MyNotes: Schmoker's Focus - What Works

In reading Mike Schmoker's book, it's easy to see that he has a message aligned to his goal of "simplicity, clarity and priority." In this blog entry, I'll try to capture some of the main ideas.

My Notes


  1. Three simple, well-known elements:
    1. common curriculum
      1. topics and standards organized by a team of teachers from school/district that is taught
      2. power standards should be about half of what is contained in our standards documents
    2. sound lessons or how we teach
    3. authentic literacy
      1. purposeful, argumentative use of reading, writing and talking
  2. Why Simplicity is important
    1. Jim Collins: "Foxes aen't simple; they are 'scattered and diffused, moving on many levels'. That's why they fail. Hedgehogs, with their simple, singular focus, succeed because they commit entirely and exclusively to 'what is essential and ignore the rest.'"
    2. "“attain piercing clarity about how to produce the best long-term results, and then exer cise the relentless discipline to say, ‘No thank you’ to opportunities that fail the hedgehog test” 
    3. Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton are the authors of The Knowing-Doing Gap . According to them, leaders resist simplicity; they are often irrationally enamored with novelty and complexity , which prevents them from focusing on and implementing their core priorities. The result is stagnation or decline.
    4. successful organizations aren’t enamored with novelty, technology, or complexity; they know that “success depends largely on implementing what is already known”
    5. Schools need to learn the lesson that "best practice" in effective organization is rarely new practice. 
    6. Organizations must determine their highest priorities, their focus...their one thing.
    7. Organization should then expend organizational energy clarifying and simplifying those priorities.
    8. Clarity is the antidote to anxiety...if you do nothing else as a leader be clear
  3. In Schools...
    1. the principal monitors the implementation of curriculum and the elements of effective instruction by conducting one or two brief classroom walkthroughs each month
    2. principal meets briefly with teachers quarterly to discuss end-of-quarter evidence of student performance (e.g. gradebook data, books read, papers written)
    3. if there is a concern, teachers are asked to observe and meet with others (pineapple charts anyone?)
    4. teachers teach the way they are expected to; if not, they do not return the following year

What is Taught - a Guaranteed and Viable Curriculum

  1. "Content matters...any educators need to be clear on the relationship between content and and our ability to think and reason"
    1. "The ability to analyze and to think critically requires extensive factual knowledge . . . facts must be taught, ideally in the context of skills and ideally beginning in preschool and even before" (Willingham, 2009b)
      1. “The most valued people in the 21st century,” writes Howard Gardner (2009), are those who “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 make sense to oneself and, ultimately, to others . . . [they] will rise to the top of the pack”
        1. Primary intellectual skills to impart to K-12 students, a.k.a. "habits of mind" and "standards for success:"
          1. Read to infer/interpret/draw conclusions.
          2. Support arguments with evidence.
          3. Resolve conflicting views encountered in source documents.
          4. Solve complex problems with no obvious answer.
        2. Arrange for the common standards not to consume more than 15 or 16 weeks out of an 18-week semester; that leaves some room for teachers to teach their own preferred topics or units.

        How We Teach

        1. Essential parts of a good lesson:
          1. Clear learning objectives: it is a topic, skill, or concept selected from the agreed-upon curriculum
          2. Guided practice: teacher must allow students to practice or apply what has been taught or modeled while s/he observes and guides their work. This should include for students to work in pairs and in groups
          3. Checks for understanding/formative assessment:
            1. between each step in the lesson, teacher should conduct formative assessment by checking/assessing to see how many students have mastered that particular step
            2. common forms of checks for understanding:
              1. circulating, observing, and listening as students work in pairs
              2. calling on a sampling of students or pairs randomly between each step
              3. having students signal their understanding: thumbs up or down
              4. having students hold up dry-erase boards with answers/solutions
          4. Lessons that include effective use of formative assessment and checks for understanding:
            1. would have 20-30x as much positive impact on learning than most popular current initiatives
            2. are about 10x as cost-effective as reducing class size
            3. add between 6-9 months of additional learning growth per year
            4. account for as much as 400% speed of learning differences; student would learn 4x as fast as a result of its consistent use
            5. only 3 years of effective teaching will catapult students in the lowest quartiles into the third or even fourth quartile
            6. effective teaching  could eliminate the achievement gap in about five years
            7. students learn twice as much material in the same amount of time as their peers
          5. Spend less time attempting to tutor multiple individuals or small groups
          6. Teachers provide well-organized, whole class lessons  with checks for understanding

        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


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