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Explanation Demonstration Exploration Implementation Get Credit

In this section of the Standards Workshop (Exploration), you will have many opportunities to both analyze what you're already doing well, and to explore some new techniques that you can add to your repertoire.

Each of the questions below is designed to open an area for discovery. We provide some tools and activities to help you build upon the knowledge you created in Sections 1 and 2.

How do I start using standards?
What are the challenges I will face?
How do I assess students' progress?
How does technology complement this approach?
How do I introduce standards to the parents and community?

How do I start using standards?

If your district hasn't already adopted standards, that's the first step, but it's not one you can take alone. Adopting standards means changing the system, and that can only be done by a majority of the people working in it -- not necessarily all of them, but most of them. To adopt standards, the school-district leadership will probably either work with state standards or initiate a process for developing local standards. If the district takes the second route, you may have the opportunity to be a member of a standards-writing team. Even if you don't, you will almost certainly have an opportunity, as a teacher in the district, to comment on the chosen standards when they are being reviewed and finalized.

Next comes implementation. This means aligning curriculum with the standards, selecting appropriate textbooks and materials, and selecting and attending standards-based professional-development workshops. Again, this is best done as a team effort.

Whether the district follows the state standards or develops its own, most teachers begin their real digging into standards with professional development. One method of getting standards into the classroom is called Standards in Practice (SIP) 1, which Ruth Mitchell, our content expert for this workshop, helped develop at the Education Trust 2.

1.     2.

We'll show you an example of how SIP works. Then you can work through this model with any and all classroom activities you're planning.

First, we have to reiterate-- it's best not to do it alone.

Teachers at Ferguson Elementary School in Philadelphia meet to align their curricula with standards.

Standards-based schooling requires teachers to work in teams, to share their expertise, and to support each other. The SIP method requires school and district leadership to arrange schedules so that teachers can meet regularly in groups of six or eight during school time for about 90 minutes at a time. It turns out not to be impossible to arrange such team meetings, even though it may seem so on first glance. The Boston Plan for Excellence 3 has published a comprehensive collection of creative ideas for rearranging schedules.


The SIP process is inexpensive because it happens on site during the school day and uses the assignments that the teachers give their students daily in class.

Let's look at the SIP process to help get you and your colleagues started with standards.

The steps of the Standards in Practice (SIP) model

  1. We all complete the assignment or task.
  2. We analyze the demands of the assignment or task.
  3. We identify the standards that apply to this assignment.
  4. We generate a rough scoring guide from the standards and the assignment.
  5. We score the student work using the guide.
  6. We ask: "Will this work meet the standards? If not, what are we going to do about it?" We then plan action at the classroom, school, district, and state levels to ensure that all students meet the standards.

Step 1.
One teacher, a volunteer, brings to the meeting a set of student work on a particular assignment. It must be ordinary, right-off-the-desk work. Later, in turn, everyone will bring in a set of work. The leader of the group, perhaps a coach or mentor, perhaps one of the team members, records the assignment and the grade level and takes notes as the meeting proceeds.

The first action in the group is for teachers to do the assignment themselves. This is usually easy for elementary assignments, but gets difficult with high-school work, especially math. As far as possible all team members should experience the assignment, even if only in outline form.

In the case of an assignment that is seriously flawed, Step 1 is usually all that's necessary to convince the teacher to rewrite or rethink the assignment.

Here's a grade 4 mathematics assignment we've often used to demonstrate the SIP process:

A pattern of dots is shown below. At each step, more dots are added to the pattern. The number of dots added at each step is more than the number added in the previous step. The pattern continues infinitely.

Marcy has to determine the number of dots in the twentieth step, but she does not want to draw all twenty pictures and then count the dots. Explain and show how she could do this and give the answer Marcy should get for the number of dots.

1st step 2nd step 3rd step
_ _ _ _ _
_ _ _
_ _ _ _
_ _ _ _
_ _ _ _

Step 2.
All the team members do the assignment and experience what they are asking their students to do. Then they list the skills and knowledge that the students must have if they are going to do well on the assignment. This step makes them conscious about what the activity is teaching the student, with the underlying question: Is it worthwhile? In this case, students have to use pattern-recognition and extension skills, problem-solving skills, computation, writing, and diagramming.

Step 3.
Now all the team members examine their copies of the mathematics standards. They might be the state or local standards, but here we'll use the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) standards. The team members find standards with which the assignment is aligned and record them on paper. They use the list of skills and knowledge from Step 2 to make sure all the standards are listed.

This step is important for an additional reason: it gets teachers to look at the standards they must work with. Only too often teachers haven't had an opportunity to read the standards properly and use them, which is really the only way to know them.

The standards that apply here are the NCTM standards for K-4 -- #1, problemsolving; #2, mathematics as communication; #8, whole number computation; and #13, patterns and relationships -- with their appropriate explanations, such as "recognize, describe, extend, and create a wide variety of patterns."

Step 4.
Without looking at the student work (this is important), the team now constructs a scoring guide for this assignment.

The scores go from 4, which is an ideal portrait of work that would satisfy this assignment, down to 1, which describes a minimal effort.

Here's the scoring guide for this problem. It includes what the students know and what they can do with the information.

The student work is characterized by a clear understanding of pattern and a confident explanation of the solution. It extends the linear pattern by rule, is correctly computed, and gives a clear, logical written explanation illustrated with a diagram. The explanation is so clear that another student could extend the pattern without trouble and get the correct answer.

The student work accurately extends the linear pattern, shows correct computation, and explains in such a way that another student might follow and get the correct answer.

The student work shows some understanding and attempts to extend the linear pattern but there may be computational errors and only an attempt to write an explanation. There may also be good pattern extension and computation but no explanation.

The student work shows partial understanding. It may have the wrong pattern or something random. The solution is not correct and the explanation is barely attempted.

Step 1.
The team now uses this scoring guide to score the student work. They are careful not to refer to students by name, but confine their comments to the work. The scoring guide uses only "student work," not references to real students.

At first, the results may not be encouraging. In our experience, about one-sixth of the student products earned a score of 3, and the rest were 2s and 1s. Some students certainly understood the pattern, but could not explain to another student how to solve it. Others went off on a different track, having misperceived the pattern. This is disheartening.

Step 1.
This is the most important step in the model, for it is here that the team puts together its collective expertise to answer the question: What do we do with all these 2 and 1 scores? The team looks at the options: If the assignment was muddled, poorly targeted, or didn't challenge the students, then it must be rewritten, enhanced, perhaps even abandoned and replaced. However, in this case, the assignment is basically sound, although some teachers have told us that it should be amended so that it is clear that "Explain" means "in writing."

Since it's a good assignment, aligned with the standards, then the concept or skill must be retaught more effectively or perhaps the school's math or literacy program needs reshaping so that students learn how to perceive patterns accurately and to write clearly about their understanding of them. Steps are taken here to correct these problems and to ensure that the next batch of students encountering this assignment will be better prepared.

This SIP model can be applied to any unit of instruction -- classroom activity, multiweek unit, even the entire curriculum. It is a quality-control tool to ensure that the instructional program is aligned with standards. Please note that it can be used with strategies such as teaching to multiple intelligences, constructivism, inquiry-based learning, cooperative and collaborative learning, and technology-based instruction because these are all means to get students to standards. The key is to use the best tools for the job and make sure that every student is given a real chance to meet the standards.

Workshop: Teaching to Academic Standards
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