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Literacy & PLCs
on November 22, 2006
In Results Now, Michael Schmoker explains what he believes to be the route to achieving unprecedented gains in student achievement. His conclusions center around two main points: literacy and professional learning communities (PLCs). He believes that the key to success in all areas is the ability to read. In addition, he believes that teachers already have the knowledge they need to make great strides in aiding student achievement if they would only create the structures that would allow them to share their knowledge effectively.
Like many educational pundits, Schmoker has some great ideas. Certainly, there is much to be said for the importance of literacy across the curriculum. There is also a lot of truth to his assertions that many language arts classes, particularly at the younger ages when literacy is beginning to form, have become only incidentally about reading and writing. The overabundance of "artistic expression" (i.e. drawing pictures) in the place of actively engaging in literary activities is a problem, as is the reliance on skill/drill activities (read "worksheets"). Instead, Schmoker pushes for dominance of activities that have the students actively reading and writing.
Some of his commentary on professional development was interesting as well. As an educational consultant, I too have seen first hand how the "educational initiative of the moment" has had nothing but negative impact on school districts. There is something to be said for Schmoker's belief that, if teachers could just be pulled together in an effective way to share their expertise and best lessons, they could have a huge impact on student achievement. I must also note that his focus less on the evil of standardized tests as opposed to our ability to help students succeed on these tests was, admittedly, refreshing.
Unfortunately, like many educational pundits, his tone in prose can make his suggestions bitter pills to swallow and his idealism is a little far-fetched. He has an occasional tendency to slide into a rather condescending tone which is rather off-putting. And, though following his suggestions would likely have a great impact on education, I don't think all problems will be solved by his ideas. Literacy is a key but it will not open all doors across the curriculum and, having worked with teachers trying to form professional learning communities, it's easier said than done. I don't believe even a great PLC will eliminate the need for professional development. Master teachers are always looking to improve. Still, it is fair to say that Schmoker has ideas that are worth considering.