June 22, 2017

By Dr. Gene Kerns, Chief Academic Officer


As many of us prepare for summer reading, I have been asked once again to make some recommendations. The list we compiled last year remains relevant, but I would like to offer some additional ideas.

A few recommendations

At the top of my book recommendations is FOCUS: Elevating the Essentials to Radically Improve Student Learning by Mike Schmoker (2011). This work is a reminder that less is often more. Schmoker asserts that schools must focus on three essential things to ensure optimum student success: a streamlined, essential curriculum; 90 minutes a day of purposeful reading and writing; and effective teaching.

Many want to innovate, and Schmoker (2011) notes that “innovation is fair game,” but only after the essentials are implemented and as long as “innovation does not in any way dilute or distract us from these essentials” (Schmoker, 2011, p. 12). Renaissance Accelerated Reader is an outstanding way to assist with the 90 minutes of daily purposeful reading and writing. To be clear, Schmoker is advising 90 minutes of the activities consist of actual reading and writing. Instruction on reading and writing—activities, worksheets, etc.—would not count in this time.

My next recommendation is an article. Given the increasing interest around personalized learning, it is critical that we all stay current on this initiative. Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) recently devoted the March issue of Educational Leadership to the topic of “Getting Personalization Right,” and a great article by Carol Ann Tomlinson (2017) titled “Let’s Celebrate Personalization, But Not Too Fast” is available online.

Tomlinson (2017) notes that we are in “an era when the hallmark is change, the survival mechanism is flexibility” (Tomlinson, 2017, para. 1). She muses on the challenge of defining personalization when “there are currently so many iterations…that it begins to look like everything—and nothing” (Tomlinson, 2017, para. 5). She poses some critical questions so that if schools are attempting to personalize, they can begin with “informed action—action based on full awareness of the complexity of meaningful school change and accompanied by judicious planning” (Tomlinson, 2017, para. 25).

The issue as a whole presents personalization in a very balanced, thought-provoking way. Yes, it’s clearly the way we are moving, but some sharp edges must also be addressed for us to move forward successfully.

What else are you reading this summer?

Summer is a great time to catch up on a few things. What else are you reading this summer? Are you attending any workshops? Have you enrolled in a summer class at your local college? Let us know in the comments below, post on our Facebook, or tweet us at @RenLearnUS!

Here’s to a relaxing summer with opportunities to consider new ideas and reflect on the basics!


Schmoker, M. J. (2011). FOCUS: Elevating the essentials to radically improve student learning. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Tomlinson, C. A. (2017). Let’s celebrate personalization: But not too fast. Educational Leadership, 74(6), 10–13. Retrieved from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar17/vol74/num06/Let’[email protected]

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