Do Our Students Understand Our Standards?

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I could see the disappointment creep through the room like a fog enveloping us all.  Those kids who had been bright and cheery when they entered our room now sat there sullen, shoulders dropped, barely meeting my eye.  I tried to explain again; I thought you needed some honest feedback…I know I have high expectations…it is not too late…

My students had done halfway through the quarter reflections and some of them had really missed the mark on their own engagement and work quality. Or maybe I had missed the mark as a teacher, but something was not lining up between their perception and reality, something was not right.  Thus Tuesday’s conversation; a quick “If grades were handed out today” sheet and now lots of broken hearts.  Sometimes being a teacher just sucks.

That night, when I couldn’t sleep, I realized what we needed to do, ashamed that I hadn’t thought of it before; we needed to deconstruct the standards.  Tear them apart, put them in our own language, but most importantly discuss ways of showing mastery, so that they could be in control of their 7th grade learning journey

So today we started with our very first standard.  The students and I reworded it, spoke about what it meant, and also spoke about my ideas for second quarter; show me mastery in your own way.  Tell me when you are ready to give me evidence that you can do these things.  Yes, you can choose to do a written assignment, and yes there will still be certain milestones that we have to reach,  but you can also show me in another way; sculptures, videos, conversations, blogs, whatever we can work out, whatever you can dream up.

After today, I feel like it finally makes sense.  Not just to my students who function under the scope of these standards; but to myself, the wielder of the assessment.  I hadn’t thought to do this because I made the assumption my students had figured it out themselves.  That they had figured out the standards.  That they knew how they would be assessed and how to show me their growth.  Why I would assume this I am not sure, but I know I cannot be the only one.  I know others like me must have assumed that students know what they are supposed to learn, know what they will be assessed on.  That’s a mistake I will not make again.

After the day was done and the new standard hung on our bulletin board, I have hope.  Hope that my students will start to understand what I take for granted in their learning journey.  Hope that my students will see that they there is room for all of their abilities and not just the ones determined by me.  Hope that my students will embrace the push for personalization, hope that it will make them understand more where they need to go and how they need to grow.  I should have done this day one, I am glad it is not too late.

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I am a passionate  teacher in Wisconsin, USA,  who has taught 4th, 5th, and 7th grade.  Proud techy geek, and mass consumer of incredible books. Creator of the Global Read Aloud Project, Co-founder of EdCamp MadWI, and believer in all children. I have no awards or accolades except for the lightbulbs that go off in my students’ heads every day.  First book “Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classrooms Back to Our Students” can be purchased now from Powerful Learning Press.   Second book“Empowered Schools, Empowered Students – Creating Connected and Invested Learners” is out now from Corwin Press.  Follow me on Twitter @PernilleRipp.

5 thoughts on “Do Our Students Understand Our Standards?

  1. a simple, but brilliant idea . . . a simply brilliant idea. By fostering student understanding of the targets in their own words, students are empowered to achieve what they have internalized and outwardly defined.

  2. What you did takes time, real time, valuable time. I’m glad you realized that for your students to do their best deviating from the plan was not only prudent, but necessary. Hooray for you and your students!

  3. I started this last year after having a discussion with my teaching about what a particular standard meant. So on my website I have the actual standard and then below that I have the standard broken down into student friendly language – in bullet points. Each bullet point along the lines of “be able to …”. I even put the standard at the top of each document so the students have an idea of why they are doing each particular assignment.

  4. Hi Pernille,

    I’m wondering if you could share any examples of how the students have broken down the standards and put them in their own words. Maybe a picture of one of the charts on your walls, either here or on Twitter? I’m hoping to deconstruct ELA standards with my students next year, and would love an example to share with my admin. (Of course, I know every class and every group of students will paraphrase them in their own way, but a model is always helpful!)

    Also, do you have any good links to resources where teachers have already begun to paraphrase standards into student-friendly language? Any resources would help.

    Thanks for all your great ideas!

    • Hi Jonah,
      I just added a picture of our student deconstructed standards from this year. It really depends on the language your students feel comfortable with and what makes sense to them. We refer to them often and so the students end up feeling fairly comfortable with the language and what they are trying to master. I don’t have any links to started standards, but also am not sure if other examples are needed. I think it is more powerful to do it along with students.
      Best,
      Pernille

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