Knowing Students Deeply and Meeting Higher Standards

Knowing Students Deeply and Meeting Higher Standards


Darren Burris

Teachers are charged with a To-Do List so long that it takes more than 180 days to accomplish and some of the things on the list might include: ensure that all kids feel safe, learn all multiplication facts up to the 12’s with fluency, write an argument, design a bridge from Popsicle sticks, listen to the ideas of others when working in group, organize notes and belongings, etc.  I have been reminded lately that teaching is the art of doing all of these together creatively, intentionally, and passionately.  Without trying to tackle them all, I have seen teachers weave ways to know their students deeply into their lessons while at the same time meet the nearly 4 year old Massachusetts State Standards (that incorporate the Common Core State Standards).  Here are three brief snapshots of what I’ve witnessed over the last two days.

Kristen Porter, 5th Grade Science Teacher

Kristen has graciously taken on some of the math standards in her own classroom where it makes sense.  Students work with units, measure objects, and graph data among other things in science so she has worked to address them more intentionally in her curriculum.  I recently watched her work on fluency in understanding what measurements are appropriate given the object being measured.  For example, with what should we measure an ant? 5 mm? 5 cm? 5 m?  She also wanted students to get to know each other more deeply and for her to know them more deeply as well.  Here is where passion for both of these to happen meet with a solid dose of creativity.  I have tried to capture the model of her classroom below:

PorterClassroom Rotation

Students were seated in facing Adirondack chairs and on both sides of each of the tables.  Every student was paired with the person sitting directly across from them.  Kristen had students rotate around the “outside” or the “inside” a certain number of seats to create new partners after each round of 10 problem fluency sets.  After each move students were with a new partner to navigate through a new set of problems.  This, in and of itself, was a novel way to get different students working together and moving while also working on content that overlaps science and mathematics.  Kristen, however, blew my mind with how she handled each transition to a new set of pairs.  Students started each new pair by introducing themselves to each other and each telling the other something interesting about themselves that the other student may not know.  This simple twist blended the desire to create a safe community of learners who are known by their teacher and fellow students while also engaging in meaningful work in mathematics.

 Jawad Brown, 7th Grade Math Teacher

Jawad recently gave his first unit assessment and wanted to connect with students about their performance, identify areas for improvement, praise areas of accomplishment, and try to make the assessment useful for students – moving it from a statement about how they did and make it a statement about growth, reflection, and what is next.  The challenge is that meeting with students individually and continuing to cover the content are often, unfortunately, conceived as two things at odds with one another.  He turned the day following the assessment into both an opportunity for students to show mastery of the content via a collaborative activity while at the same time checking-in with individual students. The layout of the classroom is below and each table, desk, floor, or sideboard was a location for students to work in pairs, and his check-ins occurred at the front board (students also moved the desks around as needed, so imagine the desks ajar or shuffled or moved a bit within the “central” part of the room).


While he met with individual students, students created a poster using the collaborative activity portion of a lesson from the Mathematics Assessment Project.  The task is challenging, but allowed students to work together to show mastery of the content in a way that was not captured on the more traditional assessment (accommodated version can be found here).  This intentional broadening of how students demonstrate mastery combined with creating time to meaningfully connect with students was another small way of holding higher standards and knowing students deeply together.

Rachel Jacobsen, 7th Grade Math and Science Student Support Teacher

Rachel plans meticulously to engage students as well as improve their knowledge and skills of mathematics. She had a series of experiences planned around fractions that ranged from 3rd grade standards all the way through 6th grade that served as the solid ground on which to dive deep into ratio and proportions standards from 6th and 7th grade.  She utilized Front Row (an online k-8 math tool that is built from the standards and offers support for differentiating instruction) as both a diagnostic tool and a way to offer ongoing personalized work to understand where students were with fractions.  Using the data gathered from Front Row she returned back to her curriculum and decided on “courses of study” for each of the students in her pullout classroom, identifying what content they needed to work through and ways they could engage with learning fractions (manipulatives, conversations, posters, etc.).  As a result she had differentiated their experience according to their content needs and students were engaging on work that was appropriately challenging.  Here is her room setup and how one day looked – three working as a trio, two paired together, two working individually, and Rachel circulating.


This planning allowed her the space for simple questions as she pulled up a chair to each group or individual: “How was your weekend?” or “How are your other classes going?”  This brief moment occurred as she interacted with each student, pair, or trio.  This is where a carefully planned series of lessons combined with intentional grouping allows for a welding of higher standards with knowing students deeply.

What Does a Common Core Classroom Look Like?

After adoption of new state standards many teachers, instructional leaders, etc. were interested in “what does a common core classroom look like?”  How do the real and meaningful shifts that the standards outline come to life in the classroom.  This is a worthy question and one we, as a school, are still negotiating and learning more and more about each week (see other posts in this blog for how).  I included the images of classroom setups as a way of answering this physically rather than  instructionally – it looks different in each classroom and for each day.

“What Does a Common Core Classroom Look Like?” should never be far from asking “How do we come to deeply know our students?”  These two questions have the same answer – it looks different in each classroom, for each day, and for each student.   The three “looks” above are but a few ways these two questions are being answered together, but answering them together is the hard, creative, intentional, and necessary work of teaching.  I am grateful to be working with teachers who are daily working on these two together and who remind me that both of them, together, are crucial for effective implementation.


2 responses to “Knowing Students Deeply and Meeting Higher Standards

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