Have you ever had the feeling as you teach a unit that you’re paddling down a murky river of water? You kind of know where you’re headed but you’re uneasy, slightly unclear of the way and hoping for a good outcome. When you finally end your journey you feel relief but that unsettled feeling is still there. It feels like you accomplished what you set out to do, your students did okay, but you’re still wondering if your teaching went the clear path that you wanted. Were you crystal clear on what the outcomes were along the way?


If you’ve had this feeling before, fear not, many have! I use this analogy often when I work with teachers and it really resonates with them. If you work in a school like most, you’ve probably been provided a resource that has all of your local or national standards listed. That looks good in theory, but that uneasy feeling you had at the end of the unit probably has something to do with some questions you’re asking yourself. How well do I really understand what those standards mean? Why do I feel like I didn’t really cover that standard? Am I preparing my students the best I can for the next grade level? 


This is where unwrapping standards and creating learning targets provide the answer to your murky journey. Look at them as your river guide to clarity. When I first sit down with teams to do this work, some feel confident in their understanding of the standard, others are not quite sure. Once teams begin to unwrap standards the deep understanding of what it’s actually asking students to do begins. I want to stress the heavy emphasis on teams because no one person can do this work alone and the discussion around the standard is what leads to clarity. Once you’ve unwrapped your standards and created learning targets, that’s where the clarity magic begins. Now you can read lessons in your unit with a more careful eye and decide if it’s engaging students with the right intention of the target.  You can determine whether all targets are being addressed or not at all. Best of all you have can now pass this clarity on to the student. After all, this is the ultimate goal, for students to have the clarity they need to be proficient in their work. 


If this work seems daunting, I suggest taking it one step at a time. Start with just one subject or even just the standards for your next unit. Have a rich discussion about what the standards are really saying and how you can express them in a way that a student will understand. These will become your learning targets. Next, read through your unit and align your targets to the lesson. Use this deep unit planning template to help you see which targets are addressed and which are not. This process won’t happen overnight but I promise if you engage in this work you and your students will reap the benefits of a clearer picture of where you’re headed in your teaching and student learning. 

Post authored by Jennifer Deering.

Jennifer is an instructional coach with the Grafton School District in Wisconsin. Jennifer specializes in supporting teams and individual teachers as they work to improve student learning outcomes in the classroom.