As teachers we need to accept the responsibility of thoroughly knowing educational standards. Of course school and state administrators should provide professional development opportunities, but we must take the conscious step of investigating the standards for ourselves.
We cannot assume that other bodies of educators are going to spoon-feed us the necessary details. Too often we wait like baby birds for those in higher places of authority to regurgitate information in simpler terms to us. If we truly want our students to reach higher levels of mastery and understanding, we should desire that same level of mastery ourselves.
As I teach courses to assist in the implementation of the Common Core State Standards, I find that one of the most dramatic changes for teachers comes when they personally deconstruct the standards for themselves. Many groups of teachers have gone through “paperwork” activities to unwrap the standards. However, we must ask ourselves if we seriously focused on learning the details of each standard.
As teachers, most of us have taken part in professional development activities where we simply write down what we think administrators want to hear without seriously investing anything of value in the process. We have seen innovative programs come and go and tend to get tired of the constantly changing landscape. Many of us have mastered the game of simply surviving in the system.
Yet, if we seriously want to improve education for students in our classes, we must invest our own thinking in the process of trying to understand what the Common Core standards actually say. One way to do this is to deconstruct them. Other terms used to describe this process are to unwrap or unpack them.
The process of deconstructing the standards
- Read the standard and make note of the nouns, the concepts to be presented.
- Identify the verbs, the things students are expected to be able to do.
- Once these key words are identified and understood, make note of the big ideas hidden within the standard.
- Note essential questions the standard is expecting students to investigate.
This process is not complicated, but it is essential to the process of deeply understanding the intention of each standard we are expected to teach. View the video from David Douglas School District for a simple and clear explanation of this process:
Designing learning opportunities for students
Once we understand the standard, we are in a better position to determine assessments that will effectively measure student mastery. After the assessments are designed, learning activities can be gathered and created. We must also remember to include activities that can be used to reteach a skill for learners who did not master the concepts during the initial presentation. As we know, reteaching is key to successful mastery.
Because we, as the teachers, deeply understand the standards; it is easy to adjust and readjust learning activities for individual students or groups of students. When we blindly depend upon curriculum writers to tell us what to teach, we let go of our most valuable contribution to teaching: the ability to determine appropriate instruction for individual learners.
Hold on to the art and science of teaching by closely studying and examining the standard for yourself. As teachers, we must know the standards and understand them so we can teach, reteach and help students master the content.
With over 35 years in administration and teaching in K-12 and higher education both in the U.S. and internationally, Dr. Nancy Cardenuto strives to cultivate creative and innovative learning paths. She is an adjunct professor in the master’s program at Concordia University – Portland, where she teaches courses in support of the Common Core State Standards.