I recently had a conversation with a friend about getting back to the business of teaching and learning following winter break. After lamenting how this fall was all about catching up and filling gaps, we talked about how a new year typically brings a renewed focus on standards mastery when students seem to hit their learning stride.
While the second semester focuses on mastering standards, we agreed that this year brought an urgency not seen before. He worried that the “push for excellence” before testing this year would be challenging.
Excellence stems from an attitude of high expectations for every student, and high expectations begin with rigorous instruction that is “academically, intellectually, and personally challenging.”3 Although rigor may look different in each classroom, there are some common features that stand out. The first is that all instructional time is devoted to the standards. Standards-based instruction is the hallmark of instructional rigor. Standards are introduced, taught, and practiced in a variety of ways. Strategies include:
Explicit Instruction–standards are clearly explained and transparent.
Teacher Modeling relevant examples and thinking through how standards are applied are provided.
Guided Instruction–support for students is provided with feedback before students use standards independently.
Practice–a variety of “try it out” experiences are provided; practice includes items at all levels of thinking and emulates high-stakes tests.
Feedback–students receive appropriate and timely feedback; it is specific and supports understanding.
Assessment–progress is monitored and used to inform instruction; students are grouped for intervention, tutoring, and extension.
Educators who effectively strive for excellence are keenly aware of the importance of appropriately placing students for instruction and practice. Therefore, the second critical feature in the push to ward excellence is individualized instruction and practice. Although individualization in today’s diverse classrooms may be a challenge, the use of technology that provides actionable data helps educators achieve this goal. Using a data-based approach, students experience a balance of supports and challenges to keep them moving forward without frustration. Moreover, technology that provides instant data helps students monitor their own progress, which motivates learning and achievement.
Effective educators strive for excellence in their practice and for their students. The urgency of both rigorous instruction and individualization cannot be underestimated. Therefore, to help our students hit their second-semester stride, let us give them exactly what they need.