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Inspired Ideas

Teaching Beyond the Standards

Unfolding the Standards with Your Professional Learning Community

By Enrique Puig, Director of the UCF Morgridge International Reading Center

Most colleagues in education agree that standards in education should be designed to be explicit, direct, and help teachers and teacher leaders choose tasks and assignments to ensure relevant application. Additionally, standards should build upon one another, so teachers know what they need to do in their grade level to contribute intentionally and coherently to students’ literacy learning. For all this to occur, educators need to have three key understandings:

  1. To know what comes next in the learning, teachers must know students’ strengths and needs.
  2. Formative assessments must provide answers to where students are in their learning and how they’re processing information.
  3. A productive multi-level assessment system is needed to ensure effective instruction. Summative standardized static assessments alone are insufficient to inform powerful instruction.

Decades ago, the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky proposed that language is a tool for thinking. Most university-based research scholars and school-based, practitioner scholars agree with the concept.

Consequently, unfolding new standards should begin by developing a common language as a tool for rethinking educational standards.

In particular, I have found that assessment, formative, standards, scaffolding, and professional learning community of practice are hallmark terms that describe the forward shifts that occur when implementing standards.

Before moving on, notice that I used the term “unfolding” the standards instead of the commonly used “unpacking.” I have found that on a personal level, when we “unpack” something, it’s to put it away somewhere. Standards are not designed to be put away. Imagine returning from a trip. You unpack your suitcase and put your clothes away. Metaphorically speaking, many times when standards are “unpacked” they’re put away. Now, visualize unfolding something. To begin, you have the whole item in your hand. As you unfolded it, you notice the details in the item.

To unfold standards, we must understand that effective assessments should be viewed as an inventory of students’ strengths and needs to inform — not guide — instruction. When assessments are used to “guide” instruction, it implies the removal of professional teacher decision making. Furthermore, formative assessments have to be deployed to determine changes in student strengths and needs over time. As we continue to unfold standards to improve instruction, we also have to recognize that educational standards primarily represent the minimum knowledge requirement essential for a particular grade level.

If we’re to educate a global citizenry to address real-world issues, we have to teach beyond the standards.

Teaching beyond the standards requires that instruction be scaffolded as students construct knowledge, which means it is crucial for teachers to know their students’ strengths and needs. Scaffolding instruction can only occur by building on students’ strengths.

Is all of this possible? YES! It is all possible when a dedicated group of educators comes together to unfold the standards in a genuine professional learning community. A genuine professional learning community is not a scheduled meeting with an agenda of information to be deposited into our heads. A genuine professional learning community develops over time with like-minded professionals seeking solutions to common issues and shared concerns — in this case, implementing new standards effectively. Consider starting this process by reflecting on and discussing the following questions:

a. How can we ensure “age-appropriate” formative assessments?

b. How can formative assessments be used to inform our instruction towards standards?

c. What do we need to consider to involve students in the analysis of formative assessment

Enrique A. Puig has over 36 years of experience in education with experience in K-12 classroom teaching, literacy coaching, and nation-wide educational consulting. He has been recognized as a Title I Distinguished Educator by the Florida Department of Education. Currently, Enrique is the director of the UCF Morgridge International Reading Center and teaches undergraduate and graduate K-12 Content Area Reading and Diagnostic Reading courses in the College of Education and Human Performance at the University of Central Florida. He is a consulting author for Florida Wonders ©2022, offering his expertise in professional development to the literacy program.

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