Do Our Students Understand Our Standards?

I could see the disappointment creep through the room like a fog enveloping us all. Those kids who had been bright and cheery when they entered our room now sat there sullen, shoulders dropped, barely meeting my eye. I tried to explain again; I thought you needed some honest feedback…I know I have high expectations…it is not too late…

My students had done halfway through the quarter reflections and some of them had really missed the mark on their own engagement and work quality. Or maybe I had missed the mark as a teacher, but something was not lining up between their perception and reality, something was not right. Thus Tuesday’s conversation; a quick “If grades were handed out today” sheet and now lots of broken hearts. Sometimes being a teacher just sucks.

That night, when I couldn’t sleep, I realized what we needed to do, ashamed that I hadn’t thought of it before; we needed to deconstruct the standards. Tear them apart, put them in our own language, but most importantly discuss ways of showing mastery, so that they could be in control of their 7th grade learning journey

So today we started with our very first standard. The students and I reworded it, spoke about what it meant, and also spoke about my ideas for second quarter; show me mastery in your own way. Tell me when you are ready to give me evidence that you can do these things. Yes, you can choose to do a written assignment, and yes there will still be certain milestones that we have to reach, but you can also show me in another way; sculptures, videos, conversations, blogs, whatever we can work out, whatever you can dream up.

After today, I feel like it finally makes sense. Not just to my students who function under the scope of these standards; but to myself, the wielder of the assessment. I hadn’t thought to do this because I made the assumption my students had figured it out themselves. That they had figured out the standards. That they knew how they would be assessed and how to show me their growth. Why I would assume this I am not sure, but I know I cannot be the only one. I know others like me must have assumed that students know what they are supposed to learn, know what they will be assessed on. That’s a mistake I will not make again.

After the day was done and the new standard hung on our bulletin board, I have hope. Hope that my students will start to understand what I take for granted in their learning journey. Hope that my students will see that they there is room for all of their abilities and not just the ones determined by me. Hope that my students will embrace the push for personalization, hope that it will make them understand more where they need to go and how they need to grow. I should have done this day one, I am glad it is not too late.

cross-posted at

Pernille Ripp is the the author of Passionate Learners – Giving Our Classroom Back to Our Students, creator of Global Read Aloud Project, and co-founder of EdCamp MadWI. She teaches fifth grade in Verona, Wisconsin, and blogs at