Sunday, July 8, 2012

Review of Focus

Our district administrators are currently reading Mike Schmoker’s book “Focus.” Out of self interest I felt the need to keep up with where our leadership might be heading so I purchased the Kindle version of Schmoker’s book and read it on my iPad yesterday.
My initial reaction was that I should update my resume. If Schmoker’s prescription for reform is bought wholesale then as the technology integration specialist for the district my role is not needed. Schmoker doesn’t consider technology as a valid means of achieving what he considers the three “essential elements” for school reform; what we teach, how we teach and authentic literacy. While I agreed with the main premise of Schmoker’s book which is to “focus” on what is essential for good teaching and learning, I don’t agree that we need to turn the clock back and ignore the fact that we live in a world that uses technology as an everyday tool. I don’t believe Schmoker has ever seen a classroom that modeled effective technology integration given his comments such as  “faddish, time-gobbling activities,” nor does he seem to be aware of current research and successful 21st century learning initiatives that  “harness the deeper learning skills of critical thinking, problem solving, effective communication, collaboration, and learning how to learn to help students develop a strong foundation in traditional academic subjects.” as advocated by the Hewlett Foundation.

Another one of my concerns, (besides being eliminated;)  is that if the district were to adopt this approach and go back to the 20th century model of teaching that Schmoker suggests it would provide the excuse for many to continue the lecture based, stand and deliver instruction we have in many classrooms which ignores the full potential for differentiating and engaging students through digital learning. It would also invalidate or dismiss the work of many who are successfully integrating technology into their classrooms to differentiate and engage students in learning using current online technologies and resources rather than static outdated textbooks. In addition to being anti-technology, Schmoker does not seem to believe in differentiation or student centered learning.

I hope our administrators read this book with the same critical lense that we expect from our students as they read informational text to become informed learners. Schmoker’s message for focusing on what is essential and to simplify are worthy goals, but the fact that his book is more opinion than research and his suggestion that we go back to old ways of teaching ignoring the fact that students live in a different world than when he first taught 20 years ago are not valid reasons for adopting this approach wholesale.

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