Getting Students to Care About Standards

Tuesday, September 30, 2014 -- Scott Sterling

Students don’t care about the politics that go into deciding what they are to learn on a yearly basis. They certainly don’t care about funding formulas or performance pay (unless they get a car for straight A’s). But it’s important for the students to know how they will be judged and what goes into deciding whether they are on track or not. In fact, they should be able to track their status themselves. Here’s how it works:

Language they can understand

Many districts mandate that teachers should publicize what standard they are covering in that day’s lesson, usually by writing it on their white board. So every morning, teachers dutifully copy the standard, word-for-word.

How can that possibly help a student? They won’t understand a lot of the terminology and certainly won’t see the big picture of the standard, the multi-day building process. Instead, translate the standard for the kids. If it says they need to learn place value, the kid should understand what that means and how to get there.

The roadmap

Think of the standard as the destination. What is the roadmap? For most teachers, that would be the unit or lesson plan kids never get to see. Why not? Aren’t they partners in this process?

Don’t just write the standard on the board—write out the process and walk the kids through it before you start the lesson. The goal is for them to know where they are in the learning progression and why they have or haven’t made as much progress as is expected of them.

The grading

Any grading should align to the progress the student has made in relation to the standard and the roadmap. It needs to be simple enough for the student to understand why they haven’t moved on to the next task yet. The goal is mastery.

Some people organize this progression into a pointed scale that ranges from beginning knowledge (Level 1) all the way to exceeding expectations (Level 4), similar to the one we use for behavior. Any student should be able to immediately say where they fall in that scale. Johnny should know he’s a Level 2 in place value, why he’s there, and how he can move himself up the ladder. And yes, Johnny is a younger elementary student. It should be made that simple for them.

What do all of these common sense approaches do? They remove the ambiguity that surrounds education from the student’s perspective. They generate buy-in because all students have an inherent need to make progress. And they make the classroom more collaborative and less dictatorial.