MyNotes: Michael Schmoker's Focus on Time-Gobbling EdTech

Over the past few days, as time permits, I've begun reading Michael Schmoker's Focus. I decided to see what Schmoker and ASCD have been promoting the last few years. Of course, I still remember my first impression of Mike Schmoker from when he visited the San Antonio ISD. At that time, I served as a Director of Instructional Technology and Library Services (ITLS as it was known in those days), and I was shocked at what he was suggesting.
My photo of a Lego construction created by Nathan Sawaya

It was a simple message that boiled down to, "Technology is not essential, necessary, or relevant in today's classrooms. We need to be focused on what DOES matter, get rid of the unnecessary." His message about what DID matter excluded technology. In one keynote presentation to the assembled principals, assistant principals, and curriculum directors, their bosses, he destroyed much of the momentum instructional technology had tried to achieve.

The Power of Relationships

I am grateful that the Technology Integration Lead Teacher (TILT) program (old website), as I called it, a new program modeled after my work in Northside ISD as the Pathways to Advance Virtual Education (PAVE) Coordinator/Director, was firmly in place. If it had not been, no doubt, that innovative initiative to promote blending technology into teaching, learning and leading would have died stillborn. Through TILT, I am happy to report that nine cohorts of educators (principals, teachers, curriculum specialists) had the opportunity to see how technology could improve teaching and learning.
Source: My photo of the panel accompanying the lego recreation by Nathan Sawaya shown above

However, those large cohort initiatives are in my past, as well as the past of the many educators. A rising tide of anti-edtech has washed ashore, slipping over our feet, eroding the sand on which we stood. In reading Michael Schmoker's book, Focus, I am impressed again with the idea of a voice crying in the wilderness.

Listening to the Wilderness

"They should have started using their portfolios the first week and begun teaching math, too," a grade school teacher said to me the other day. The consensus was that if children didn't start learning the first week of school, following specific practices, then they had lost time. In fact, when walkthroughs are done in this particular teacher's school, that is what was noticed and stated.

Schmoker highlights several points. I suppose that the biggest challenge we face as educators is that teaching has strayed away from solid tenets into uncertain strategies. These strategies lack the research support that prove them effective. Without the use of effective instructional strategies on a consistent basis, the argument goes, our children don't learn.

Technology IS a distraction.

Shocking as it may be, technology is a distraction in Schmoker's conception of what should be present in the classroom. Time and again, he drives home the points:

  • On page 60, he cites Dylan Williams (2007) research. "Research demonstrates the folly of our current prioritieis, such as investing heavily in technology when it has had, so far, such limited impact on student learning."
  • "Advocates of 21st Century education are not urging us to rashly reinvent curriculum around technology or group projects. They are not proposing that student spend less time learning content and more time making movie previews, video skits, wikis, silent movies or clay animation figures. We need to say 'No, thank you' to such faddish, time-gobbling activities" - Mike Schmoker on Pg 26, Focus
In another instance (page 55), Schmoker shares the story of a highly respected teacher. That teacher, says Schmoker, "is always innovating," engaged in "interdiscplinary teaching,  hands-on activities and lots of project-based learning."

Schmoker goes onto say, his "lessons are devoid of modeling, guided practice, or checks for understanding. He remains highly regarded for his emphasis on active learning, integrating technology into project-based assignments."

What is wrong with what the teacher is doing? Let's review:
  • Innovating
  • Interdisciplinary teaching
  • Active Learning
  • Integrating technology
  • Project-based assignments
  • Lack of teacher modeling, guide practice, and checks for understanding


"We have no right to teach in a way that leads to students gaining less than d=.40 within a year," says John Hattie. That is, no right to waste children's critical time using instructional strategies that fall short of accelerating student learning in a year's time.

Schmoker then spends some time focusing on what we should be doing in the classroom. Future blog entries will explore that.

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


James Willison said…
I have observed first hand the time-gobbling activities to which Dr. Schmoker refers. I observed a middle school Language Arts class which lasted 50 minutes from bell-to-bell. The teacher had posted the objective of "Learning to unpack the writing prompt." She had the students get a tablet from a charging cart and then proceed to log into their accounts so they could use a program called "Cornell Notes." Over the next 25 minutes, I watched as students struggled with their logins, tried to remember how to access the Cornell notes app, tried to remember how to use the highlight and underline features on the app, etc. For more than half of the class period, the only interaction between teacher and students and between students was about how to use the technology. Not one word in regard to the posted objective.

The problem isn't always technology, however. I observed the same time-wasting in another middle school Language Arts class with the same posted objective. This time, however, the teacher was having the students create a "foldable" to be placed in their Writer's Notebook. For more than half the period, the students spent their time trying to imitate how the teacher folded, cut, and pasted a piece of paper into the desired product. Students had difficulty using the scissors, cutting in the right place, folding in the right way. It was a complete waste of instructional time and I suspect the students never did make the connection between the foldable and the objective.

Dr. Schmoker isn't saying that technology in the classroom is bad. What he is saying is that instruction that is dependent upon technology, or designed to accommodate technology, can be a disruption, can use up valuable instruction time, and can interfere with the transfer of learning. I would bet that if you asked many of the students in the classrooms I describe above what they were learning, they would answer that they were learning to use a tablet or learning to make a foldable.
Thanks, James! I've "hosisted" your comment and made it's own blog entry. Be sure to look for it.

I appreciate your comment. The truth is tough, but brutal truths handled with kindness can assist our growth.


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