Monday, March 23, 2009

Covering the State's Standards Quickly and Efficiently

As one of the writers of the newest standards document for the state of North Dakota, I often get a variety of complaints and questions. One of the complaints that I often hear is that there are just too many standards and benchmarks.

I am not sure why this is a complaint. I will admit that the standards and benchmarks document for North Dakota is quite extensive for English Language Arts at each grade level. If the complaints are about the size, why is the size an obstacle?

Is it because it is difficult to maneuver through?

Is it because it is hard to find a particular benchmark that is needed on a lesson plan?

Is it because one school year does not seem long enough to cover all of them?

If the complaint is the first, the standards and benchmark documents are available in different configurations on the DPI website. You can get the entire standard and benchmark document by grade level or you can get an entire standard K-12. Is there another configuration that teachers would appreciate having?

If the complaint is the second, I understand. When I am asked to list the standards and benchmarks covered by a particular lesson I am teaching, I find it daunting to go through each standard, listing all of the benchmarks that a lesson covers. I have remedied this by listing the covered standards by unit and not by daily lesson. I find that the units I create actually cover a very broad number of benchmarks. The better the unit; the broader the scope of standards and benchmarks covered. I am also finding, as I become more proficient at this, that the coverage of a broad range of standards and benchmarks also translates to a better unit for diverse learners. For instance, when writing, reading, speaking, and media benchmarks are used in one unit, the different types and levels of learners can excel in different areas all within the same unit.

Finally, if the complaint is the last, I refer you to the previous paragraph. Units that are thoroughly thought out and well-designed, tend to cover a very broad range of benchmarks. If the unit does not cover an adequate cross-section of benchmarks, it should probably be rethought a little. I, by no means, am advocating scrapping units that have a lot of time and energy invested in them. I am, instead, suggesting that coordinating activities be added to a beloved unit to cover a broader range of benchmarks.

Finally, I have found that many of the benchmarks take very little effort to cover. Case in point:

My six year old entered my 10th grade English class a few weeks ago when we were discussing Edgar Allan Poe's "The Mask of the Red Death." (He comes through every day to get his lunch out of my refrigerator.) At this particular time we were talking about the symbolism of color. ND Standard 2: Students Engage in the Reading Process lists identifying the use of symbolism as a benchmark (10.2.4. Identify author’s use of figurative language including allusion, imagery, and symbolism).

Later that afternoon, as we were driving the one mile to our house, Reid asked why my class had been discussing colors. I told him that colors could symbolize people or objects or feelings. I started with the color green and asked what green could symbolize. He replied, "Grass, money, or 'go.'" We continued through many different colors. He showed understanding of symbolism with each.

Just then, my seventh grade son, Ethan, jumped in and asked how it might be used in a novel. I told him that F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel The Great Gatsby had a light at the end of a dock that was the color green. I explained that two lovers lived across the water from one another and that the woman had married someone else years before because the other had not been wealthy enough for her. He had gained riches and bought a huge house across the water so her could be near her. I asked him if, based on that little bit, he could tell me what the green light may have stood for. He replied, "Go" for the newly rich lover to come get his love from her husband and probably, "Money," because that was what stood between them before the light did. He then added, to Reid's previous symbolism lesson, that green could also be the symbol for "growth" because grass is green during the growing months.

Now, I am not claiming my two sons became proficient at identifying symbolism in text in those few short 5 to 7 minutes. But I am claiming that my 1st and 7th grade sons both have a 'real' knowledge of symbolism that is above the state standard requirements for their grade levels.

Every minute is a minute to be savored with our youth. They can learn concepts well above the expectations for them if they are taught in a way that has value and makes sense. There may be many, many benchmarks, but fully developed units can cover an amazing variety of them in a short amount of time.
*Please feel free to contact me at anytime by leaving a comment below or e-mailing me at I would love to hear your feedback.


  1. We tend to forget that some of these kids just don't have the same intelligence as our own kids. Some of them are just plain limited and as much as it is politically uncorrect to say this, I will say it anyways, there is nothing we can do about it.

  2. I am not crazy enough to believe that I have what it takes to ever bring 100% of my students to proficient as NCLB mandates. BUT, I often get complaints from other teachers about how long it takes to teach each and every benchmark in the document. It does not take long at all if you are covering many of them in one unit. Do I believe I will ever reach everyone? No. Do I believe I can redesign my units to accomodate for the newest in brain research and differentiated learning. Yes. It is a fine line, but every teacher should have what it takes to do better each and every day. Pissed Off, you have had what it takes since the beginning. I've read your blog. You are a softy at heart who follows those kids around berating them into learning. They respect you, you teach, and the rest is history. The only reason you continue to comment on the ones that will never "be able to" is because you are one of the ones that actually cares if they do.

  3. Thanks for your nice words. I have always wanted to save the world and I can't accept the reality of that being impossible.

  4. Hi Danielle:
    Thought I would respond to your many blogs you have posted. This is a good idea to communicate with the teachers. As for trying to meet all of the standards, I highly recommend using 4MAT Lesson Design which allows you to meet several standards as well as meeting students' individual learning styles, too. I am teaching this design to my Intro to Ed students here at the college and am sharing this with the faculty tomorrow morning.

    Hope you all enjoy your snow day!! Us Higher Ed folks are much hardier and are holding classes as usual.

    Keep up the good work, everyone!

  5. I agree about 4MAT. I suggested it early in my blog entries. I guess I should put a link to the website in my gadgets!