Reflection / by Tyler Wood

How does unpacking standards, backward mapping, and writing objectives help me apply standards?

I have worked on this before while I was attending Colorado State and getting my master's degree. My studying brought me to using standards, backward design, and how to write clear objectives. Previously, I compared standards to the road map for a curriculum. We need to know where we are going before we can make a plan on how to get there. Starting with standards means we have an end goal. Unpacking those standards is helpful because we get to know intimately what each standard entails. Standards can be general at times. I used a trip to Chicago before, so I will stick with that analogy. The standard says we are going to Chicago, but where in Chicago? What specific place in Chicago do I need to drive my car? Unpacking the standards is to pick apart the general statement that we need to get to Chicago and get all the relevant details about the specifics. What hotel, on which street, near what landmark? We need to find out the specific expectations for our students so we can best guide them to mastery of those big ideas and skills. 

Once we have figured out the details about Chicago, we need to figure out the best route for getting there. This is backward mapping. Just like doing a maze, when it was difficult, many of use started at the end and worked backward to find the correct path. Well, getting to Chicago (mastery) is not a maze for amusement, we do not need to spend our time enjoying the path, we need to find the best way to get there. Starting from Chicago and going backward will get us the best results for our trip. We should start with the expectations clearly leading the way. Once we have a path, we need to design the stops and sights we want to see along our trip route. Getting to Chicago might take a long time, we will need to plan specific places where we will need to stop for food, gas, or a night's rest. These details are like writing the objectives. The more detailed they are the easier it will be to follow them accurately. 

This process has helped me create much more streamlined learning objectives in my class without meandering. Each of my goals in class have a purpose because I know where we are heading. Even when there is a "teachable" moment, knowing where the students need to be can help me steer the conversation into productive territory without losing the students' interest in the organic moment we are having. It can help me connect the moment to the learning the students are involved in at the time or will be involved in later. Having the details flushed out from the beginning helps me apply the standards because I can make sure we are on-track at all times during the class. There is no more need for filler classes or throwing in something irrelevant because I have an extra worksheet I wanted to use. Everything is meaningful and leads to the end goal. 

My school has adopted a streamlined version of the Common Core standards and it has really helped organise my year. Each lesson has a purpose that is building to something more than it did before. I was teaching the same chapters in the book before, but I was not always sure what parts were important and what was something I could drop when I was out of time. Now, I know what to prioritize. Ideally, teaching everything would be the way to go, but realistically we do not have the time. However, now that we have set standards that we have unpacked for the details and pre-planned from the end how to get there, it is clear what parts of any lesson must be focused on. 

We use a mastery focused 'grading' system now that focuses on a student's ability to demonstrate their mastery of a skill. In this way, applying the standards is built right into every lesson. Once a teacher eliminates the need for a number grade or a test score as the focus, it becomes clear what lessons should look like. Just like a video game, each level is building to something where all the skills you learned will need to be used to succeed, teaching to the mastery mindset using standards and backward design helps students build to success and be aware that that is what they are doing. They are not blindly picking up information, they are collecting tools that will help them be a successful adult in our world.