In our "real" worlds, many of us are constantly working on "hacking" life - decluttering our basements, paring down the number of toys our children (or dogs) have, trying to replace our screen time with talk time with our loved ones, carving out the space and time to reflect on the the simplest (and most meaningful) moments of our lives.
However, in public education nowadays our moments and days are anything but simple. Spend five minutes googling or pinteresting "common core" to find a million ideas, projects, and activities that you feel guilty about not doing in turn for the mounting anxiety about doing more "kill and drill" work with our students who are struggling. Every time we turn around, there are "new", "revamped" ideas about how to address the demands. How can step away from the chaos for a moment and do what has been shown to work most consistently to improve student growth? How can we "hack" our instructional planning to make it more simple and better for students?
Mike Schmoker's book, Focus, gives us a simple, back-to-basics moment to breathe. He provides a "plan" based on reading, writing, discussion and THINKING across the curriculum. In chapter 2, "WHAT We Teach, we read about how important it is to choose FOCUS standards - the standards that repeat, overlap, and are MOST ESSENTIAL for our students' futures as students and as PMOS's (productive members of society). As we have been deconstructing our standards to write scales, I believe we have really started to identify focus standards as well as the foundational learning targets (production behaviors) we want to see from our students.We're beginning to get an idea of what is most important for our students to know and be able to do.
Chapter 3, "HOW We Teach" provides us with a template for the key, tried and true, instructional elements that have lasted the test of educational time and research. This is my favorite chapter because it is just so darn clear. I found myself reflecting wildly on the elements that I most often had in my lessons and the ones that I always forgot to include. So, here we go!
Template for ANY EFFECTIVE LESSON
BOOM! That was simple, right?!
As a BONUS, Schmoker provides us with additions for an interactive "lecture-style" lesson (which sometimes we have to do) and a literacy lesson (which we do a lot!). Here we go!
Interactive Lecture Lesson (Direct Teaching)
The BIG THREE
As I reflect on these templates, I find myself making connections to work we are already doing and pieces I see in your classes all the time - LDC, Word Generation, MCD, Close Reading, Annotating, Collins, constant formative assessment and guided practices. BUT. Where are we at in the process of students becoming independent in their learning through these methods? Are we making our work more simple, or are we complicating it because of the pressures we feel from state testing, SLOs, O/S/E, data. data. data?
Complete this survey as a way to reflect on your own practice (anonymous!)
Growth only comes through incremental steps towards a goal and by practicing, failing, and persevering. What is one goal you can set in simplifying your practice and FOCUSING on most effective learning strategies for your students? Reply in the comments below. Thank you for all your hard work and effort to continue the growth!
Coordinator of Instructional Technology