All teachers in the US are required to meet a set of state standards. While standards are an essential aspect of education, they can sometimes feel overwhelming.
Fortunately, taking time to reevaluate your teaching goals and responsibilities can ensure that you check all the boxes. Here’s how to work with state standards to create lesson plans that meet requirements — without sacrificing student engagement and excitement.
Rethinking Standards as Opportunities
Teaching to state standards can seem limiting at times, especially for teachers who have been in the profession for several years. Instead of looking at standards as limitations, however, they can be seen as a positive source of guidance and inspiration.
As Rosshalde Pak at TeachHub puts it, standards are “tools and guidelines” that create a path for teachers to follow throughout the year. “Let the standards lead you to what you want to teach. If you are working on grammar, there’s a standard for that – and another standard that will be able to expand on what types of grammar your grade needs to focus on,” Pak explains.
In a sense, standards help teachers narrow down what they’re going to teach. This is also true for Common Core standards, which have been adopted by 41 states in the US according to the Common Core State Standards Initiative.
Whether or not your state adheres to Common Core, it’s important to implement a curriculum, instruction and assessment plan that both meets standards and engages students, adds Tony Frontier, educational consultant and assistant professor at Cardinal Stritch University in Milwaukee. “The challenge—and opportunity—for teachers is to develop a curriculum that tends to the interests and learning needs of their students,” he writes.
The ultimate goal of your lesson plans should be to create educational content that adheres to standards while promoting real-world learning. Before a standards-based lesson plan is created, however, it’s essential to assess your students’ current level.
Students may have varying levels of understanding depending on the topic or theme in question. To ensure that you’re supporting students on the proper path towards success, formative assessments are key. Pre-tests are a great way to assess current student understanding at the beginning of a unit or chapter, according to the team at educational software company Chalk.
Summative assessments are equally as important. “If the students have a handle on the concepts that will be tested at the end of the year, she can use the subject to teach higher order thinking skills. If the students are struggling with the basic concepts, she can spend more time on drills which will strengthen the end of the year scores,” they add.
Educator and early childhood education author Dorothy Strickland, Ph.D. offers a few general tips for getting started on creating a standards-based lesson plan. These include:
- Use the grade-level standards to select a required theme.
- With this theme, select goals that meet Common Core or state standards.
- Choose texts of various complexity levels.
- Plan ahead for major projects, experiments, guest speakers and trips that may enhance learning.
Using standards as the basis for lesson plan ideas is a smarter approach than creating a lesson plan and shoehorning it into requirements. This way, you’ll never have to worry whether or not your lesson meets standards.
Aligning Practices with Standards
Certain habits and teaching practices make it easier to create lesson plans that adhere to standards. For example, TeacherStep explains how Common Core requires that teachers create a student-centered and task-oriented classroom. This is in contrast to the traditional lecture format of classrooms, and may take some getting used to. However, this format is designed to make it easier for teachers to implement lessons that improve test outcomes and meet standards.
Similarly, switching from the traditional lecture format gives students more opportunities to collaborate, which is an important standard outlined both in Common Core and many state standards.
Common Core standards emphasize group learning because collaboration is an essential skill in today’s workplace, explains administrator Nicholas Diaz. By incorporating group work into your daily projects, you can be sure that you’re facilitating meaningful learning exchanges between your students.
When aligning project-based learning with state standards, it’s important for educators to think creatively about how they’re sharing information with students, says educator John Spencer. Questioning the authenticity of a standard and its real-world relevance can help teachers create projects that will allow students to succeed both on tests and in life challenges.
Spencer adds that student voice and choice is essential in creating standards-based learning that excites and engages. By providing a list of options that all adhere to standards, students can choose the formats and topics that interest them. “Ultimately, when this happens, students are able to master the standards at a deep level while also engaging in meaningful work and powerful projects,” he writes.
Another way to keep students engaged is to simplify standards-based lesson plans. Teacher educator Norman Eng suggests taking a Common Core standard and turning it into a one-sentence lesson plan. Here’s how:
- Take a common core standard like: “Analyze how particular lines of dialogue or incidents in a story or drama propel the action, reveal aspects of a character, or provoke a decision.”
- Change that into a one-sentence lesson plan like: “Using Jules Verne’s ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth,’ students will analyze how lines of dialogue propel the action.”
- The goal is for students to understand archetypal story structures and engage them as readers.
Preparing Students for Testing
Testing is often one of the most challenging aspects of Common Core and state standards preparation because it causes anxiety. Fortunately, teachers can help prepare their students for testing in a less stressful way.
To accustom students to test-taking, teachers can create games and activities that incorporate questions. Former teacher Kalena Baker says escape rooms are popular activities in which the player has to solve a puzzle in order to break out. Teachers can set up similar games in which students answer questions in order to move ahead.
In addition to helping students become more familiar with test questions, teachers can help them develop test-taking skills. Asking students to support their ideas with examples from a text, for instance, help students learn evidence gathering and explaining — essential skills for standardized testing.
“When reading text and answering questions in any subject area, students need to be able to support their ideas with examples from the text,” says teacher Michele Higgins. She encourages students to use highlighters when reading so that they can easily look back through a text and find the parts that helped them answer the question.
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