Unpacking the Standards: A Teacher's Perspective

Williams Elementary School, Oakland

"I think the energy and the excitement they have about the choice in their learning is motivational to them. They can see what the standards are, but then they understand that they have an element of choice in how they're going to demonstrate their learning."

 

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Teachers: I'm Valerie Glueck. I teach 4th grade at Williams Elementary School in Oakland, Maine. And I'm Shelley Moody, and I teach 4th grade at Williams Elementary School.

So basically, what we do is, when we have a unit of study, whether it's in math, or another content area, like reading, we look at the standards and determine which standards are going to link well with that unit.

And so, we might pull out a few of the standards in a unit on fractions, for example, and then what we do is we chart those standards with the students, and we read them together as a class.

And then we also highlight the content knowledge in that standard and so, by going through that process, it helps the students be aware, "This is what I need to be able to know in this standard and this is what I need to be able to do."

In addition to the standards, we also have a capacity matrix and the capacity matrix allows us to break those learning targets down, so they can be keeping track of how well they're doing on any given learning target, knowing that, if it's brand new, it's okay to be at a beginning stage.

In the past I've always known the standards that I was targeting in a unit of study. I don't know that those standards were so visible for students.

We assumed we were being quite explicit before but, even with as many times as we'll unpack a standard with children, we have to go over them and over them still for them to really be able to understand, "Oh, yes, this is what I'm learning."

But it's so neat when after a couple of days of unpacking the learning targets, we say, "Ok, so what are we working on?" And hands go up, "Oh, I know exactly what we're working on. We're adding and subtracting fractions with like demoninators today, Mrs. Glueck." "Yes, that's great. And how are you going to show me that you're proficient"?" and, generally, they can articulate that.

The other piece is the monitoring, whether it be through a capacity matrix document or some sort of way children are monitoring their own progress. It's not just that I know where each individual child is, which is something I've always worked on myself, monitoring where their growth is. But they're now also monitoring their own learning, and aware of what their individual targets are.

They're sort of marinated in that terminology. We talk about proficiency, we talk about goals, we talk about evidence, and so I think that language piece for then becomes natural, because they are aware that proficient means that "I can do this independently" that's probably how they would say it in elementary language, "I can do it on my own." And they understand that the evidence is whatever their way is of showing, and that they sometimes have an element of choice in that: how they're going to show that they do that.

I think the energy or the excitement they have about the choice in their learning is motivational to them. They realize that the process we go through, we look at the standards together, so they're motivated. They can see what the target is, but then they understand that they have an element of choice in how they're going to demonstrate their learning.

This Center for Best Practice is a collaboration between the Maine Department of Education and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, made possible by the contributions of the Maine schools that share their stories.