Teaching Students to Understand Standards

If I presented you with something in Latin and then told you its contents were the standards you must show proficiency in to level up, what would you do?


What if you didn't know Latin?


Too often, we assume that students understand the language of the standards when we reference them.


Whether they are afraid to admit they don't get it or only have a cursory understanding, students have a right to know the basis by which they are being judged and we can't take it for granted that they actually know.


As teachers, it is our responsibility to share these standards with students AND take the time to make sure they have a mastery level comprehension of them. After all, if a learner doesn't know what they are trying to achieve, they are shooting in the dark. We must make our classrooms intentional, allowing kids to succeed based on clear expectations.


What better way to do that, then ask them to synthesize the standards in a manner that makes sense to them?


Here is one way to help them internalize the standards that will be the end goal for the year:

  1. Ask the whole class to write down what they think standards are and why they are important. This can be a do now that waits for them when they walk in. Walk around while kids are answering this question making sure all kids are participating and reading answers.

  2. Have students share their answers with the person sitting next to them to ensure everyone gets a chance to share his/her ideas.

  3. Explain what standards are and what role they will play in their learning and criteria for achievement this year. Use their words wherever possible when reiterating the definition.

  4. Explain to students that they will be rewriting the standards in a language they understand on sentence strips or chart paper.

  5. First, model what you mean with the first standard. Read it aloud and then break it apart phrase by phrase or word by word. Then rewrite it. Think aloud while you rewrite the standard.

  6. Then, as a whole class do it again with another standard. Leave the model/samples on the board/chart paper for the class to see while they work in groups.

  7. Break students up into groups of 2-3 and assign them 3-5 standards per group, depending on how much time you have.

  8. Give the groups about 7-10 minutes to rewrite the standards they've been given.

  9. Have students present the new standards in their own words in a way that works for them.

  10. Create a bulletin board with the rewritten standards for student reference for the rest of the year. 

  11. Make sure to reference the board when starting new units or doing activities. 

  12. Ask students while doing work and after it during reflection time, to decide which standards they are meeting. They are always free to visit the board while doing this.

Once students understand the standards, we must always keep them in the conversation when we are talking about achievement. As we continue to teach kids to reflect, we must remind them to always reference the standards and how they feel they are addressing them in their work. This will help shift the conversation away from grades and keep it where it needs to be, on learning.


There are many different activities students can do to synthesize the standards, this is just one. Although we may have different methods for helping students develop an understanding of the language based on the age and level that we work with, I'm sure we can all agree that kids need to know.


How will you help students internalize the standards? Please share.

*This post originally ran on my Education Week Teacher blog in 2014


©2018 BY STARR SACKSTEIN -  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED