Generating Student Buy-In for the Standards

Scales are the map and goals are the destination

By Scott Sterling

You might think that the standards, whatever they look like this year, are in the domain of the teacher. After all, it’s your job to make sure your students meet them. They just have to sit there and absorb your knowledge, right?

We all know that last part isn’t true. The goal of this post is to make sure you understand that students need to consider the standards just as much as you do, even if they can’t comprehend them as written. And then we’ll talk about how to make that happen.

This process occurs at the beginning of any lesson or unit. Everyone in that room needs to be on the same page about where they are going, how they are going to get there, and how they’ll know when they’ve reached the destination. Spend as much time as necessary on this.

“Why should I care?”

Make no mistake, the vast majority of students care about doing well in school. They might have different motivations, but they want to succeed. The problem is that many don’t understand the steps necessary to reach success and where the standards fit into that equation. Some of them don’t even know that there are specific standards in which they will be measured. They think success in class is largely an arbitrary measure on behalf of the teacher. Buy-in for the standards starts when they understand that it’s the standard that is judging their performance, not necessarily the teacher.

For them, the standards aren’t a political hot button or a reason to sell more textbooks. They need to understand that without standards, they don’t make progress. To make progress, they need to know not only the standards but also how to reach the levels described.

How do we do that?

You’ve probably figured out by now that a lot of our philosophy in improving education, particularly in deliberate practice, lies in the use of goals and scales. To use a simple metaphor, scales are the roadmap and goals are the destination.

The goal of any lesson should at least align, if not copy word for word, a target standard. If the kids won’t understand the standard/goal as written, translate for them in language they will understand. That’s the main step in generating buy-in for the standard. They need to know what the expectation of the lesson is.

The next logical question the student may have is, “How do I get there?” In their head, the standard might be far, far away from their current knowledge. It’s the scale that corresponds to the goal that shows them the bite-size pieces toward success. In fact, the goal/standard should appear on the scale. In a four-point scale, it should be worth three points (leaving room for students that excel). For example, let’s see a sample scale for something like constructing a paragraph:

Level 1: Students can construct paragraphs of multiple disorganized, unrelated sentences.

Level 2: Sentences are related, but no structure is apparent.

Level 3: Students can compose a paragraph with structure, including a main idea.

Level 4: Students can compose a paragraph with structure that flows into other paragraphs.

What a well-crafted scale does is eliminate the idea that success is based on the teacher. See, students have had a built-in excuse if they don’t meet expectations—the teacher didn’t meet the standards. With a good scale, they will see that not only is a lack of success based on them, but that falling behind is not an option. Ownership is transferred.

Do you feel as if your students have ownership of the standards? Do they even know the standard toward which they are working?

Want to go in depth with standards-based lesson planning and cognitively complex tasks? Check out the Learning Sciences International bookstore for resources that help educators make the critical instructional shift required by rigorous standards.