Standards-Based Best Practices
As many school districts across the country did, my administration jumped on the Charlotte Danielson bandwagon. Among other requirements, each class had to begin with a statement of the learning objective, which also had to be posted on the wall. Curriculum supervisors conducted walk-throughs in which they asked students to explain the learning objective of the day. True confession: the first year (or two) we did this, I found it pretty pointless. My students and I went through the motions. I dutifully posted the objectives, and they dutifully copied them into their agendas. But none of us were really engaged. I started feeling guilty about that and looking for some way to make the process more authentic. At about the same time, I started reading about growth mindset. In my mind, growth mindset and the standards are a natural pairing. My goal became to get students truly involved in the measurement of their learning.
The first thing I did was simplify my process for posting our learning objectives. After studying the Common Core standards for grades 6-8 ELA, I simplified the language and broke each standard into teachable chunks. The goal was to post objectives from the standards that students could understand and accomplish in one lesson. I chose to reword them as “We can …” posters rather than “I can …” (We had that choice!) My classroom style has always centered around collaboration and teamwork among students as well as between teacher and student. Next I changed the way I was posting these objectives. As an ELA teacher, you realize that we teach about a million standards in every single lesson, right? I put up a selection of those objectives with a sign that said “We practice these standards every day.” Then I added a sign for “Focus standard of the day” and used that to highlight a specific skill. This setup eventually evolved into a poster with the Everyday Standards listed. Incidentally, these are, to me, the heart of what Common Core is about.
Another required task that felt pretty meaningless was having students copy the learning objective into their planner notebooks. I tweaked that a little by giving my classes a copy of all the standards (reworded in my “student friendly” text) in a checklist. The first time I introduced any standard in class, students rated themselves on a 1-4 scale. We used the Novice-Apprentice-Master-Expert categories that I probably saw on Pinterest! Not terribly reliable, I know, but it was a start toward getting students more involved. I was taking baby steps toward incorporating growth mindset and the standards into our daily routine. Each time we practiced that same standard, instead of copying the text of it, students just entered the date again on their checklists. This led to some interesting discussions about why we were skipping past some standards or practicing others again. Students also entered a date on the checklist when they demonstrated mastery of a standard on one of our classroom or benchmark assessments.
My paradigm shift came when a teacher from another state asked me to create Learning Scales for my TeachersPayTeachers store. Whoa! This is where I really saw the possibilities for connections between growth mindset and the standards. I created a 4-point scale for each standard, or each part of a standard I had already broken down. Level 1 is the foundation skills or knowledge students would need in order to begin working on that standard. Level 2 is partial achievement, so it includes skills or knowledge that lead toward mastery. The 3rd level represents mastery of the standard. Level 4 (always my gifted kiddos’ goal) is achieving beyond the standard. In some cases I looked to the standards of higher grade levels for Level 4, and sometimes I looked for chances to incorporate deeper analysis and critical thinking. Now when I asked students to rate themselves, they had something specific and concrete to base it on. Even more important, in terms of growth mindset, they had a clear picture of where they were headed and what they needed to get there.
From there, it was an easy next step to add our learning scales to a quick self-check exit ticket. (Administrators loved to see this in action, too!) Sometimes, I post a question for students to answer on the back of the exit ticket. They also work well as an informal assessment of the day’s lesson. With specific descriptions of each achievement level, students can easily assess their understanding at the end of class. The growth mindset part that I’m proud of on these is the comments students can check at the bottom. “I am ready to prove it.” “I need more practice.” “I need to hear it another way.” These statements frame not-there-yet in a positive light and they let me as the teacher know which kids can benefit from re-teaching.
Self Assessment Reflection Forms
The final stage of my growth mindset shift was the development of these self-assessment forms. I had students collect examples from their portfolios to show evidence of where they were on the learning scale. As I conferred with them, we planned their next steps together–more practice, enrichment projects, etc. I absolutely loved seeing my middle-schoolers taking such an active role in their own education. It didn’t take long before they started coming to me with proposals for their own ideas about how to show mastery of a standard! Offering students ownership and choice in what materials they use to learn a concept or how they demonstrate mastery is key to engaging reluctant learners. I feel the same way: Tell me where I’m going and let me figure out how to get there!
Browse My Standards Products
You can find these resources that I used in my classroom and more standards-based resources in my shop.