Focus: Elevating Essentials

By Mike Schmoker 

The Importance of Simplicity, Clarity, and Priority

Highest priorities: 
1. What we teach 
2. How we teach 
3. Authentic Literacy 

Implementation best when teachers work in teams 
Simplicity, Clarity, and Priority 
Focus on these 3 things for 5 years...resist any temptation to add or adopt new programs...all PD should focus on this...celebrate success & progress 

2. What we teach: 
Essential subject area content, concepts & topics Intellectual/thinking skills 
Authentic literacy 

Reading, Writing, Speaking, Thinking 

Textbooks are a greatly underestimated resource for learning essential & acquiring literacy skills. Important flor teachers to develop & refine good text based questions in all disciplines. These 4 habits of mind can powerfully inform student reading, writing, and talking in every discipline. 

Conley's 4 intellectual standards 
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 answers 

Reduce Content Standards by 50%! How to select essential standards 

Endurance. Will the standard provide students with knowledge and skills beyond a single test date? 

Leverage. Will the standard provide knowledge and skills that are of value in multiple disciplines? 

Readiness for the next level. Will the standard provide the students with essential knowledge and skills that are necessary for success in the next grade level? 

To make a preliminary determination, ( opportunity for in depth discussion of agreed-upon topics Have everyone quietly review and select their favorite 40-50% the standards or even fewer in LA (time limit) Do quick simple dot voting or counting to determine which half of the standards get the highest number of individual votes. Display the results-the standards with the most votes-on a board or projector. Team should now discuss the initial draft of the "power standards" and discuss or advocate For the addition of some and the deletion of others. (more on p48) 

3.  How We Teach 
Single most important determinant of success for students is the knowledge and skills of that child's teacher. 

Effective Lessons 
Clear learning objectives 
Teaching/Modeling/Demonstrating 
Guided practice 
Checks for understanding/formative assessment 
Circulating, observing, & listening as students work in pairs 
Calling on a sampling of students or pairs randomly between each step (not on students who raise their hands) 
Having students signal their understanding: thumbs up or down, red, green or yellow, Popsicle sticks Having students hold up dry-erase boards with answers/solutions 

People to read: Madeline Hunter Douglas Fisher & Nancy Frey Marilyn Burns Robert Marzano 

Templates for lecture & literacy lessons 
1. Interactive lecture & direct teaching 
2. Literacy-based lessons (read, talk & write) with a focus on text

5 minute limit Then...review notes, summarize learning, pairing to compare or contrast notes, perceptions, & connections P75
Lesson learned:  We will never educate all students until we appreciate the value time and stop preventing them from engaging in immense amounts of reading, discussion, and writing.
Vocabulary:  Before the reading of text, teach any  vocabulary that could impede understanding.
Establish a purpose for the reading:  Create interest in text by sharing some background info, read a selection, or help students to connect it to recent or previous learning...or ask a question.
Model higher-order reading
Guided practice & formative assessment

4.  English Language Arts Made Simple

The life changing poser of broad, abundant reading....wide, abundant reading is the surest route out of poverty and the limitations that impose themselves on the less literate...Reading Changes Everything

Reading Literature...an opportunity to weigh our own values and emotional resonance against those of the author and the characters he or she creates.

Nonfiction and Literature Nonfiction...reading books exposes children to more facts and to a broader vocabulary than any other activity. We should ensure that students read and acquire an appetite for content-rich nonfiction books.

Newspapers & magazines in the classroom
We should redouble our efforts to integrate current readings inot the curriculum.(good suggestions for sources of magazines and newspapers here)

The trouble with skills and standards:  many if not most of the current LA standards are not literacy standards al all; they are pseudo-standards that divert precious time and attention from the most simple, authentic kinds of literacy activities.

Skill Kill:  The Elementary Years...The mistaken idea that reading is a skill...learn to crack the code, practice comprehension strategies...may be the ingle biggest factor holding back reading achievement in the country.

Once students begin to read, they learn to read better by reading...just reading...not be being forced to endure more reading skill drills.

Readicide:  When Pseudo-Standards Kill Authentic Literacy:  Typical LA standards rob us of what should be our true priorities:  large amounts of meaningful reading, discussions and writing.

Lots more on reading......

5.  Social Studies with Reading & Writing at the Core

 If we want students to care about social studies we must put reading and writing at its core.
 Emphasis on finding "truth & evidence" in our reading, talking, and writing actually makes social studies simple to teach.  It revolves around task, text, and talk.  And these are rooted in the content...in an organized schedule of essential topics and standards.
 Strip away most of the verbiage of the SS standards and focus on the raw content an topics in the standards.
 Encourage students to write and respond to tasks and questions in SS as experts.
 Lots more about teaching reading and writing through social studies...
 
 6.  Redefining Inquiry in Science
   Effective science instruction consists of simple, effective combinations of purposeful reading, talking and writing of "task, text, and talk."
   Focus on content....not just hands on...
   More is less when it comes to standards
   Labs must connect to content...read textbooks
   Use essay-response questions that give students the opportunity to argue, explain, infer, draw their own conclusions, and synthesize the views found in conflicting source documents
   Give students the opportunity to summarize, argue, or respond in writing.
  
7.  Making Math Meaningful
   To make math meaningful, the three Rs must be well blended in each student's mind.
   SIMPLIFY THE STANDARDS
     teach a smaller number of standards more deeply and meaningfully
    "To force every student to study higher-order math, whether or not...they will ever use it in life after school, is cruel and unusual punishment."
    For students to understand math, they need direct, intensive reading instruction.  Reading is critical.  But so is writing.  We must be ever mindful that writing is no only a form of communication, it is perhaps the best tool we know for problem solving.  That makes writing an essential tool for teaching math effectively.
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