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NYC Helpline: How To: Develop as a Professional

Focusing on Standards to Guide Our Practice
Theresa London Cooper

Teaching students to learn can be overwhelming, and today’s tremendous emphasis on standards and standardized testing doesn’t necessarily make it less so. But in order to be true to our profession and its real purpose, we must persist in our efforts to make teaching and learning our focus, and to that end it’s helpful if we view standards and testing as a guide for our teaching and learning.

There are best practices that should always be present in a given lesson, such as having a clear objective (What is the essential learning/focus?); student engagement (Which process tools will you use to maximize student learning?); and time to share what was learned (How will you give students time to reflect and articulate what they’ve learned while giving yourself time to informally assess?). This can be thought of as the science of teaching.

There are other times when we must respond to a student during a teachable moment with the know-how gained through teacher experience and judgment-–those things not written in a book. This can be thought of as the art of teaching. In both instances, as professionals, our work is directed by the state and city standards.

The standards offer us a framework from which to work. The standards remind us of what we want our students to understand (concepts), to know (content), and to be able to do (skills), and this can help us rationally cope with the overemphasis of testing. Might I add, if we think of testing as a genre and embed the structure of questions, key vocabulary, and format in our instruction and homework from the onset of the year, it would then be a scaffolded process that would benefit our students and prepare them for testing in a developmentally appropriate manner.

To develop your knowledge and understanding of how to embed testing as a genre into your daily practice, I recommend the following two books: Testing Talk: Integrating Test Preparation into Reading Workshop by Amy H. Greene & Glennon Doyle Melton (2007) and The Ultimate Guide to Elementary School Standardized Tests:  Be a Super Test-Taker by Laurie Rozakis, Ph.D. (2007)

In my teaching practice, I used the standards to guide the planning, instruction, and assessment of my students. As the teacher, it helps to study the format of the exam and make sure students are familiar with it so that it does not interfere with their ability to demonstrate what they know. Currently, as a professional developer, I use the NSDC's Standards for Staff Development and NYC's Professional Teaching Standards to guide my practice with adult learners.

Whether you are using the prekindergarten standards, the Primary Literacy Standards, ELA standards, and/or other content-area standards, refer to them often as a reminder of the learning that is critical for students. Additionally, the standards books have work samples that will show you exactly what is expected of students. Refer to them when you plan and reflect on student learning.

Research tells us that the teacher is the single most important factor as it relates to student achievement (Darling-Hammond, 1998). Therefore, above all else, we must be informed practitioners who provide sound instruction for our students’ success.

Do you have a question or comment about this article? E-mail Theresa.


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