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March 19, 2021

High Expectations Teaching

Tch Laureate Team

This is part of Marion Ivey’s Getting Better Together series, Moving From I Can’t To I Can’t Yet. Marion and all the Teaching Channel Laureates are going public with their practice and seeking support in getting better from colleagues and the Tch community.

When I initially became familiar with the Common Core State Standards, I thought its new outcomes for students were unrealistic. I’ve participated in one professional development activity after another, each seeming to contradict the previous about how to achieve these outcomes with students.

Surprisingly, though, what I’ve found is that each time I’ve raised the bar for my students, each time I’ve asked them to do a little bit more, and believed that they could, they’ve done it. Each time I’ve raised my expectations, and provided support and guidance, my students have met my expectations.

Let me give you an example. When my district first began implementing the new English Language Arts standards, the consultant we worked with wanted all of our assessments to be written. I don’t know if she had ever taught kindergarten, but most of my students come in having never written a sentence in their lives. Some don’t even know the alphabet when we begin together. I thought there was no way that I could ever get my students to do what she was asking in 179 days.

Now to be perfectly honest with you, because I didn’t believe they could, I didn’t immediately jump in and try. I used what I thought I could of the ideas she suggested, stretched my students in ways I believed they could grow, but never asked for everything she said I should. I did see growth that year in what the students were able to produce, but it was incremental. Instead of asking them to do written assessments for every ELA standard, I only asked for written assessments for the writing standards.

For the other ELA standards, I offered the prompting and support provided for in the language of the standards, as I interpreted it. This meant that if the student could present a developed idea through illustration and dictation, I felt that they had shown proficiency in the thinking the standard was seeking. If the standard says, “With prompting and support, identify characters, settings, and major events in a story,” and my students could draw pictures of the characters and setting and label them, and draw a major event from the story and dictate what happened with accuracy, I was happy. Was this as rich in writing as the consultant thought I should be requiring? No. But I felt comfortable that they understood what the standard indicated.

This year, when I began asking my students to write about these same standards, (again with students who had never written a sentence before in their lives, some of whom didn’t even know all of the letters in the alphabet) I’ve been pleasantly surprised. With sentence frames, word banks, sound spelling and, yes, a little bit of dictation, my students were all able to write about the characters, settings, and major events in a story.

What I’m saying is, when my expectations are appropriate for the development of my students, when I provide support for their growth and scaffold their learning by providing class-created criteria for success posters, my students can meet high expectations. In fact, I collaborate with my students to compile a list of the components required in student work to meet expectations. These then become our criteria for success. We determine together what good work should look like and they can use the posters as a reference to know when their work is complete.

How do you set developmentally appropriate – but high – expectations for and with your students?


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