When I first saw the long list of my classes’ ELA Common Core Standards, I remember feeling overwhelmed and worrying about how I was going to cover all of them in a single school year. I was being asked to teach approximately 60 standards in one year, a pace that I had never tried before. Many of the standards were complex, requiring higher levels of analysis and evaluation and more time to teach. I was not sure what resources to use or how to utilize them effectively and efficiently.
It was like being asked to run a marathon without proper training and equipment. I knew this was going to test my skills and patience. How am I going to teach at a quicker pace than what I was used to and still maintain a work-life balance? How am I going to keep students’ attention? That summer, the light bulb turned on for me: Visual Instructional Tools tailored for each standard. What I imagined was to take each standard, deconstruct it visually and place its core elements into a graphic organizer, and use it as a teaching tool for my students.
What are Standards Based Visual Instructional Tools?
Standards based visual instructional tools can take on many forms, depending on the standard. They can be a multi-column/row table, an example guide, a flow chart or Venn diagram. The power of visual learning is unleashed if the tool dovetails with standard. For example, if a teacher is teaching a reading analysis standard, such as “compare and contrast,” a Venn diagram would be the best tool to use because it naturally points the mind to the task of comparison.
But, for some of the writing process standards, such as “use a formal style,” or the language application standards, like “use a particular grammar topic,” an example guide is probably the best option because it sets the stage for demonstration.
In teaching the writing style standards, such as “persuade using claims, reasons, and evidence,” a flow chart or table would make sense because it ensures that each component is being captured in a connected manner. Thus, a teacher can transform their classroom from speaking to and assigning Common Core in verbal form (which carries some ambiguity) to having the capacity to clearly show students how to perform the task and building activities where students are able to practice the skill inherent to the standard, not only the verbal expression of it.
For example, asking students to write a paragraph to compare and contrast two author's presentation of events (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.9) is made more precise and comprehensible with a Venn diagram as students are able to analytically organize similarities/differences before expressing them, thereby maximizing classroom time and keeping attention to the learning standard at hand.
How Can Teachers Utilize Standards Based Visual Instructional Tools?
- Whole Class Instruction Modeling being a primary first step in skill learning, a visual instructional tool can be projected onto a screen/whiteboard, and a teacher can use it to explicitly show students how to complete the standard.
- Cooperative/Independent Learning Both group and individual based lessons being a secondary process for building deeper understanding and independence, a visual instructional tool can be distributed to students so they can engage in further precise learning of the standard(s).
- Assessment Formal and summative assessment being critical pieces in measuring what students know and are able to do, a visual instructional tool can be a part of an assessment, making sure that the intended standard is measured accurately and the data is valid/reliable.
- Projects/Portfolios Projects/portfolios being great opportunities for individualizing instruction and building in student interest, a visual instructional tool can ensure that students’ takeaways are consistent to the standard(s).
Standards based visual instructional tools enable visual learning and provide the ready-made resource needed to master the quantity and rigor of Common Core. They can be used in many ways to tailor instruction to the needs of students and provide a more direct path to mastery as well as student growth.