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  • Pam Koutrakos

The Secret to Language Standard Success: Charting the Path for a Year-Long Journey

People (and even some animals!) have used the stars as a navigation tool since prehistoric times. Likewise, in the modern world of education, with complex networks of mandates, standards, and curriculum, educators still know the wisdom of being guided by the stars—students— and using students’ strengths and interests (in conjunction with standards and district curriculum) to navigate each year of learning.

To start charting the path for this year, I encourage you to get together with colleagues and think about the following reflective questions. Exploring these three questions helps you to bundle language standards and prepare to teach them (a little at a time) across the year, in a way that makes the most sense for students’ development as readers and writers.

1. What are the language standards at my grade?

When was the last time you really dug into the language standards at the grade you teach? At the grade levels above and below? Sometimes, when I partner with educators, we play a little game of Yep! Maybe...Huh? to reacquaint ourselves with them. As we look through the standards together, we sort each item. Yep! means I knew this was part of the standards and I actively teach and support students with this standard. Maybe...means I think I may have known this was part of the grade level standards or I sometimes get to teaching it. Huh? is equally self explanatory. These are the standards we are surprised to find at our grade level… or standards that include grammatical terms that have us running to Google for a refresher course punctuated with “oh yeah—now I remember that.” Once we reacquaint ourselves with the standards, we are ready to start bundling them, which enables us to tuck a few standards into each unit we teach.

2. Which standards lend themselves to particular kinds of writing?

The next step is to look over the list of grade level standards again—this time with the reading and writing units you teach close by. Ask yourself, Which standards seem to go well with informational reading and writing units? Which standards have natural connections to narrative or opinion writing? Which standards do I imagine will be spiraled throughout most to all of the units? As you do this work, arrange and rearrange standards so there is a balance among the units across the year, each unit sharing an approximately equal amount of responsibility for the language standards. Ideally, I aim for bundling approximately three-to-five language standards into each unit. Here is an example of a first grade unit bundling:

3. Which standards seem to fit developmental readiness at the start of the year, the middle of the year, and the end of the year?

Finally, once you complete a first draft of language standard bundling, look through it one more time. This time, you want to look at it through a lens of timing. For example, you may ask yourself: Do these standards seem appropriate for the start of the school year or am I asking for too much too quickly? Are these standards appropriate for the end of the year? Did I save “crucial” standards for the end of the year—and if so, might I move them up to an earlier unit so students have more practice time? By reflecting on your initial ideas and making needed adjustments, you will feel more confident in the decisions you have made. Here is a fifth-grade example of how a group of teachers bundled the language standards into their first three units:

By sitting with colleagues and discussing the three guiding questions shared in this blog, we gain greater clarity. We can chart our own paths using the network of resources available. By doing so, the language learning journeys ahead make sense and will yield greater success.

FINAL TIP: Remember that there is not a right and a wrong way to do this. No standard “must” go with a particular unit or at a certain time of year. When in doubt, shake things up by combining craft and genre in unusual ways. For example, figurative language does not live only within the confines of narrative writing. It can just as easily be explored in informational writing. Sure, we want our alignment to make sense, but we also want to be creative and embrace all the fun the language standards offer.

GIVEAWAY: Click here to gain access to printable language bundling planning forms ready to be customized by you! Use the 3 reflective questions and 3 easy steps outlined in this blog to help you begin this important work.

NEXT UP: In the next blog in this series, we will uncover how to use the gradual release model when teaching, practicing, and supporting the language standards. Remember, as you tinker and try ideas, please let me know how it goes. Post photos on Twitter tagging @PamKou and @drgravitygllc.

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