Keeping Teachers in the Center of Learning Design

The acceptance of new college and career readiness standards is only the beginning of the changes taking place in classrooms across the nation. Standards provide the goal, but teachers must design effective curriculum to reach the depth of learning expected. As educators face these major redesigns, they find that purchased materials do not always perfectly align with standards — or their desired lesson plans.

Purchased materials are only one part of the solution to the development of effective curriculum. Teachers are at the forefront of lesson design and development. They know the abilities of students, are familiar with the standards, and how to pull concepts from different disciplines together to design creative and engaging units. However much like purchased materials, teacher-designed units of study may fall short when it comes to perfect alignment with standards. How can teachers assess units for alignment with standards?

Assessing units with Achieve’s EQuIP rubrics

The American Diploma Project (ADP) Network developed a set of rubrics, called the EQuIP (Educators Evaluating the Quality of Instructional Products) rubrics, designed to support the development and design of high-quality teaching plans and their alignment to the Common Core State Standards. Rubrics were designed for:

  • English Language Arts/Literacy for Grades K-2 as well as for Grades 3-5 and Grades 6-12
  • Mathematics

Teachers aren’t often engaged in actually assessing their own teaching plans, but this exercise will lead to specific and individual professional growth. As teachers gather together to examine the actual unit plans they use in the classrooms, they are able to see for themselves areas of strength as well as areas that need improvement.

The payoff is the potential to dramatically improve teachers’ understanding of the expectations of effective unit design as well as actual instruction in the classroom in a positive and supportive manner.

The EQuIP rubrics for ELA/Literacy and Mathematics assess four dimensions:

  • Alignment to the standards. In this dimension, teachers examine teaching plans to assess if the lessons directly align to the standard but also how thoroughly the plan meets the depth of the intentions of the standards. ELA/Literacy alignment expects that reading, writing, listening and speaking are integrated and help advance literacy skills. Alignment for mathematics examines how well the teaching plan balances procedures as well as conceptual knowledge.
  • Key shifts within the standards are addressed as they appear in the learning plan. ELA/Literacy expectations examine evidence for close reading and text-based evidence in written and oral discussions with the use of appropriate academic vocabulary. For mathematics, lesson focus, coherence of new information to previously learned concepts, and the rigor are examined within the teaching plan.
  • Instructional supports for both ELA/Literacy and Mathematics teaching plans examine if lessons provide sufficient support for teaching and learning the standard through effective questioning, differentiated instruction, scaffolding and interventions to meet the needs of a range of learners.
  • Assessment of learning investigates areas of the learning plan that provide direct and observable evidence that students are meeting standards.

In addition, a rubric was designed to assess science units and their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

The Achieve website contains a multitude of tools for professional learning and growth. Training materials, exemplars, e-learning modules, and videos are just a sampling of the resources available to teachers and schools as they attempt to align units of study to the standards.

It takes time to invest in lesson design

Teachers are often overwhelmed with the many tasks they must accomplish in addition to lesson delivery. There is little time to do all things well. However, when teachers are the key designers of the curriculum, they have a deeper level of understanding of the content as well as a greater passion for meeting the intricate details of the lessons.

Taking on the additional task of assessing units of study can seem daunting. Professionals must first understand the process the rubric presents even before using it for lesson material evaluation. This takes an investment of time and focused attention.

However, the process of working together to critique lessons and craft stronger instructional designs encourages a mutual sense of respect among educational professionals. As teachers meet together, they gather not to criticize peers, but to join together to improve learning for their students.

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. 

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