I am in the middle of a “new to me” book entitled, “Focus: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning“. The author is Mike Schmoker. I think, it may be the most important book on education I have ever encountered (and I have encountered a lot of books on education). Focus puts all this common-core-state-standards-teaching-to-the-test-stuff aside and argues instead for a very simple, workable, meaningful, and clear set of standards which all teachers can adhere to, every day, with success. Read it. Please.
Focus has made me focus on the needs of my students and what I need to prioritize for them. And, guess what, it’s not in those “meets state standards” worksheets and textbooks. They need to read. Every day. Closely. Purposefully. They need to write. Every day. A lot. They need to discuss their reading and writing. Every day. A lot. Reading, writing, discussing. That’s it. That’s what they need. For hundreds of hours each year. Call me old school. But it will work. Mike Schmoker believes it will. I do too.
The ability of my students to read and write is a matter of life and death. Truly. I teach in two urban, low-income (dare I say “below the poverty line”) environments. I know, with all my heart, that if my students do not learn how to read (deeply and broadly) they will be stuck in a cycle of poverty and violence for the rest of their lives.
Morgan Freeman is right. Reading can change their lives. Reading can take them out of poverty.
I focus (as I read Focus) on Aldous Huxley (you remember that guy from your high school reading list right? Brave New World). He said that “every man/woman who knows how to read has it in his/her power to magnify himself, to multiply the ways in which he/she exists, to make his life full, significant and interesting”. The italics are mine by the way – ok, so the guy wasn’t perfect.
Without a deep ability to read and analyze and evaluate what they read, my students will be unable to do anything beyond meeting their survival needs. They deserve more than that. They deserve to live full, significant, and interesting lives.