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Stay on target: aiming at standards

In my career as a public school teacher, a great deal of time and energy was spent thinking and talking about the various state standards. These vary some from state to state, but are fairly consistent. They outline the topics students should know and the skills they should possess. My lessons were basically built around moving students along the path to hit their target: the relevant standard.

But sometimes I felt like that guy from Star Wars. Staying on target wasn't going to end well...not because the target wasn't worth hitting, but because it sometimes wasn't even possible for some or all of the class. (Or because TIE fighters may be coming from behind. Poor Davish Krail...he did his best. RIP.)

Why do I say this? Well, it comes down to a feature of how the brain works. We learn and build memories about something when we think about it. But to be able to think about something, it needs to be new enough that we don't already know it, but not so unfamiliar that it is impossible to process. (You can recall something you already know without really processing it and thinking about it.) So for a lesson to be effective, it needs to be aimed at the sweet spot where it is challenging, but not TOO challenging.

There is an obvious problem here when it comes to classes. What do we do when we have a diverse group where the state standard is too challenging for some, and not challenging enough for others? Well, learning basically becomes impossible for those students. This isn't a matter of trying harder, or studying more. If they don't know enough, or even if they know too much, the student basically cannot think about the lesson in an effective way.

And if there is not thinking, there's no learning.

The solution is of course to tailor learning targets to be just above a student's current level. So the next time someone complains that their work is just too hard...take a moment to consider the fact that what they are saying may literally be true.

Of course, if you need help identifying the level a student is at in a subject or subjects, or in target lessons at their current level, just give us a call at Treland!


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