Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Focus, Daniel-San, Focus!

So, CST scores are out.  Ugh.  While my math scores are the best they have ever been, my language arts scores are the worst ever.  This is so frustrating given all the time spent on preparing students for these tests.  I expected the "third grade dip" that our state experiences, but I was at least hoping for some growth.

Luckily, I have been reading Focus by Mike Schmoker.  This book plainly states, with all of the research to back it up, what I have known all along.  The "inch-deep mile-wide" approach works to hurt our students, creating an artificial need for what Schmoker calls "expensive, time-gobbling remediation mechanisms."  I certainly have seen this in action.  As students' scores "decline" due to the unachievable goals of NCLB, more and more remediation is thrown at them.  Sickening.  As Schmoker puts it, "Educators continue to be diverted toward new methods and programs, even as the most important aspects of curriculum, teaching, and literacy are ignored almost entirely."  So what is the result?  Students continue to fall behind.

I have definitely felt this effect in my own classroom over the past few years.  As my schedule is encroached upon by interventions and remediation, I have less and less time for authentic literacy experiences.  Maybe THIS is why language arts scores are not going up?  Maybe.

So far I have learned a few other key points from Focus:

1.  New initiatives and programs cannot succeed in the absence of decent curriculum, lessons, and authentic literacy activities.
2.  Less is more.  Content standards should be reduced by about 50%, and even more in language arts.  (Singapore, Japan, and China teach to about a third as many math and science standards - about 15 per grade level compared to our 50.)
3. Guided practice and constant checking for understanding are essential and often overlooked.  (Research tidbit: Effective formative assessment and checking for understanding add six to nine months of additional learning growth per year.)
5.  No more than five minutes of 'teacher talk' before giving opportunities to process information.  This is in contrast to the ten minutes I learned.

I am halfway through this book and have not only learned a great deal, but feel so validated.  I am looking forward to reading the rest!

1 comment:

  1. I do feel sometimes that I am always looking ahead for the latest and greatest to help improve student achievement, but fail to look back at what is good teaching, and what really works. I think we need to look both directions and take the best of what we know and what we are learning.

    I also believe that we need to dig deeper on less, if anything, to allow students to process ideas, analyze and reflect on their learning.

    "We don't learn from experience; we learn from reflecting on experience." -John Dewey