Facilitating Communication by Using Standards

09Jan07

Standards-Based Curriculum and Instruction

Communication is extremely important, especially for a busy teacher. Teachers must communicate on many levels with different stakeholders. For example, communication with administrators and colleagues are likely to look critically at the overall operations of the integrated scholastic environment including curriculum decisions or sharing procedural ideas. Communication with students may often focus on the level of comprehension of the materials. This is not only in the delivery of the instruction, but also in the non-verbal communication that can offer feedback about the direction a course is going. Parents are another group with whom teachers are likely to have regular contact. In some ways, parents are the most challenging group to have effective communication with—teachers may find that parents have inadequate information about curriculum and instruction, making it difficult to verbalize performance standards. In an era when educational reforms are taking place, “clarity” for parents may be even more confusing, but if used properly, standards can be used to help reinforce communication with parents.

Parents typically pose four main questions to teachers: At what level of the standards is my child performing?; How is my child doing in relation to the standards?; What are you doing to help my child do better?; and How do you verify that my child has met the standard? (Conley, 2005; adapted by Whitman, 2006). How may standards help a teacher when a parent approaches with these questions? To better illustrate, consider the following set of standards. The first is extracted from the English Language Development (ELD) standards for third- to fifth-grade beginning ELD students. According to the standards, students will “Demonstrate comprehension of simple vocabulary with an appropriate action. Retell simple stories by using drawings, words, or phrases. Produce simple vocabulary (single words or short phrases) to communicate basic needs in social and academic settings (e.g., locations, greetings, classroom objects).” The second is extracted from the language arts writing standards for third-grade students. For this standard, students will “Write descriptions that use concrete sensory details to present and support unified impressions of people, places, things, or experiences.”

The above standards were chosen because the purpose of the ELD standards is to phase limited-English proficient students into mainstream language arts classes. As can be observed, in the process of explaining the ELD standards and the student’s progress, the teacher can also help the parent understand how focusing on these standards helps bring the student closer to English fluency, as defined by the language arts standards. Rather than viewing them as entirely separate inputs to learning—even if they may occur in different classrooms with different teachers—the parent can better understand how their child is actually progressing towards the ultimate goal of English fluency by directly seeing an example of the expectations of a fluent English student.

This communication of information—answering all the parents’ questions—can take place several ways. Providing that language is not an impediment for communicating with the parent (after all, the reason many students may be limited-English proficient may be that their primary home language is something other than English), the most direct mode of communication would be to do so verbally in-person. This has the added benefit of allowing more time for further clarifying different points as they arise. A hypothetical conversation addressing the four questions posed earlier might flow something like the following:

Parent: At what level of the standards is Susan performing?

Teacher: Susan is well on her way to achieving English fluency. In her ELD standards, she is expected to build her vocabulary through storytelling, and by practicing asking and responding to questions. Not only is Susan constantly building her vocabulary in my class—she is also improving her skills expressing experiences in words.

Parent: How is Susan doing in relation to the standards?

Teacher: In this ELD class, Susan is at the appropriate level considering her age and the amount of English she has been exposed to so far—either at home or at school. Compared to the language arts standards for native English speakers, she is able to begin some of the more complicated writing assignments, including ones that require detailed descriptions. As Susan’s vocabulary in this class improves, these tasks will become much easier for her and she will be able to write longer pieces for her language arts class.

Parent: What are you doing to help Susan do better?

Teacher: We will continue to focus on building vocabulary and questioning skills in this ELD class. As Susan becomes more comfortable asking questions to help her find information, her careful listening for comprehension will expose her to new vocabulary. In this class, Susan also listens to many stories and is required to re-tell these stories to her classmates from memory. Again, by doing so, she has to try to remember specific words and details to tell the story. You can also help Susan do better by making sure that she has plenty of English-language reading materials at home. Encourage her to talk to you about what she is reading. This will give her more practice explaining things to different people.

Parent: How do you verify that Susan has met the standard?

Teacher: I verify that Susan has met the standards by continuously monitoring Susan’s increase in vocabulary use. One method that is used in the classroom is a “word-file.” Susan writes new words on a flash-card every time she finds a new one. She also writes the definition on the back to help her later. Finally, she puts the card into her word-file in alphabetical order. Each week, we select five cards from her word-file and Susan writes a paragraph using those five words. I have her practice writing at this stage to help ensure that Susan will be better prepared for her language arts classes, where she will be expected to write longer, more descriptive pieces in order to receive a good grade.

As can be seen from the above example, standards can help assist teachers in their efforts to more effectively communicate student progress to enquiring parents. The process brings us back to the various levels at which teachers need to communicate. For example, this process will be strengthened with effective communication between fellow teachers and administrators by promoting a stronger school curriculum that is better aligned with the standards. Communicating the mainstream language arts standards to ELD students will help them better understand why they are learning the things they are and will help them focus their efforts towards the learning task at hand and set goals for themselves. In all cases, the standards go beyond simply helping the school and teachers determine their curriculum, but also help ease the communication pressures teachers regularly face.

References

  • California State Board of Education. (2006, October 16). Grade Three—Content Standards (CA Dept of Education). Retrieved from http://www.cde.ca.gov/be/st/ss/enggrade3.asp
  • California State Board of Education. (2002). English-language development standards for California public schools: Kindergarten through grade twelve. Retrieved from http://www.cde.ca.gov/re/pn/fd/documents/englangdev-stnd.pdf
  • Conley, M. (2005). Connecting standards and assessment through literacy. Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
  • Whitman, R. (2006). Course materials for CUR562: Standards-based curriculum and instruction.
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