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.

Standard

 

 

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.

5 Practices to Stop Using NOW!

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I can’t think of one educator I have met throughout the years that has not had the best interests of kids in the forefront of their mind. Teaching is more than a job, it’s a passion, and teachers put in countless hours refining their craft. I, too, spend much time between the pages of research on best practices in literacy, supporting educators, and administrators who are involved in making decisions for their districts. In a recent post, I shared classroom practices that boost student achievement based off of the work from Hattie, Fisher, & Frey. In this post, I plan to use the same references and share 5 practices that are commonplace but hold no statistical data to support their impact on achievement. In fact, many of these practices actually hurt kids more than help them and should be stopped!

Stop These 5 Practices Now!

  1. Ability Grouping – A common practice that has no evidence to support use is ability grouping. When students are grouped and one teacher gets the lowest performing students, another gets the gifted students, and so on, there is no positive impact on student achievement (even with the highest group the effect size is minimal). In fact, ability grouping tracks students and limits their potential. Ability grouping also continues to place low expectations on the students who struggle keeping them at a disadvantage and increasing the gap. It also affects self-esteem and socially isolates kids. ***Ability grouping is NOT Needs-based instruction with flexible grouping. This flexible and often short grouping of students is valuable and supports student-centered teaching.
  2. Matching Learning Styles with Instruction – Another common practice that has no evidence to support it is matching your instruction to a perceived learning style of a student. While it is important to note that everyone has preferences on how they access and exchange information based on content, surroundings, etc. it is also important to understand that these preferences can and should change. To match one’s instruction based on learning style of a student is limiting and labels students. Acknowledge that there are learning differences and focus efforts on multiple practices that ensure all students learning at high levels.  
  3. Test Prep – The problem with teaching to the test is that it is usually done in isolation and has insufficient research to prove positive effect size on student learning. Taking time to teach students the format of the test is short and appropriate, isolating and teaching test-taking skills is a waste of time and energy. Instead, weave the skills necessary to think critically, comprehend and construct knowledge, and make a claim with sufficient evidence within the units you teach. Embed these essential skills as part of every lesson, project, or inquiry so that when the test is in front of them students are actually being tested on what they were taught instead of teaching to the test.    
  4. Homework – Hattie’s research supports the current debate on homework that has been popping up on multiple platforms. Homework has little to no effect on student achievement. Elementary students who were assigned homework showed the smallest effect size with a steady increase in effect size in middle school and high school. When students are emerging readers, writers, and learners as they are in elementary school, homework that is assigned as more practice on a skill they are just starting to learn often ends with frustration and struggle. Furthermore, in the upper grades, more homework is often not the answer for raising student achievement. “ Do not ask them (students) to create a school at home where many students need adult expertise; while nearly all parents want to help their students, some do not know how. Many parents can be poor teachers of schoolwork!” (Fisher, Frey, & Hattie).
  5. Retention  – Finally, grade-level retention is often based on poor literacy skills. Hattie found in his meta-analyses is that not only does this practice have no evidence to support it, the effect size is actually showing us that it is having the reverse effect and is harming kids. Retention often involves a student repeating the grade with the same instruction, curriculum, and support – why would we expect a change in student learning? Retention is damaging to the whole child and often leads to labeling, low self-esteem, and little to no increase in student achievement. Instead, focus should be on instruction and the RTI process to meet all student needs. Teaching is the greatest job in the world. The opportunity to impact a young life makes the pressures and demands worthwhile. And while no educator sets out to harm a child’s learning by poor practice, it is every professional’s job to understand where to focus their energy and use practices that will positively affect the students in their classrooms!

6 Practices that “Work” to Accelerate Student Learning

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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!