In a standards based curriculum schools can provide students with high level learning by aligning various instructional practices with the curriculum. Teachers use proven instructional practices that are designed to engage the student in the learning process and take responsibility for their learning. Teachers provide clear expectations for the student. Students apply what they have learned to real life situations using methods such as problem solving, diversity, group learning, and student collaboration.
In education, the use of national standards is important because it allows for equality and uniformity among the students. If there were no standards, instruction, and assessment would not be consistent and we would have no way of knowing if what the students are learning provides high level learning for functioning in the real world. By having national standards schools have a clear vision of where students should be at different levels. Test provided by the state determine where the student is and if assistance is necessary to achieve the standards. It is on the basis of standardized assessment, referred to as high stakes testing, that students, teachers, and schools are rewarded or punished (Oliva, 2005, p.545). For teachers standards set clear expectations on what is important to learn for students. For schools standards provide a focal point for development, of curriculum content, instruction, and assessment. Standards in and of themselves are meaningless. What counts are the steps that educators take to help pupils reach them (Fiske, 1998, as cited by Steiner, nd).
There are effective instructional practices that are effective in higher level learning, such as problem based learning, culturally responsive teaching (CRT), collaborative learning experiences, and self-directed learning. With the federal government spending billions of dollars to help schools improve student performance in the core subjects, schools are trying to determine which instructional practices are the most effective to improve student achievement (GAO, 2009). Most principals will use multiple strategies to achieve student improvement.
Problem Based Learning
Problem Based Learning (PBL), is an educational approach that is often used to promote higher learning. Its foundation is a hands on method of active learning centered on the investigation of real world problems (Learning Theories, 2008). PBL teachers do not rely on traditional memorization techniques, although some content such as vocabulary definitions do require memory, it is the application of the content that stimulates thinking (Snyder & Snyder, 2008, p.91). According to Learning, Theories (2008), PBL as a strategy:
Develops critical thinking and creative skills
Improves problem solving skills
Helps students learn to transfer knowledge to new situations
According to Snyder & Snyder (2008, p.90), critical thinking skills are important because they enable students to deal with social, scientific, and practical problems. When students engage in heuristic techniques to solve problems, they scored higher on content based assessments than students who learned by traditional textbook and lecture methods ( Snyder & Snyder, 2008 p.93).
In order for students to achieve higher levels of learning, they have to be consistently challenged and supported.
Culturally Responsive Teaching
Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) framework lies around the theory that all children regardless of their socioeconomic, ethnic or educational background can learn. CRT focuses more directly on the pedagogy for developing student's skills, competencies, and knowledge
(BSI, 2009, p.54). Culture impacts teaching and learning, there are many issues that impact students, including family and neighborhood (McCollum, 2010). According to McCollum (2010), educators must expand their repertoire of instructional strategies to include the various approached children use to learn. CRT brings diversity to the classroom by focusing on diverse student experiences. Teachers need to know more than just arts or food when dealing with other cultures. Educators have to understand of learning and communicating takes place within each culture. In order for teachers to be sensitive to other cultures, they have to have an understanding of the student's background, and personal experiences. BSI (2009, p.53) lists three strategies for teachers are responsible for in a culturally responsive classroom:
Teachers should organize instruction so that the voices and experiences of students from different backgrounds can be incorporated into the teaching and learning process on a daily basis.
Providing cultural mediation for students to engage in critical dialogue about the conflicts among culturesâ€¦and inconsistencies between mainstream cultural ideas/realities and those of different cultural systems.
Orchestrating social contexts in which teaching and learning processes are compatible with the social cultural contexts of ethnically diverse students.
Collaborative Learning Experiences
Classrooms today vary in knowledge, culture, experience, age, and ethnicity. Collaborative learning can provide ways for students to help each other and find answers to higher-level questions. Teachers use collaborative learning experiences when the focus of instruction is on multiple ways to solve problems (Reck, 1990). Teachers promote diversity, critical thinking, and creativity by encouraging student to offer different opinions. These opinions should be supported by evidence. Student learning without direct teacher help should be encouraged in higher-level thinking. Student to student links can lead to more complex thinking process than are common during teacher-student contact ( Kindsvatter et.al.,1988 as cited by Reck, 1990).
Team based learning (TBL), is a way for teachers to achieve collaboration with students. TBL group work improves student's ability to apply course work in a group setting. Group work is used for the majority of the class. Multiple group assignments that improve learning and promote development of self-managed teams are used. According to Michaelsen & Sweet, ( 2008 p.8), there are four essential elements needed for TBL to work:
Groups must be properly formed and managed.
Accountability must be shown by students for their work, both individually and by the group.
Students have to be given frequent feedback in a timely manner.
Assignments must promote both learning and team development.
Collaboration requires a lot of work initially on the teacher's part. Cohesion among the groups does not happen overnight. Assignments that stimulate higher learning and promote cohesion will eventually build student confidence allowing students to tackle higher learning problems.
This practice uses pictures, mental images, graphic images, models, drawings, and hands on activities to enhance a student's ability to represent and elaborate on knowledge. Teaching in most schools rely on lectures and reading, In a research study done by Robert Marzano, Debra Pickering and Jane Pollock, students who used nonlinguistic representation had a twenty five percent increase in achievement (Blynt, 2010). In a standards based curriculum students can use charts, drawings, and maps to represent their thinking. Computer simulations encourage exploration and experimentation by allowing learners to manipulate their learning experience and visualize results (NREL, 2005). In geometry for example students were able to recall and apply what they have learned when they visualized three-dimensional forms. Technology can be incorporated through the use of visual representation software. According to the (NREL,2005) use of stimulation software lets students practice making predictions and testing outcomes. Teachers should get out of the traditional mode of instruction and look for ways to use multiple modes.