Are You and Your Students Bored with the Benchmarks? Sinking under the Standards? Then Transform Your Teaching through Transition!

Article excerpt

Benchmarks and standards have become an important part of our instructional focus since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. As educators we all recognize the importance of having high expectations of our students. Standards help schools articulate these expectations clearly to students, their parents, and the community. Yet, there are some substantial difficulties in using standards for instructional planning. Also, the use of standards does not ensure that teaching is engaging and effective. A means for solving some of these concerns is to incorporate transition needs with standards-based instruction. Transition can be a vehicle for incorporating research-based instructional practices that utilize authentic problem-based learning that is motivating, engaging, and effective (Freiberg & Driscoll, 2005; Institute of Educational Sciences [IES], 1999, 2003; Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2002; Valverde & Schmidt, 1997-1998).

Challenges In Developing Standards-Based Instruction

One of the difficulties in designing standards-based instruction is that many standards are quite broad and vague (Patton & TYainor, 2002; Popham, 2001, 2004; Wiggins & McTighe, 2005), Some have an implied or ambiguous central concept, with several potential interpretations of important core content. Other standards have a clear central or focal concept, but imply multiple cognitive processes or skills that students need to acquire in order to demonstrate this learning. Some standards are very specific and focus on narrow lists of facts or skills to be learned. Combining both broad and narrow standards into related instructional lessons can be very challenging.

The following is an example of a fifth-grade mathematics standard from the Ohio Department of Education. The specific (perhaps assumed} "standard language" to describe these mathematical concepts is not clear, nor is the depth of description apparent (theoretical or mathematical vs. concrete or applied).

Fifth Grade Mathematics: Geometry and Spatial Sense Standard

2- Use standard language to describe line, segment, ray, angle, skew, parallel, and perpendicular.

Another problem facing teachers is that lists of standards have been developed to be comprehensive, typically by experts in the field. However, the consequence is an overwhelming list of far too many standards than can be taught effectively (Popham, 2001; Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). For example, the Ohio Department of Education's fifth-grade social studies curriculum includes 44 separate standards, with 11 of these standards including multiple parts (ranging from three to seven items). In a 36-week school year, that divides out to roughly 1 new standard every 4 days, progress that is much too rapid for students to learn entirely new concepts and principles.

In comparison with other countries, the United States focuses much more on wide instructional coverage, but with little depth, to the detriment of science and math scores (IES, 1999, 2003; Valverde & Schmidt, 1997-1998). Our textbooks are much thicker in comparison with several other high-performing countries. These high-performing countries use a problem-solving and critical-thinking approach. However, our thick textbooks leave far too little instructional time for higher-order thinking-skills approaches and for application or use of the content (IES; Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). Testing pressures to cover all grade-level standards, without sufficient instructional time to build retention or generalization is not good instruction, even if it is standards-based.

The problem-solving and critical-thinking approaches used by more successful countries develop important life-long skills, in addition to enhancing basic content retention. Good instruction should be authentic and relevant to the students' lives by addressing skills, knowledge, and content that they will need later. This increases their motivation as well as their retention-we all pay more attention to, and are more engaged in, learning things we believe will be important to us later (Freiberg & Driscoll, 2005; Mastropieri & Scruggs, 2002). …