Understanding and Applying Standards


In 2016-2017 my school will be adopting a single-set of standards for all subject areas. To prepare myself for this innovation, I’ve been getting familiar with the Common Core Plus (Common Core for US based overseas schools). Throughout this process I’ve learned quite a bit about unpacking standards, backwards mapping, and writing objectives.

Previously, I would include several standards in my unit plans with the intention of addressing them all. For instance, I may have four or five standards, each with the complexity of the following:

1.12.d  Analyze the impact of  revolution on politics, economies,  and societies. 

Now, after fully engaging with the “unpacking” process, I realise this method was neither smart nor attainable. To fully satisfy the standard listed above, a student would have to deeply understand how revolutions impact a) politics b) economies, and c) societies. They would need to know what revolutions were, and be able to distinguish between a political, economic, and social impact. This one strand could require 4-6 weeks of study. I have therefore become far more parsimonious in my selection of standards for each unit plan.

As for “backwards mapping, ” I think we all have been told, and see the importance in beginning with the end in mind. However it is only recently, with the more rigorous application of standards, that I have approached this in a more systematic way. For this, the UBD framework has been fantastic. To simplify the process, I have been thinking more in terms of what students will Know (facts), what they will Understand (transfer), and what they will Be able to do (skills and advanced mental operations). I now think more critically about what sort of operations a students brain will be able to do at the end of the unit, that it perhaps could not do previously. I’m also more cognisant of the scaffolding of skills necessary for the student to demonstrate the new understandings. While backwards mapping requires more time and care than traditional approaches to unit planning, the clarity it brings results in better teaching, and students who are more engaged, as they know what is expected from them. Effectively designed formative assessments are critical in making sure the students know how far along they are towards meeting the expectations.

The third area that has been getting more critical attention from me lately is objectives. In some sense, I feel that a thorough unpacking of standards goes a long way in defining the objectives for a teacher. For example, unpacking the standard mentioned above (1.12.d  Analyze the impact of  revolution on politics, economies,  and societies. ), it’s clear that individual lessons would need to be devoted to ensuring that students:

Know: what a revolution involves, and could identify specific examples. Students would also need to know how to distinguish between politics, economics, and societies, while also being able to see the overlaps between these three categories.

Understand: that revolutions are a destabilising force that can topple governments, lead to economic depressions, and create social divisions.

Be able to: recognise and account for continuities and changes in systems of governance, economics, and societies, as a result of revolutions; and be able to demonstrate this understanding orally, visually, and in writing.

One note of caution on the use of strict objectives. Often teachers like to post these objectives on the white board, in the belief that it provides students and teachers with clear expectations for the lesson. This is likely true. At the same time, by saying effectively “You will be learning this!,” it sends a strong message that students are at the mercy of the teachers interests and beliefs. It is important to allow space for the co construction of learning goals.

Thank you for reading!

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