HELP! Me Unpack the Standards: A Framework for Teacher & Student Clarity

Adobe Spark (16)In just about any classroom I enter I notice a “Learning Objective” or “I Can” statement located at the front of the room. Sometimes this statement consists of underlined words, is laminated on a beautifully bordered sentence strips, or is hurriedly written with a black expo in the designated corner on the whiteboard. The teacher states the learning target at the beginning of the lesson and students copy it down, word for word, into their notebook. But, when I ask the students what they are learning and why I am continually met with blank stares… The frustration in the teacher’s voice is evident during the coaching conversation following the class. They can’t seem to understand how or why the “I Can” statement that is clearly posted never transfers or remains with their students.

I have found two major reasons for this phenomenon, and both are fixable. First, the learning objective is typically “owned” by the teacher and not the student. The teacher determines it, the teacher writes it down, the teacher states it, and then the teacher begins the lesson. For an objective, target, or “I Can” statement to be student-centered and student-owned there must be a dialogue between the teacher and the students involving the What and the Why. What are we learning? What is our goal? Why is it important? And what does success look like?

Secondly, a student’s misunderstanding of  the learning and why it is important often occurs because of the teacher’s surface level understanding of the standards. When a teacher’s understanding of the standards (whether local, state, or national) remains at the surface-level kids suffer. To truly have a deep understanding of the standards, teachers must be given time and support to unpack them independently and collaboratively. This unpacking helps to bring clarity to teachers and positively impacts student achievement. The following template was adapted from Hattie, Fisher, & Frey and provides guidance on digging deeply into the standards.




Concepts (Nouns) Skills (Verbs)




Surface Skills & Knowledge Needed





Deep Skills & Knowledge Needed





Enduring Understanding(s) Assessment





Unpacking the standards brings clarity to teachers which directly impacts students. Not only can learning and targets be expressed at deep levels, but when discussed with the students, achievement is impacted. When students wrestle with the “what” and the “why” of the learning objective or “I Can” statement understanding moves past surface to deep. And what you will find is a well-articulated response when you ask students what they are learning and why.

3 thoughts on “HELP! Me Unpack the Standards: A Framework for Teacher & Student Clarity

  • I had the opportunity this year to spend many PD sessions “unpacking” LA standards. I thought it was worthwhile to analyze the standards to understand the them better. Although a teacher may understand the standards better, communicating them to a class of students can be a sticky issue. In your opinion, how often should the teacher repeat the “I can …” statement to the students? How often should the statement be revisited throughout the lesson? This question was brought up during one of my last PD sessions and I’m wondering your take on those questions. he question was initially brought up as some teachers are finding themselves spending more and more time time on communicating 1) What are we learning? 2) What is our goal? 3) Why is it important? 4) And what does success look like? to their classes.

  • Great resource, thank you for sharing. Unpacking standards can be a challenge as teachers might interpret them differently, or may not be aligning them directly to instruction and assessments. This chart is amazing for making sure that the standard is well interpret and that all components are put into practice.

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