Reflections on Unpacking Standards

Unpacking standards can seem like a tedious, time-consuming process (and rightfully so), and I definitely felt that way the first time I ever saw one. But after having gone through the motions, I can openly say that the benefits far outweigh the costs.

For starters, unpacking standards is probably the best way to familiarize oneself with a class’s content or curriculum. It is through unpacking and backwards mapping a unit of study that a teacher can truly understand what they will be teaching, and as a consequence, what the students will learn. This is why it’s so time-consuming, especially if you collaborate with other teachers to design units: standards have to be interpreted, goals have to be set, and activities have to be planned. The good news is that over time the process should become more natural, and as the teacher becomes more and more familiar with the curriculum, they should be able to tailor and trim the activities to better reach said standards, faster.

Perhaps that’s why I think of standards as a kind of destination in the long path of learning; an end-point of a small adventure for each grade level so to speak, and us teachers are the guides. These destinations are places the students may or may not like, but we trust that they will, in some way, help to develop the students’ skills to one day help them reach their individual goals.

Yes, I’m aware this analogy may be a bit over the top, but it helps me to rationalize and put into concrete ideas the work I do as a teacher. Going back to the analogy, if someone were to ask you how to get to the local supermarket, bank, or mall, you might be able to give them spot-on directions: where to turn, where to go straight, how to identify if they’ve gone to far, etc. The same goes for learning. Teachers should see standards as locations for students to acquire something that will move them to the next step, and as such teachers should know at least one way to reach that destination.

In this way, activities and formative assessments become markers along the way. They serve to give both teachers and students an idea if the student is on the right path; if they understand the directions clearly. If a student is not performing well in either of the above mentioned tasks, then it should be a clear indicator that perhaps the students does not understand the destination, or the directions being given. In such cases, the teacher should stop moving forward and check if other students are also lost, and help them get back on the correct path.

This is another reason why understand the standard is so important. The better a teacher understand the standard, the more students they should be able to help (theoretically speaking). This concept ties into the idea above that a teacher should know more than one way to get to the same destination, but it applies to many levels. In a real classroom setting, this could be paraphrasing a message, differentiating a tasks, or employing a scaffold.

In doing this module’s activity, I have been able to revise the limited perspective I had on standards, and had several meaningful conversations with my colleagues about standards and how my school employs them. I have a much clearer understanding of how to use them and design tasks that will help students to reach them. Finally, I believe that come next year, I will be better able to plan my lessons and assessments to make them fall more in line with the relevant standards, and thus allow me to create better activities that students will not only enjoy, but also benefit from.

 

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