Be Demanding - Touchstones 1-4 / by Tyler Wood

Item 1 - I use standards to guide every learning opportunity

How do you know you are getting closer to your destination on your road trip? We have a roadmap. The Common Core Standards are the roadmap that help teachers align their curriculum with other grade levels so the students have a framework to their learning. This allows a second grade teacher to know what their students learned in first grade and also what they should be ready to learn in third grade. Click the button below to find the standards in your state.

Standards are not teaching to the test, but a backbone with which to frame your lessons so each student will achieve. Being able to offer equal opportunity for every student means we must know in advance what we will be teaching. It doesn't mean we should skip teachable moments in the class, but to offer goals to shoot for. One of the best ways that "low-performing schools nationwide have dramatically improved their performance is by getting their curriculum in order - clearly defining what students should be learning at every grade level and ensuring that it gets taught in every classroom, Chenoweth (as quoted by Goodwin & Hubbell, "Be Demanding: Item 1", para 7). 

Item 2 - I ensure students set personal learning objectives for each lesson

Once we have our map we need to have a destination. This can come in two parts on a long road trip:

1. We have a final destination (long-term learning goals). This gives motivation to reach for something. It gives teachers and students an idea of where they will need to be in the distance and what they want to get out of learning. This long-term goal can feel daunting, however, so that leads us to the second part.

2. We set a goal for a single days drive, where will we sleep tonight (short-term learning objectives). When there are no clear objectives for students they may feel lost and start to 'check-out'. However, when a student can focus "efforts on manageable pieces that generate quick wins" it "provides the motivation to take on ever greater challenges" (Goodwin & Hubbell, Be Demanding: Item 2", para 5). As Lao Tzu said, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." If we can maintain our focus on those little pieces we will have the confidence to continue achieving and learn that effort is where success comes from and not 'luck'. Students learn that they have the ability to change - they are not innately 'bad at this', but they can work at it and get better. Click the button below for more information on setting learning objectives.

Item 3 - I peel back the curtain and make my performance expectations clear

What if, on your roadmap, there were blacked out areas or "unmapped" parts on your journey? Would you be an adventurer and go through those areas, be tentative and maybe get lost, or avoid them all together? Students that aren't told expectations are looking at a roadmap with blacked out areas. Teachers should not make their scores and expectations hidden treasures, but they should be at the forefront of the classroom psyche. 

One easy way to do this is provide rubrics in advance for students so they can see what is expected of them on each assignment. "What researchers [found] was that by making teachers' expectations for learning explicit, rubrics help students better assess themselves, become more receptive to feedback, and feel more motivated to learn. (Goodwin & Hubbell, "Be Demanding: Item 3, para 15). Click the button below for a deeper idea of how to use rubrics and what kind works best.

Item 4 - I measure understanding against high expectations

As we use our map to get to our destination, how would we know if that is a map to be trusted? Our roadmap shouldn't just feel good in our hands, fit in our pocket conveniently, or be celebrity endorsed, it should actually get us to our destination. What is the telos of learning? Do we learn in order to get good grades or is there something more important? There are two main focuses for our education system; university and/or job. 

Giving As for effort isn't challenging students. Learning isn't just about getting the highest score, it is about giving the students their own tools to grow and learn. Teaching students how to think critically and connect the learning to their lives is the goal. Giving out homework that is just busy work and doesn't connect is a missed opportunity to continue the learning for the child. Each homework assignment is practice with a concept. 

If we design our lessons with standards in mind and build on them so they are challenging, the students will respond to it in ways that might have been thought too hard or even impossible before. See how Brian Crosby uses core standards, high expectations, and student activity to motivate his students with great results.


Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2013). Common Core Standards.

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Focus on Effectiveness. (2005). Setting objectives. Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory.

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Goodwin, Bryan & Hubbell, Elizabeth R. (2013) The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching: A 

     Checklist For Staying Focused Every Day [E-reader version]. Retrieved from


Mueller, J. (2013). Mueller’s glossary of authentic assessment terms.

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