Tips & Strategies for Teaching to Course Standards

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  • 0:00 Tests & Standards
  • 0:35 Begin Planning
  • 2:00 Building Learning Activities
  • 3:09 Designing Assessments
  • 4:06 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rachel Tustin

Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.

While standards are a means by which states, school districts, and schools ensure uniformity in teaching, not every teacher understands how to use them to their advantage. This lesson will look at how to analyze standards and use them to design activities and assessments in the classroom.

Tests & Standards

Whether we accept it or not, the reality of teaching in America today is that teachers' yearly evaluations are, in most cases, tied in some degree to their students' performance on standards-based state testing. In some states, legislatures are even trying to connect teachers' pay to their students' performance on high-stakes testing. As a result, it's more important than ever that teachers learn how to break down their standards by identifying key vocabulary and critical concepts their students need to learn, and use them as a tool to create appropriate learning activities and assessments.

Begin Planning

As teachers, our instructional plans begin with our standards. In most cases, your standards are a state-produced document that details the content that needs to be covered each year in each subject for schools, teachers, and administrators.

Most of us begin by printing out the standards we teach. Then we go through the standards and highlight key terms or concepts that need to be addressed in our lessons. Starting from this point, it's a good idea to create a chart similar to this one, using paper or computer.

Mapping the Content Standards
Mapping the Content Standards

In the chart, you want to list the standard first. Then, list out any key terms or critical concepts you identify for each standard. Critical concepts are skills or more abstract idea that a student needs to have or understand.

Once that's done, it's good to sit down with teachers who also teach the same standards and reflect on each key term or concept you identified. For veteran teachers, this process can help you identify aspects of the standards you may have been missing. For a less experienced teacher, this is a good process to use to begin planning lessons for the first time. Working together, try to explain to each other what a student would need to know in order to understand the term or concept.

You may have a support guide that lays this information out to you, or you may not. In either case, it's good to work through it for yourself, or even with your colleagues, especially if it's a year where your state has rolled out new standards, or even revisions to existing standards. That way, you can identify shifts in the focus of your curriculum.

Building Learning Activities

Once you have mapped out your standards and identified the key concepts, the next step is to begin to develop activities that align with the concepts and key terms you've identified in the chart. First, consider that nature of what you want to teach. Is the content more vocabulary based, or is it more concept based? This will dictate that nature of the activities you want to do with your students to help them learn the material.

Next, approach the content as if you were a student. What approaches would get your students excited? Would they like to create a song about the content because they learn through music? Or would they be more engaged in a lab activity because they are kinesthetic learners? This is where you have to find ways to connect your standards to the students sitting in front of you.

You also want to find a good hook for your lessons, in addition to creating engaging activities. For example, if you're teaching about genetics, bring in some of the stories of the eccentric men who discovered DNA, such as Friedrich Miescher, who worked in the extra bathroom in the basement of a European Castle. If you're getting ready to study the Romans with your students, try coming to class dressed in full toga and speak to the students as a key figure of the time, such as Julius Caesar. A little role play, and colorful historical elements, are great ways to engage your students.

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