Journaling as I Work Through Mike Schmoker’s Focus — Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning

In Dave Stuart’s Time Management course, one of his early lessons suggests we pick one aspect of our teaching to focus on over the next year and become obsessed with it. This is right up my alley, as this is how I am as a person: all or nothing.

He goes on to list possible foci: classroom management, student motivation, etc. To me, the most interesting focal point right now in my career would be instruction and lesson planning. I think I am in a good place with motivating students and managing the classroom, but in spite of my six years in the classroom, I still feel there is room for growth in how I teach. I know how to make learning fun. I know the basic elements of a strong lesson: activate background knowledge with an engaging hook, explicitly teach students how to do the skill and model it, have them practice it, give them feedback, etc. This how goes beyond curriculum; what I really want are to make my actual instructional methods lock-tight. Simple. Direct. Clear.

Early on, I struggled with being clear — not because I wasn’t a logical and thoughtful person, but because distilling down concepts that came (mostly) naturally to me was hard…and then being in front of a group of 25 sets of eyes caused a frequent deer-in-the-headlights feeling that would impede my ability to teach concepts with clarity.

I’m now a sophisticated enough teacher of concepts and I no longer suffer from intense stage fright, but I still think my teaching practice could be refined in terms of how I do it. And I love how Schmoker talks about getting back to the basics. Even better, he says even if we just implement these core concepts imperfectly, it will still have a marked effect size on student learning. This is awesome! I can’t wait to dig in further and summarizing and synthesize my learning below. Stay tuned…

Chapter 3’s TLDR is this: as you instruct, make sure every student gets it before moving onto the next step.

Here are some ways I could grow my implementation of this:

-More cold calling.

-Continue my reading of each student’s jots each today, and give concrete feedback that must be implemented before the student can move on.

-Daily 1 minute conferences with each student on their work.

-Whiteboards.

-Partner checks and then cold calls.

-Rapid fire responses.