Page 28)

Content undergirds critical thinking, analysis, and brought her informational literacy skills. To critically analyze various documents requires engagement with content and a framework within which to place the information. It is impossible for instance to critically analyze the American Revolution without understanding the fax and content surrounding that event. Rotherham, 2008. (Pg. 31)

Under-developed literacy skills are the number one reason why students are retained, assigned to special education, given long-term remedial services, and why they fail to graduate from high school. Tirozzi and Ferrandino, 2004. (Page 34)

The most valued people in the 21st century can survey a wide range of sources, decide which is most important and worth paying attention to, and then put this information together in ways that makes sense to oneself and ultimately to others… They will rise to the top of the pack. Howard Gardner 2009. (Page 34)

Smoker presents a strong argument for reduced standards power priority standards page 40 through 49.

Chapter 3: How We Teach!

Even in the worst schools the most simple, ordinary teaching strategies overcome all other factors by significant margins. This is the most stunning finding to come out of education research in the past decade. Ripley, 2010. (Page 51)

The single most important determinant of success for students is the knowledge and skills of that child’s teacher. Goldberg, 2001. (Page 51)

We must resist the default mechanism that directs us to study and learn more rather than to take action using what we already know. Peter Block. (Page 52)

We cannot afford to over complicate the elements of effective instruction. (Page 52)

4 Components of Effective Instruction: “There’s nothing new here. These terms were formalize almost half a century ago, but their essence is as old is teaching its self.”

  1. Clear learning objectives.
  2. Teaching/modeling/demonstrating.
  3. Guided practice.
  4. Checks for understanding/formative assessment. (Page 53-54)

There should be four or five of the following cycles in any class period. They are: the small steps, the modeling, and the most important the multiple cycles of guided practice informed throughout buy checks for understanding. (Page 66)

Two Recommended Instructional Frameworks (Both are extensively detailed with examples, tips and suggestions):

  1. Interactive Lecture: and direct teaching: for the focus is on the teachers words in directions but students take part in lots of pair sharing, notetaking, or quick writing.
  2. Literacy Based Lessons: read, talk, and write, with a focus on any text which requires more lengthy treatment and would used more often then the lecture template in most subjects. (Page 68)

Teachers should talk for no more than 5 minutes before giving students an opportunity to process the new information. Silver, Strong and Parini, 2007. (Page 72)

Every few minutes we should let students process the new learning by:

  1. Reviewing their notes and adding any new insights or connections
  2. Summarizing their learning in the last segment of the lecture
  3. Pairing up to compare or contrast notes perceptions and connections. (Page 72)

The simple, age-old template all described here consists of the following three parts, usually, but not always, in this order:

  1. Reading – Close reading/underlining in imitating of text.
  2. Discussing – analytically interacting verbally with the text and students
  3. Writing – about the text informed by close reading, discussion or imitation. (Page 74)

The interactive lecture and the simplest versions of formative assessment work for anyone. They increase achievement independent of the personality of the instructor. Mazur, 197. (Page 70)

Intensive amounts of reading and writing are the soul of learning. (Page 75)

We will never educate all students until we appreciate the value of time and stop preventing them from engaging in immense amounts of reading, discussion, and writing. (Page 75)

7 Steps to Using Literacy to Teach Any Content:

  1. Teaching vocabulary.
  2. Stabilizing a purpose for reading.
  3. Modeling higher order reading.
  4. Guided practice in formative assessment.
  5. Independent practice and assessment.
  6. Whole class in’s discussion and debate.
  7. Student writing with reference to text. (Pages 77-88)
More to come from the second half of the book…
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