So currently we are on spring break.  I spent several hours scouring the internet for advice on how to understand or “unpack” the standards.  I was struck by the amount of misinformation to be found about the concept.  So it inspired me to write a quick post on understanding what the standards truly mean and why it’s important for teachers.

From a principal perspective, I need to feel confident that my teachers understand the standards and know how to assess learning in the classroom.  Today’s common core standards never just ask for understanding material, a student must be a able to make a judgement given the material in front of them.  Whether that’s math, social studies, science, reading, writing, you name it, that’s what it boils down to…

How many of you out there have a hard time making a decision?  Even a basic one like what’s for dinner?  Sounds simple but think about the concepts that go into making that decision.  You have to weigh many options, (or if you search through our cupboards, according to my kids, you have very few options….) but really, think about it.  Do I have the energy to make a meal?  What do I have that I can put together to make a meal?  Is there anything prepared that just needs to be heated up?  If so, what should I add to it to make sure it’s healthy?  Do I care if it’s healthy? The list goes on…

So how does that relate to understanding the standards we teach?  Well, if you look at the standards and decide what type of questions need to be answered and how to help students think their way through the process, you are not just teaching a standard, you are teaching the understanding of the standard.  Here is an example:

Interpret information presented visually, orally, or quantitatively (e.g., in charts, graphs, diagrams, time lines, animations, or interactive elements on Web pages) and explain how the information contributes to an understanding of the text in which it appears.

Let’s just start with understanding the verbs that will be asking students to make judgements,  Do you recognize any?  Here are some hints…  interpret ( to interpret something you have to comprehend, understand, think about it’s importance and value, and then decide relevant or not?)  explain (ever had someone give you an explanation that had no reason behind it? Was it frustrating?) Yes, of course it was, because in order to explain something, you have to understand the inner workings of the whole concept or it doesn’t make sense.  “Because I said so”, is cliche for a reason!

Now to the hard part, getting students to do this is extremely difficult.  It can lead to many silent moments in a classroom, long, unpleasant silences where crickets seem to be chirping, but how can teachers help?  By not giving up, not giving in, teaching the process of getting the students to look at what they know and make decisions.  The above standard has them looking at time lines, animations, interactive elements, charts, tables – all of those tools are skills to help the student be able to understand the bigger picture. INTERPRET and EXPLAIN are the concepts to be taught.  Students must make decisions and then provide their explanation as to how it supports the understanding of the text.

So start with these simple questions;

What do I know given the material in front of me?

Does anything in the material show a pattern or contrasting thought or idea?

How do I decide if the information is important to the topic?  What’s the proof?

Can I make a conclusion that I can support?  Based on what?

Can I explain why I think that?  Do I have evidence to support my idea?

As a teacher, modeling these questions while going through the material will help your students to understand the standard above.  Not only would you be addressing the standard, but you would be teaching the conceptual approach to interpreting and explaining information.

It just doesn’t get any better than that!  During the next few weeks, I’ll look for examples in the classroom and follow up with proof and data from PTES!



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