Teachers are overwhelmed. Parents are overwhelmed. Leaders are overwhelmed.
And, to be fair, this feeling isn’t new for educators, though it’s magnified now.
It’s time to simplify.
Simple does not mean easy. Simple does not mean that we are letting up on learning.
Instead, when we simplify, we arrive at what’s really essential.
When I’ve worked with curriculum teams, we usually start with the work of DuFour, et. al.
Here are their “big questions” to guide teaching and learning.
- What do we want all students to know and be able to do?
- How will we know if they’ve learned it?
- How will we support students when they struggle?
- How will we enrich the learning for students who are already proficient?
Educators always love these questions.
Great, I say. So, now, let’s answer that first question.
Teachers pull out their state standards, textbooks, final exams, etc and soon our response to question 1 fills up pages.
It becomes clear that we cannot teach everything if we want students to learn deeply and joyfully.
We need to strip down to the essential standards.
Teachers understandably have trouble with this. EVERYTHING feels essential.
But then I ask them to picture a capable student in their class. Now, consider that this student will endure some tough circumstances this year–perhaps illness–that causes him/her to be out for a significant portion of the year.
Most teachers can’t conceive of having this student repeat an entire year or course. So they then consider what the student would REALLY need to know and be able to do in order to move beyond this class or course.
We use this guidance from Larry Ainsworth to choose our essential standards (aka Power or Priority Standards.)
Essential standards are those that exhibit:
- Endurance–skills and knowledge needed for life outside this course
- Leverage–skills and knowledge from this course that help us learn and understand standards in other courses
- Readiness–skills and knowledge that we must have to advance to the next year/course
In fact, there are schools and teachers that do this regularly for students with special circumstances.
We just never considered that we would need to do this for all students…in all subjects.
But we can. Simplify. Get down to the essentials–the real and true essentials and go from there.
Right now, I would ask teachers to consider the ONE thing students must know or be able to do between now and next year. How can we teach that? How will we (and students) know if they’ve learned it?
Then, go on to prioritize the NEXT thing on the list and so on. If the first is all we can reasonably achieve this year, so be it.
Kudos to those districts that have made this focus on essential standards crystal clear, reducing overwhelm and giving space for deep and joyful learning.
#ourFCPS friends- Essential Standards for remaining instructional weeks for ES & MS are posted to Distance Learning Support (teacher-facing) BB site. For ES, also posted to ECF google site at https://t.co/LauP8aXIwm (FCPS google log-in required). @kmkoelsch @christiepday pic.twitter.com/uP74XXrrLp
— Andrea Hand (@AndreaHand2) April 12, 2020