District Administration January 2020 - 6

OnTopic

Mike Schmoker

By Matt Zalaznick

How not to get distracted
by educational fads
DA's CAO Summit speaker Mike Schmoker says leaders
must focus exclusively on three key concepts

Have you been thrown off course by a hot
educational trend? You're probably not
alone among public school leaders.
Author and former administrator
Mike Schmoker warns that research shows
little evidence that many fads have significantly improved achievement. Schmoker
discussed what curriculum directors
should pay attention to when he delivered
his featured talk, "Teaching and Leading
with Focus," at DA's CAO Summit in
Chicago.
With only so many hours in a day,
what should educators prioritize?
To lead with focus, which is paying attention to things that matter most-almost to the near exclusion of all else. In
schools, there are three things that matter most: the right kind of curriculum,
literacy and effective instruction.
I can already hear some grumbling
from our readers, but what falls into
the category of "all else"?
There are a large number of popular but
unproven programs and initiatives that
populate the school improvement terrain-things like differentiated instruction, an overemphasis on new forms of
grading, and reducing class size. Reduc-

DAmag.me/schmoker
6 | January 2020

ing class size can have some benefits,
but it doesn't compare to the benefits of
the things that I emphasize.
So how do administrators and teachers reset to build a better curriculum?
For everything English language artsrelated, start with a review of the state
standards. You have to decide which
ones are most important, and this job
ought to get done pretty quickly. It can
be done by a single team of teachers.
Once you do that, you can teach
them any way you want, but make sure
you don't decide to teach more standards than can be meaningfully taught
during a nine-month school year.
Then, the name of the game-and
this brings us right up against literacy-
is you want to see a far larger amount of
text being read than we've ever
had before.
So, let's focus on literacy.
Everyone knows that literacy consists
of abundant amounts of reading, and
talking and writing purposefully about
what we read. Those are supreme, and
they almost form standards by themselves, which are vastly superior to the
hyperparsed, hyperdelineated Common
Core standards.
We'd be so smart to specify within
the curriculum for English and every
other course the proper amount of
reading, discussion and writing. If we

don't spell out the number of writing
assignments each year for every course,
students will not write enough to prepare themselves for the future.
And how does that all come together
to improve instruction?
A host of research has been telling us
for decades that you can't get around
certain fundamental elements of good
instruction, starting with what it is
that's going to be learned each day.
When students know that, the odds
that students will learn what they need
to learn skyrocket. Give the students
some sense of why what they're learning
for the day is worth learning.
That is followed by intentionally
teaching the content or skill in small,
manageable chunks, with an opportunity for the students to practice that skill,
such as building a short list comparing
and contrasting two literary or historical figures.
While students are doing this guided
practice, teachers should be walking
around, seeing how well students are
doing, and getting a very quick sample
of how well they are learning that particular step. If they aren't learning it, we
need to reteach and adjust, and break it
down into simpler, clearer language so
students have another chance to engage
in guided practice. DA
Matt Zalaznick is senior writer.
DistrictAdministration.com


http://www.DAmag.me/schmoker http://www.DistrictAdministration.com

District Administration January 2020

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of District Administration January 2020

District Administration January 2020 - Cover1
District Administration January 2020 - Cover2
District Administration January 2020 - 1
District Administration January 2020 - 2
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