Opportunity to Learn

By Dr. Judith Paolucci

Whether it is management books or education books, professional texts are written each year not to teach us something we don’t already know, but to remind us of what we should be doing to perform well in our chosen field. Goodwin and Hubbell’s The 12 Touchstones of Good Teaching: A Checklist for Staying Focused Every Day, is a professional text available through ASCD (www.ascd.org). Each of the 12 touchstones is not new but all are worthy reminders to all involved in education.

The first chapter of the book is titled, “I use standards to guide every learning opportunity.” If everyone connected to schools (parents, teachers, administrators and students) could only read one paragraph from the entire chapter, I would choose the fifth paragraph of this chapter, which reads, in part: “… the school-level variable most strongly correlated with higher student achievement is a factor called “opportunity to learn” – the extent to which a school (1) clearly articulates its curriculum, (2) monitors whether the curriculum is actually taught, and (3) aligns its curriculum with assessments of student achievement (Marzano, 2000).”

Developing a clearly articulated curriculum is a goal of Smithfield Schools. This year, teachers have been engaged with writing curriculum for English Language Arts. The curriculum development team reviews outcomes, assessments, instructional materials, and methods, which will then be posted on our curriculum page. Teachers have been meeting all year to make modifications to the current curriculum to ensure that concepts are aligned across grade levels.

We are also looking at the assessments and rubrics currently in place both for the purpose of ensuring that the written curriculum is taught and for gauging student progress. Common student assessments provide teachers with opportunities for rich dialogue about student learning and effective instructional practices.

This work is substantial, especially if one remembers that teachers’ time is primarily spent on designing and delivering instruction to the students they serve. Carving out time for curriculum and assessment development is not easy and we appreciate the time educators have set aside for this purpose.

Of course, the development and application a clearly articulated curriculum and common assessments can only be good if the curriculum and assessments are of high quality. Ensuring that curriculum is based upon high standards ensures as well that we are have high expectations for our students. Students “usually rise to meet our expectations” (Goodwin and Hubbell, p. 7).

Our role as school and district administrators is not simply about policing classroom instruction to assess whether or not teachers are teaching the articulated curriculum and are focused on high standards, but instead is about providing teachers with clear expectations for their work and the professional development and time they need to be successful. To be sure, though, frequent classroom observations help us to see if all are interpreting standards in the same way. All Smithfield district and school administrators visit classrooms each week and we know that teachers can sometimes feel under the microscope. However, we look more closely at the focus of lessons, the engagement of students, the quality of instructional materials, and the routines established in their classrooms than in what specifically the teacher is doing at each moment in time.

While some may interpret standards-based education as a one-size-fits-all, bland approach to instruction, Goodwin and Hubbell remind us that “when everyone gets on the same page about what’s important for students to learn (i.e. standards), teachers can devote their time and energies not to figuring out what material to teach but, instead, to determining how to teach that material in a way that engages and enlightens students and, when possible—accelerates their learning” (p. 14). We want this to be the focus of teachers’ work in Smithfield.

Goodwin, B. & Hubbell, E. R. (2013). The 12 touchstones of good teaching: A checklist for staying focused every day. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.