Aren’t standards supposed to be articulated with precision?
Well, that’s the hope, but even the best standards require skillful interpretation. This is informed by the professional conversations that we have with others and the expertise we are all willing to share.
For instance, consider the explicit expectations of this standard:
RL.4.10 By the end of the year, read and comprehend literature, including stories, dramas, and poetry, in the grades 4–5 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range.
Now, think about the implicit expectations. What isn’t clearly defined? Comprehension is a pretty loaded concept, and often, questions arise relevant to what a “text complexity band” is. Also: what does it mean to read and comprehend proficiently?
Answers to questions like these need to be clearly defined and articulated. Often, this requires deeper investigations into meaning and the location of other resources and people who can guide us.
When we unwrap standards, we also distinguish content and concepts (typically articulated as nouns within the standard) from skills (which are typically articulated as verbs).
This enables us to design and align curricula with greater precision. Considering adjectives and adverbs can help us think critically about levels of rigor as well. Some teachers begin to design essential questions and big ideas during this phase of the process as well. The video below can walk you and others through the unwrapping process fairly simply if you don’t have someone facilitating it for you. Thanks to Shelly Wilcoxen from David Douglas School District for sharing her process here:
Often, we conclude this phase of our work together by asking ourselves four critical questions:
- What do we still need to learn about these standards?
- How and when will this learning happen?
- Are there other standards that need to be brought to the table?
- Whose voices and perspectives might be missing here?
Here’s an important discovery I’ve made about timing over the years:
The first time I worked with teachers to unwrap the standards, we jigsawed the document and unwrapped all of the standards at each grade level in teams. Our findings were housed online, where others could access and amend them as we learned more.
Since then, I’ve timed the unwrapping phase of the design process a bit differently. Now, I often begin by helping teachers design high quality units first. Then, we align the units back to the standards. It’s at this point in the process that we unwrapped the standards, and in doing so, units are revised along the way.
I’m finding this approach far more effective. When teachers unwrap as they design units, they consider what they are learning about a standard and immediately revise their thinking and work within the unit to reflect these deeper understandings. It seems to narrow the distance between standards and curricula and allows alignment to happen more efficiently and effectively. When we allow our passion and our interests to fuel the first phase of design, we’re typically far more satisfied with outcome too. Often, designing great learning experiences with the Common Core means designing without the Core at first.
Photo credit: Angela Stockman, August 2011