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New Teachers Online: How-To Articles: Implement Standards, Curriculum, and Assessment
How I Plan Standards Lessons
Judy Jones

Sometimes, I think back on my first year of teaching biology when I was just trying to have “something” to do each day. I would look for engaging activities but I would also just follow the chapters in the textbook. I took advice from my colleagues and I thought about how best to teach difficult concepts. But my overall “plan” was to finish the relevant chapters. I did not have a set of goals and objectives, and if they existed in California in the 60’s, I certainly never saw them. I suppose that the saving grace was my enthusiasm and desire to create a course that inspired young people to love learning. But I know that I was not as skilled at helping to build meaningful learning around standards.

I plan very differently now. I use the North Carolina Curriculum Standards all the time. They are my constant guide for the content that I teach. I have a year-long plan that delineates what and how I will teach these standards. By adhering to these standards, I can ensure that all of my students are given a solid, unified course. I know they understand difficult concepts better because I have built a curriculum that is well-mapped and connected to an over-all plan and set of standards.

In order to design my curriculum, I need to know my subject very well and I need to know how to assess how well my students have learned. In some way, I build my lessons backwards. I first identify the results that I want to achieve with my students. I ask, “What do I want my students to understand? What do I want them to be able to do? What will be my evidence that they have learned these concepts and objectives?” Once I have determined how I will assess their learning, then I can begin to plan my lessons.

Here is a description of how I go about this:

  • First I decide how many standards I will focus on in a unit. These might be content standards, but they could also be process standards. They might come from state objectives or from the National Science Standards. The number of standards in any one unit needs to be manageable. I am careful not to try to accomplish too much but to also challenge my students. It is a tricky balance.

  • I try to build understandable connections from what my students have already learned to the new material I will be teaching. I also think about how I will help them build connections within the new material. I often use brainstorming with my colleagues to develop these connections – and later, I sometimes use a brainstorming technique with my students.

  • I try to find a core issue, question, or problem that I can organize the unit around. This helps my students connect their learning to their previous learning and experiences and also helps build enthusiasm for the learning process.

  • I plan how I will assess my students' learning. Although I certainly use quizzes and tests, I also use more authentic learning experiences such as lab reports, class presentations, construction projects, and other assessments. I prepare rubrics to assess student projects. The rubrics help me stay focused on the goal of the assessment and are shared with my students before they begin the project. They help students also keep focused on the ultimate expected outcomes.

  • I make a list of essential questions that relate to the content, generate complex thinking, and lead to active learning. I try to make these questions relevant to my students’ experiences as much as possible.

  • Then I select and create student learning experiences (labs, activities, discussions) that will give them the opportunity to inquire, conduct research, collaborate, reflect, and solve problems. I think about appropriate uses of technology that will enhance my students’ conceptual understanding.

  • As I am planning I incorporate ideas to differentiate my instruction to meet the different learning styles and needs of my students. I always think about how my plans will address the different ethnicities in my classroom.

  • And as my students and I proceed through the unit, I am continually drawing their attention back to the essential questions and helping them assess how well they have learned the content and the processes.


Some people may object that such attention to standards and planning takes the spontaneity out of teaching and learning. I would argue that careful planning and building of connections around standards immensely improves learning. If you came into my classroom you would still find a sense of fun and some carefully “planned spontaneity.” You would find laughter and enthusiasm. You would find students who know what they need to learn and are working on carefully crafted activities and assessments experience the freedom to enjoy the process.

Please share you comments with me  via e-mail.


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