At the most general or abstract level, the goals of education include important philosophical ideas like “developing individuals to their fullest potential” and “preparing students to be productive members of society.” Few teachers would disagree with these ideas in principle, though they might disagree about their wording or about their relative importance. As a practical matter, however, teachers might have trouble translating such generalities into specific lesson plans or activities for the next day’s class. What does it mean, concretely, to “develop an individual to his or her fullest potential”? Does it mean, for example, that a language arts teacher should ask students to write an essay about their personal interests, or does it mean that the teacher should help students learn to write as well as possible on any topic, even ones that are not of immediate interest? What exactly should a teacher do, from day to day, to “prepare students to be productive members of society” as well? Answers to questions like these are needed to plan instruction effectively. But the answers are not obvious simply by examining statements of general educational goals.
National and state learning standards
Some (but not all) of the work of transforming such general purposes into more precise teaching goals and even more precise objectives has been performed by broad US organizations that represent educators and other experts about particular subjects or types of teaching (Riley, 2002). The groups have proposed national standards, which are summaries of what students can reasonably be expected to learn at particular grade levels and in particular subjects areas. In the United States, in addition, all state governments create state standards that serve much the same purpose: they express what students in the state should (and hopefully can) learn at all grade levels and in all subjects. Examples of organizations that provide national standards are listed in Table 1, and examples of state standards are listed in Table 2 for one particular state, Ohio, in the area of language arts.
|Table 1: Organizations with statements of US educational standards|
|English and Language Arts||
Council of Teachers of English
American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages
|Mathematics||National Council of Teachers of Mathematics|
|Physical Education and Health||
National Association for Sport and Physical Education
American Cancer Society
National Academies of Science
American Association for the Advancement of Science
National Council for the Social Studies
Center for Civic Education
National Council on Economic Education
National Geographic Society
National Center for History in the Schools
|Technology||International Society for Technology in Education|
|Other Specialized Standards Statements:|
|American Indian Content Standards||Center for Educational Technology in Indian America|
|Ethical Standards for School Counselors||American School Counselors Association|
|Information Literacy Standards||American Association of School Librarians|
|Business Education||National Business Education Association|
|Parent Education and Involvement||Parent-Teacher Association (PTA)|
|Source: EducationWorld.com, accessed December 5, 2006. Summaries of all of these standards, as well as access to the relevant web pages of the corresponding organizations, can be found at this website. Because standards are revised continually, and because of the dynamic nature of websites, the information may differ slightly from the above when you actually access it.|
|Table 2: Examples of state curriculum standards about language arts|
|Kindergarten–Grade 3||Read accurately high frequency sight words.||Play a game: “How many words can you see around the classroom that you can read already?”|
|Grade 4–7||Infer word meaning through identification and analysis of analogies and other word relationships.||Have students keep a journal of unfamiliar words which they encounter and of what they think the words mean.|
|Grade 8–10||Recognize the importance and function of figurative language.||Have students write a brief essay explaining the meaning of a common figure of speech, and speculating on why it became common usage.|
|Grade 11–12||Verify meanings of words by the author’s use of definition, restatement, example, comparison, contrast and cause and effect.||Have students analyze an essay that includes unfamiliar terms using clues in the essay to determine their meaning.|
|Source for standards: Ohio Department of Education, 2003, p. 30–31|
Because they focus on grade levels and subject areas, general statements of educational standards tend to be a bit more specific than the broader philosophical goals we discussed above. As a rule of thumb, too, state standards tend to be more comprehensive than national standards, both in coverage of grade levels and of subjects. The difference reflects the broad responsibility of states in the United States for all aspects of public education; national organizations, in contrast, usually assume responsibility only for a particular subject area or particular group of students. Either type of standards provides a first step, however, toward transforming the grandest purposes of schooling (like developing the individual or preparing for society) into practical classroom activities. But they provide a first step only. Most statements of standards do not make numerous or detailed suggestions of actual activities or tasks for students, though some might include brief classroom examples—enough to clarify the meaning of a standard, but not enough to plan an actual classroom program for extended periods of time. For these latter purposes, teachers rely on more the detailed documents, the ones often called curriculum frameworks and curriculum guides.
Curriculum frameworks and curriculum guides
The terms curriculum framework and curriculum guide sometimes are used almost interchangeably, but for convenience we will use them to refer to two distinct kinds of documents. The more general of the two is curriculum framework, which is a document that explains how content standards can or should be organized for a particular subject and at various grade levels. Sometimes this information is referred to as the scope and sequence for a curriculum. A curriculum framework document is like a standards statement in that it does not usually provide a lot of detailed suggestions for daily teaching. It differs from a standards statement, though, in that it analyzes each general standard in a curriculum into more specific skills that students need to learn, often a dozen or more per standard. The language or terminology of a framework statement also tends to be somewhat more concrete than a standards statement, in the sense that it is more likely to name behaviors of students—things that a teacher might see them do or hear them say. Sometimes, but not always, it may suggest ways for assessing whether students have in fact acquired each skill listed in the document. Exhibit 1 shows a page from a curriculum framework published by the California State Board of Education (Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Committee, 1999). In this case the framework explains the state standards for learning to read, and the excerpt in Exhibit 1 illustrates how one particular standard, that “students speak and write with command of English conventions appropriate to this grade level,” is broken into nine more specific skills. Note that the excerpt names observable behaviors of students (what they do or say); we will discuss this feature again, more fully, in the next part of this chapter, because it is helpful in classroom planning. In spite of this feature, though, the framework document does not lay out detailed activity plans that a teacher could use on a daily basis. (Though even so, it is over 300 pages long!)
Exhibit 1: An excerpt from reading/language arts framework for California public schools
|Comments||Written and oral English language conventions, third grade|
|More general standards statement||Students write and speak with a command of standard English conventions appropriate to this grade level.|
|More specific or concrete framework statements → (stated as relatively specific skills or behaviors)||
1.1 Understand and be able to use complete and correct declarative, interrogative, imperative, and exclamatory sentences in writing and speaking.
1.2 Identify subjects and verbs that are in agreement and identify and use pronouns, adjectives, compound words, and articles correctly in writing and speaking.
1.3 Identify and use past, present, and future verb tenses properly in writing and speaking.
1.4 Identify and use subjects and verbs correctly in speaking and writing simple sentences.
1.5 Punctuate dates, city and state, and titles of books correctly.
1.6 Use commas in dates, locations, and addresses and for items in a series.
1.7 Capitalize geographical names, holidays, historical periods, and special events correctly.
1.8 Spell correctly one-syllable words that have blends, contractions, compounds, orthographic patters, and common homophones.
1.9 Arrange words in alphabetical order
Teachers’ need for detailed activity suggestions is more likely to be met by a curriculum guide, a document devoted to graphic descriptions of activities that foster or encourage the specific skills explained in a curriculum framework document. The descriptions may mention or list curriculum goals served by an activity, but they are also likely to specify materials that a teacher needs, time requirements, requirements for grouping students, drawings or diagrams of key equipment or materials, and sometimes even suggestions for what to say to students at different points during the activity. In these ways the descriptions may resemble lesson plans. Since classroom activities often support more than one specific skill, activities in a curriculum guide may be organized differently than they might be in a framework document. Instead of highlighting only one standard at a time, as the framework document might, activities may be grouped more loosely—for example, according to the dominant purpose or goal of an activity (“Activities that encourage the practice of math facts”) or according to a dominant piece of equipment or material (“Ten activities with tin cans”). Exhibit 2 shows a description of a kindergarten-level activity about “autumn leaves” that might appear in a curriculum guide. Note that the activity meets several educational objectives at once—tracing shapes, knowledge of leaves and of colors, descriptive language skill. Each of these skills may reflect a different curriculum standard.
Exhibit 2: Sample curriculum guide activity
Curriculum guides provide graphic descriptions of activities that can be used fairly directly in the classroom. Although they are relevant to standards and framework statements, they often are not organized around standards and objectives as such.
Activity: Autumn Leaves
Themes and Curriculum Connections: trees, autumn, color naming, color comparisons, size comparisons, functions of leaves, growth, the life cycle. See also Standards #xx–yy.
Best time to do it: Fall (October), or whenever leaves are available
Materials needed: (1) small paper (6 × 6 inches); (2) access to leaves; (3) white glue; (4) felt pens or colored pencils
What to do: Give one piece of the small paper to each child. Invite children to color the sheet so that the entire sheet is decorated. Invite children to choose one leaf. Place leaf under the colored (decorated) paper and trace the shape of the leaf lightly in pencil. Then invite children to cut out the colored paper in the shape that has been traced of the leaf.
Cautions: (1) Some children may need individual help with tracing or cutting. (2) Try to use leaves that are still somewhat pliable, because some very old leaves (dried out) may crumble when traced.
Things to talk about: Are some leaves bigger than others? Do they change shape as they grow, or only their size? How do leaves benefit trees? How many different colors can real leaves be?
Curriculum Development and Supplemental materials Commission. (1999). Reading/Language Arts Framework for California Public Schools. Sacramento, CA: California Department of Education.
Ohio Department of Education. (2003). Academic Content Standards. Columbus, Ohio: Author.
Riley, R. (2002). Education reform through standards and partnerships, 1993–2000. Phi Delta Kappan, 83(9), 700–707.