Making Standards Come to Life
How do teachers keep up with all the relevant standards out there and still feel the freedom that comes from hands-on learning? It’s a question that has created system-wide stress. On the one hand, a set of benchmarks or standards that students should master is an important component to a civilized education system. On the other hand, a static system of benchmarks and standards can stifle teacher creativity and can actually be counter-productive to the goal of having students master information.
For some background, here is an example of some information regarding history standards that are out there (this found on wikipedia):
In the United States, the National Center for History in the Schools at the University of California, Los Angeles has developed history standards that include benchmarks for both content in U.S. and world history and historical thinking skills in grades Kindergarten-4 and 5-12. In both of these age ranges, the Center defines historical thinking in five parts:
- Chronological Thinking
- Historical Comprehension
- Historical Analysis and Interpretation
- Historical Research Capabilities
- Historical Issues-Analysis and Decision-Making
As part of the national assessment effort called “The Nation’s Report Card, ” the United States Department of Education has also developed benchmarks for student achievement in U.S. history. Their rubric divides history learning into three basic dimensions: major historical themes, chronological periods, and ways of knowing and thinking about history. The third dimension is further divided into two parts: historical knowledge and perspective, and historical analysis and interpretation.
To my vantage point, these benchmarks have come a long way from the days of cramming minutia into the heads of students. Don’t get me wrong, I think there are many dates, names, etc. that students should remember. However, in the 21st century workplace, it’s not enough to know information. If that’s all you can do, you’re only outlet in life will be to reprise the bar know-it-all, Cliff Clavin, role on Cheers. What’s much more critical is that students are able to take the information and do something with it. When I look at the list from the National Center for History and the rubric for the US Dept. of Ed, both seem to have started to move towards an amicable middle when it comes to standards.
For TCI, this shift moves to our sweet spot. We’ve long fashioned ourselves after a spiral approach (Bruner). We want students to think about the chronology when it comes to history, but then analyze it. We challenge them to make meaning and do something creative with the information in small-group settings. Students are enriched with many opportunities for research and feedback. A classic example of this can be found with our upper elementary lesson for the Revolutionary War . Students engage in an activity that allows them to comprehend, interpret, and research the events surrounding the war in a way they won’t forget. This lesson satisfies both the standards and a great teacher’s desire to have hands-on learning in class.
If you’re new to TCI, feel free to check out any of our programs. Each program has a sample lesson that you can take and try out in your classroom. You’ll see how we meet and exceed the standards and support you professionally with great resources. As a professional, keep informed about the standards in your state as well as national initiatives that are relevant to your class. Share your insights on how you’ve taken important standards and brought them to life.