The controversy surrounding assessment of students and teachers in standards-based classrooms in the U.S. and around the world has obscured a fundamental problem in teacher preparation: The vast majority of teachers have been taught to think in terms of lessons and units, not in terms of objectives. They don’t have any training in working with standards.
A few truly gifted teachers can teach lessons and units, each with their own objectives, and manage over an academic year to instill in their students a knowledge of the major concepts, essential skills, and attitudes required in that discipline.
The majority of teachers, however, teach as they were taught and as they were taught to teach: in disconnected units.
They may teach well.
Students may acquire a great deal of information.
Students are unlikely, however, to get the big picture that will allow them to use their knowledge to acquire and produce new knowledge.
The frustration teachers who are told to use methods they haven’t experienced or been taught is intense. I feel especially bad for the teachers who are eager to teach better, but held back by their unit-mindset, as these two tweets for help reveal:
This teacher’s problem is a unit mindset: one concept, one week.
Working within a standards-based environment means teachers must think in terms of objectives for a year or longer. Those objectives are major concepts and major skills. Such objectives cannot be “hit in a short time.” They cannot be confined to a lesson, a week, a unit. They must be taught repeatedly throughout the year in multiple ways in multiple contexts.
Take, for example, the Common Core Reading Standards for Literature for grade 6 students. The nine standards listed are to be a focus for the year.
Learning to “cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text” (the first standard) is not something students will learn to do in one unit. So instead of teaching a unit on citing textual evidence, teachers incorporate that activity regularly into learning activities until citing textual evidence becomes standard procedure for students.
Teaching within a standards-based environment allows—even demands—teachers assume more responsibility for selecting materials to use with their students. In addition, teachers have more freedom and responsibility for the pace of instruction: “This month’s unit” is on its way out.
We’re probably in for a long period of turmoil until the assessment issues are worked out, but when they are settled, I believe many teachers will welcome having more professional responsibility for managing their classroom learning environment and will do better teaching in a standards-based environment.
They just need the right mindset.