Last week I led evidence walks in elementary schools in two different school districts. Our goal was to look for evidence of standards based instruction based on the new Common Core Units of Study that the district created. Every school we visited we were met with enthusiasm and teachers were excited about getting feedback. In all classrooms there was active engagement: students had mastered routines that teachers have taught and every student was ready to learn. There were charts in classrooms reminding students how to be a good partner, how to walk in a line, how to sit on the rug, etc.

The thing that was missing most everywhere was … “the teaching”. Yes, believe it or not, there was very little teaching. I think at times we don’t even realize, myself included, that giving directions and reminding students of the directions isn’t teaching. Teaching requires teachers to show (model) and explain how to do something. Even if teachers were using an inquiry-based approach, we would still want students to be reflecting on how they arrived at a solution or how they figured out the process for learning something. The teachers were wonderful at explaining and modeling for kids how to behave or how to be engaged – but there was very little modeling that focused on how to master a standard or a part of a standard. This was evident when talking to kids about what they were learning – they really didn’t have a lot to say and they didn’t really know how to measure their own success.

As we walked classrooms our team came up with 3 tips that could immediately increase learning at the schools we visited – and the best things about these tips – they are very easy to do:

1. Let the students know what they are learning.

This should be extremely clear to students. “Today we are learning how to determine the theme of a story and how to determine details that support the theme.” You school or district may call this the learning intention, the learning objective, etc. This statement sets the stage for the formative process.

2. Let students know the criteria to be successful.

You will know that you are successful in today’s learning if you can:

  • Write a statement about the theme of the story
  • Determine 3 details that support the theme
  • Categorize the details by story element
  • Write a brief explanation about what story elements helped you to figure out the theme of the story

3. Teach the steps (explain and model).

Show how you do it by modeling step by step the procedure you use to determine the theme of a short story. Write the steps up on the white board as you think through each step. Demonstrate each step a variety of ways as you are explaining. Direct students to take notes on the steps and/or remind them. Students need this kind of modeling. Refer to the learning intention and success criteria as often as possible so students see the connections. If students are fluent writers (2nd grade and up) direct the students to record the learning intentions & success criteria in their notebooks so they can utilize the criteria for self-assessment, revision and goal setting.

Of course, the 3 tips seems quite obvious, but we all get into habits in our teaching and sometimes we forget the things that matter most – the clarity of our instruction. A wonderful website to support teachers in planning clear instruction for CCSS Common Core State Standards ELA standards is: