09 Sep Insurgent Instruction – Frontloading the Standards
Insurgent instruction is an educational approach comprised of parts. Similarly, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. The primary reason for this is due to the unknown and unexpected facets, the students and the teachers. This portion of education is what makes it so much fun as well as so much challenging. However, the focus of this particular investigation is front loading the standards.
This classroom action is actually something which is a current trend. However, too many times, the standards are simply just applied. Ever since the creation and application of state and federal content-based educational standards, they have been a point of contention amongst educators. In most cases, standards are misunderstood and haphazardly applied in the classroom setting. Simply put, they are merely another box to be checked off to please the administrator, keeping them out of the teacher’s classroom.
Perhaps approaching standards from a different perspective will help in guiding to a new appreciation for standards, especially in front loading them in the classroom. Taking a cue from insurgents and rebel fighters in history, one of the more important lessons to learn is using the tools given in a different manner. This is the strategy and tactics of an insurgent.
In most cases where insurgents utilize the local terrain and the instruments brought by the colonizers. In this case it would be the standards enforced by administrators and educational policy makers. These seemingly daunting and dead end instruments of the educational world are actually very effective means of subverting the dominant perspective and empowering students. More importantly, inverting their intended use not only displays critical and creative thinking, but follows the insurgent path.
The standards are tools, guides for exploring and examining the subject. A certain level of working mastery of the subject is the goal of any and every class regardless of the content are and grade level. Even without the threat of standards-based testing, each and every teacher desires to see their students succeed. This success is measured by mastery of the skills and knowledge of the content.
Yet, when students are presented with a seemingly simple question such as, “What is Social Studies?” They are hard-pressed to give a succinct and passable answer. Of course, this is true regardless of which content area is asked about, whether it is a core or elective subject. Standards, rather restricting the exploration of the subject matter, actually provide a framework for the examination.
Whereas many educators labor under the misconception that standards construct a rigid framework which is not to be deviated from, they in fact create a construct completely unlike this. This misconception usually arises from a misunderstanding of the standards that is commonly reinforced from poor professional development. The standards are a framework, a skeleton.
From this skeletal construct, the students and teacher create a new and unique building which has never existed before. They will sheathe the framework in a new skin, and fill it with muscles and organs of their own design. This new creation will differ from year to year.
This is due to two primary aspects. One is that each year brings a new and different cadre of students into the teacher’s classroom. These students bring with them their own set of experiences and perspectives which to scaffold their construct with. Even if the teacher remains in the same district, at the same campus, teacher the same subject at the same grade level, things will change from year to year. Second, is that the teacher will change from year to year both professionally and personally. Adaptation and evolution will occur. This is only natural. If we are teaching our subjects the same way each year to a different group of students, then we are failing them miserably. Re-invention is the key to not survival, but success.
When we front load the standards with our students, we are presenting them with a brand new set of tools. The subject matter is their canvas, their clay, their blank page, their stone. Our duty and service is to show them one way to use the standards. These are discussion starters. We begin a lifelong conversation between the student and the subject matter. In doing this, at this point and time, presents a powerful formative assessment for the classroom teacher without throwing up barriers between them and the student earlier on.
Talking through the standards early in the academic year, before undertaking any concentrated study, removes complacency in all parties and ignites imagination as well as excitement better than any other type of “hook.” It also forges a common bond between students and teachers as they develop shared definitions and goals through these standards. Standards become talking points, for lack of a better term. In this sense, the classroom evolves into a place where safe intellectual exploration can take place once again, rather than a room for test preparation.