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.

6 Practices that “Work” to Accelerate Student Learning


In education, we are often inundated with programs, curriculums, and frameworks that are “guaranteed to increase student learning”. Promises of a silver bullet that will fix all learning difficulties find their way to teachers and administrators alike. But as John Hattie points out in Visible Learning, it’s hard not to show growth or “evidence” for a program when the bar is set at zero.

As I began my study of Visible Learning for Literacy, much of the initial learning was not concentrated on what works in literacy, but what accelerates students’ learning in any classroom. Hattie identifies what works in education based on his research and a hinge point of .40 or greater. (The hinge point is any influence with an effect size of .40 or greater as having a positive impact on learning where acceleration extends beyond what a student can achieve in one year of simply attending school.)

Identifying high-impact influences and practices enhance an educator’s role as they reflect and evaluate their teaching by placing research and evidence in their hands. “What Works” in the classroom shifts from a buzzword to intentional practice that will accelerate learning. While Hattie identifies many influences above .40, I’ve narrowed the list down to 6 that apply to all educators.

6 Practices that “Work” to Accelerate Student Learning

  1. Teacher credibility (.90 effect size) Trust, competence, energy, enthusiasm, and consistency are among the top characteristics students consider when determining if their teacher is credible and if they are going to choose to learn from them.
  2. Teacher-Student Relationships (.72 effect size) Positive teacher-student relationships involve trust, fairness, open communication and maintenance to sustain and impact student learning.  
  3. Classroom Management (.52 effect size) Students understand expectations and are consistently held to those expectations. Promotes healthy relationships with teachers and peers.  
  4. Self-Reported Grades/Student Expectations (1.44 effect size) Students set their own goals, monitor their own achievement, and reflect upon their process of learning.
  5. Teacher Clarity (.75 effect size) Learning targets are clear and articulated with success criteria. Students should be able to answer: What am I learning today? Why am I learning this? How will I know that I learned it?
  6. Feedback (.75 effect size) Just-in-time feedback identifies where the student is at, what the expectation is, and actions they can take to close the gap.

Simply put, be genuine and clear, relationships matter, create a safe environment that nurtures independence, and feedback moves students not grades!