How do you know what to teach?

30 Jul

There are basic skills for everything we learn. It is as simple as learning to walk before learning to run, rolling over before sitting up, and smiling before cooing. We all took these steps in the early years of our lives and it helped make us effective at moving and speaking.

The same concepts holds for learning academic subjects. You must first learn how to count to ten before you can even think of adding and subtracting numbers. You learn the alphabet before you learn how to read. But how do you know what skills need to be learned first before moving on to something more challenging and comprehensive? I think, inherently, we all know the basic skills and steps for learning. However, to make it easier, there are such things as Learning Standards. There are National Learning Standards. These are so vague as to be nearly useless. Your better bet would to take a gander at your state standards. These are broken into sections based on subject matter and grade level. It doesn’t really matter which state you use, just remember that when the learning standards refer to State, they are referring to their individual state. But I see this as an opportunity to learn about other states. What is most important is that the basic skills are outlined in specific and finite objectives making assessment much easier. True advancement cannot happen until the basics are mastered.

Another thing to remember is that most teachers (at least in the schools I have encountered) rarely use the learning standards when working on their lesson plans. They are simply referred to when there is a dispute or complaint about a lesson. This is not necessarily bad. As I mentioned earlier, this is inherent and internalized information. The problem comes when some basic skills are missed or skipped due to time, mistake or some other reason. Also, most teachers have really only read the learning standards specific to their subject matter, making subject matter integration nearly non-existent in public schools. Integration is where higher level thinking skills take place.

As a parent it would be wise to know what your state learning standards are to ensure that your child is truly progressing and not just passing or getting by. They can be difficult to wade through. My copy of the Illinois Learning Standards fills a large three-ring binder.

I am in the processes of reorganizing the Illinois Learning Standards into much more manageable and usable portions and including some general lesson plans for subject matter integration. These should be available in a couple of weeks. Keep your eyes open for them. Using these guides you will be able to see specifically for each age group the basic skills needed before advancement should be made. The reason I am using the Illinois Standards is because that is what I have and use. The discrepancies between each state are negligible and usually semantic. The basic skills are universal.


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