Too Many Standards for Teachers: Realistic steps for teachers creating curriculum

Instructional design is an important function in the role of teacher. It is not a product for teachers to receive; it is a crucial, creative responsibility of the job. That which teachers design, detail by detail, is the foundation for their other roles: guide, docent, disseminator, explorer-leader, coach, cheerleader, assessor, instructor, and director.

The students will also build their learning on this foundation, as they become more than just receivers of information, but grow into explorers, performers, product managers, discoverers, champions, masters, players, evaluators, and ultimately, creators of anything imaginable.

First, we must understand what makes up a curriculum.

1. A curriculum details the What of learning, based on standards and how we break down those standards into content and skills, essential questions, big ideas, transfer goals, and the design of learning targets. The documentation of the curriculum details When the learning experience falls in the academic calendar.

2. The documentation instructions detail the How and include methodologies, resources, student contributions, questioning, networking, and projects.

3. Then we use a variety of assessments so that we can qualify How Well the students learned what we intended for them to learn.

In the book Hacking Instructional Design by Michael and Elizabeth Fisher, the strategies in this book offer you the power and permission to be the designer, not the recipient, of a contemporary curriculum. Students and teachers will benefit for years to come when you apply these engaging tools starting tomorrow.


The point is for you to be the designer, not the recipient, of a curriculum.


Your professional practices are much more effective when you explicitly know standards, curricular elements, assessments, and contemporary instructional practices. And then, you put that professional knowledge to work, collaboratively with colleagues, to craft an instructional program based on the designed curriculum that meets the learning and engagement needs of every child.

Make It R.E.A.L: Too Many Standards for Teachers

The breadth of standards is overwhelming for teachers. Many feel like they are barely scratching the surface of learning and are instead simply following prescribed curricula with fidelity to standardized tests. This leaves many teachers asking how they can make sound and unique instructional decisions while still aligning to the standards.

When working with curriculum design in any form and trying to decide how standards need to dictate that design, the best approach is to take it one step at a time. Educators often get bogged down with the big picture, particularly when administrators have an “I need this done yesterday” mindset.

Though that might work for standards, it doesn’t work for everyday curriculum. Journeys such as this are taken in steps and are easiest when teachers set goals according to manageable and attainable targets.

To determine whether a standard needs to be a priority in the first place, get R.E.A.L. This stands for Readiness, Endurance, Assessment, and Leverage. Use the following guidelines to break down standards into levels of importance and priority as you design your own curriculum.

R: Readiness

If a learning moment is dependent on a previous learning moment, then it is imperative that students be prepared for that. Each step must prepare them for the next so that we don’t drag them into learning they aren’t yet ready for. Skipping steps builds gaps over time and creates lifelong anti-learners who aren’t willing to try. We certainly don’t want that!

Be sure that students are ready by engaging some of the suggestions in the upcoming Hacks, specifically the Hack on prior knowledge. Focus on readiness before you move on to the next standard, to make sure you’re giving your students the best possible chance at advancement.

E: Endurance

Any concept or idea students learn that will serve them from now on is considered a lifelong skill, like understanding text structures or automatically knowing multiplication tables. Fluency in sight words and easy math facts should be automatic for students so that they can move on to more challenging problems and texts. If they don’t understand the basics, they are going to struggle with anything that comes after it.

Without those enduring, lifelong skills, students will struggle to move to the next step of learning, which will lead to ever-increasing gaps in proficiency as students get older. As teachers, we must understand what these enduring, lifelong skills are, as informed by the standards, but also by our professional knowledge as effective educators—and focus on them before moving forward.

A: Assessment 

The “A” in R.E.A.L. doesn’t just stand for Assessment. It stands for Any Assessment at Any Time—a variation of an idea first written about by Fenwick English. The idea here is that students should be as ready for an assessment as they are to receive new learning; as opposed to assessing students only when they are prepared, such as at the end of a unit or the end of a week.

Making sure students are ready for assessment at any time means teaching the standards in a logical way that builds upon previous knowledge and gives you a guideline for curriculum design and priorities.

For readers who are concerned about standardized assessments, note that state education departments often publish testing guides well before state assessments occur.

These testing guides specifically tell educators what standards will be assessed, though they don’t often say how a particular standard will be represented. If you don’t know about testing guides or assessment overviews for your state, ask your administrator or search your state’s education website.

L: Leverage

Another angle for determining standards priorities has to do with leverage and which standards will have a high degree of overlap in other classes/content areas. For instance, if students are learning about ratios in math, what are the chances that they will also be learning about them in health, physical education, the sciences, or career and tech ed classes?

Students learn better if all their teachers work together on overlapping ideas like this, and cooperate in their teaching methods. Doing so requires the teachers to know their standards and work in tandem in terms of schedules, as well as prioritizing these areas of overlap.

Knowing the heart of the standards and speaking the language of the standards proficiently helps teachers fit them into their own instructional design efficiently and responsibly. For greater student success, make sure you communicate and collaborate with your fellow teachers regarding the standards.  


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