Saturday, December 12, 2015

Applying Standards

I just completed a series of activities unpacking a standard, backwards mapping, and writing objectives. The logic of this sequence is very clear to me, and I am fully bought into it. Whatever complaints are voiced about Common Core in the public sphere, I now, through completing this exercise, have a full appreciation of standards-based teaching and learning. I think the bellyaching comes out of ignorance – people don’t understand what standards are about, and assume Common Core is dictating content.

Anyway, I find the process gets more difficult as you progress through it. The starting point, unpacking a standard, is a pretty simple exercise, in my view. But that’s not to understate its importance. What I found was that a well-written standard is a very powerful, highly compact distillation and call to action. If it is not that, it needs a rewrite. If it is, it provides the rationale for teacher and student to be in the classroom.

Backwards mapping, in which you define and design proficiencies, assessments, and learning experiences to fulfill the standard, was also pretty clear sailing. If you know the material, it’s a fulfilling imaginative exercise to plug in content and activities that have the effect of building up student knowledge and capability to achieve the standard. 

Where I got into difficulty was in defining SMART objectives to promote student learning related to a standard, in two respects. Using a college-level course made it difficult. I think if I had used a Common Core standard would have been an easier exercise. One problem was that the standard I chose was very content-oriented, and very high-level stuff (“be able to recognize how Christianity’s internal struggles have impacted the church”). I mean, to demonstrate achievement of that, you’ve pretty much had to progress through the whole course. And college-level teaching to adults is just going to have fewer touch points with individual students than K-12. So the examples I gave seemed a bit strained – I tried to consistently deal with factional division of the church, and perhaps I was being overly specific and too high-level. I don’t know.

And some of the SMART objectives I found hard to meaningfully define for the activities I created. In particular, I found “Attainable” pretty confounding, and “Targeted/Timely” got a pretty generic definition in most cases. While I’m glad I’m getting the chance to develop my curriculum plans for this course in this way, it’s probably not the easiest starting point for me to master the pedagogica concepts.

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