Beyond Compliance: Understanding Best Practices

Article by Jenni Stadtmiller

“Make sure you have your standards and objectives listed on your board.”
“You better have your agenda up.”
“I’ll be coming around to look for your lessons plans for the week.”
“Don’t forget your exit tickets.”

Do these phrases sound familiar to you? Some days education can feel like you are checking off boxes on a list for all the things your administrators are coming around looking for. However, these items are not meant to be a compliance piece, where we put them up and don’t think about them again. Research shows that these items actually have impact on student learning. Let’s find out how.

Standards and learning targets. Why do we post standards and learning targets for the students in our classrooms? Robert Marzano’s research on learning objectives tells us that students have greater buy in when they have a “Why?” Posting standards and learning targets in and of itself doesn’t cut it though. Teachers need to reference these and explain them to students, regardless of their age. If a teacher just throws a learning target on the board for high school students, they might read it, but do they know what the target means or how it impacts learning? I always tried to not only begin my class with the learning target and/or standard, but also to ensure that I circled back to it at least at the end, if not more often. If I had small groups during my lesson, I would make sure that I revisited it with each group before they moved on to their next center or station. This would allow me to discuss the objective in a more individualized way.

Another thing to consider when posting learning targets is how they will impact the lesson. For example, if you are doing an exploratory lesson to have students find the Pythagorean Theorem using manipulatives and inquiry, then you don’t want your target to say, “I can find that the Pythagorean Theorem is a2 + b2 = c2.” Allow the objective to have room for inquiry. For example, “I can find a way to determine the diagonal length on a right triangle.” This will allow to students to still know the purpose behind the lesson without being led to the answers.

Agendas. According to the article “And on Today’s Agenda…” by Jeff Eccleston, an agenda is “detailed list of all the things your students must do and what you hope to accomplish on a particular school day.” The benefits for having your agenda posted in your classroom is two-fold. First, it allows students to see what they will accomplish during the day. Have students go over the agenda at the beginning of the day or class so they know where they are going and where they will be at the end. Second, the agenda allows the teacher to stay on track during the lesson. Having this accountability piece on the board ensures that you are continuing with the lesson you planned. It is easy for teachers to get off course during a lesson. Sometimes my students would let me know if we went over on a certain part of the lesson. This would help me stay on track, or it would allow me to reflect and make changes if necessary.

Lesson plans. I will be the first to say that I hate typing up lesson plans. My first year teaching I didn’t understand WHY it was necessary for me to write the standards and step-by-step plans for what I was going to do for the week. However, through teaching and coaching, I began to see the full picture. Not only are your lesson plans to help you stay on track and plan for that day, but weekly and unit planning allows the teacher to see the big picture. Ideally, the teacher is thinking about when they are going to give their next assessment, what is on it and how to prepare the students to be successful on it. Then, plan backwards. What lessons and activities support the students learning the standards leading up to this assessment? Write your lesson plans to help you be successful to stay the course so the students are ready.

Exit tickets. What was your learning objective today? Did your students get it? How do you know? Using an exit ticket at the end of class allows you to address these questions. Taking 5 minutes at the end of a class to see if your students did what was expected of them allows you to make any necessary changes to your lessons for the next day.

I loved the idea of exit tickets when I was teaching, but dreaded having to grade them every night to know if my students understood what had been taught that day. One solution to this is having students self-assess their work. A friend of mine would have baskets labeled 1, 2, 3, and 4 by her door. When the students would turn in their exit tickets, they would put them in the number based on how confident they felt their answer was correct. If you knew the answer was right, put it in the basket labeled “4.” If you were completely lost, put it in the basket labeled “1.” “2”-“3” were for somewhere in between. Then, the teacher could quickly glance through the four baskets to determine any changes she needed to make the next day or small groups she would need to meet with.

Wrap up. Hopefully you can see where some of these are just best practices to a successful classroom, and not compliance pieces merely. When you think of things through a question like, “How does this positively impact my students?”, I hope you will find that many things often thought of as “compliance” truly have the students’ best interest at heart.

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