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Subject-Specific Resources

Using a Standards-Based Approach in the English and Language Arts Classroom

Across the United States, students in English and language arts classrooms face high stakes reading and writing tests that will influence, or even determine, grade promotion or graduation. While many variables exist that contribute to student success on such tests, an integral variable that can provide students with an overwhelming advantage is carefully planned and implemented reading and writing instruction that correlates perfectly to the state standards of learning.

Characteristics of Standards-Based English and Language Arts Classrooms

Efficient standards-based classrooms share specific characteristics:
  • A teacher who is knowledgeable of the standards and who creates an academic environment based on the standards.

  • Layered formal assessment consisting of pre-tests, benchmarks, and post-assessments used not only to evaluate student progress, but also to gauge teacher effectiveness.

  • Teachers teach, and reteach, to mastery.

  • Students integrate and are held accountable for application of progressive skills. For example, grammar and spelling skills are applied in writing activities.

  • Lessons are paced to ensure both coverage and mastery of standards.

  • Each lesson focuses on standard-specific concepts, skills, or content.

  • The learning environment is safe, orderly, and inviting.
Strategies for Designing Standards-Based Lessons in English and Language Arts Classrooms

The following suggestions are designed to help classroom teachers build an instructional program based on local, state, and national standards of learning that govern instruction in the English or language arts classroom.
  • Build a pacing guide that directs instruction. Prior to beginning instruction, plot the standards on a calendar or spreadsheet based on the amount of time you estimate students will need to master the material. The initial pacing guide can be general and should work backward from the testing window. If the high stakes test will be administered in May, begin building the pacing guide from that point by considering the activities students should be engaged in one week before the test administration, then one month before, and so on. Using a backward design ensures efficient use of time to cover the tested standards.

  • Record each time you teach, reinforce, or assess a tested standard. Break each standard into its supporting standards and create a chart that you can use to chart the date and method you use to address each specific standard. Use the chart along with the pacing guide to ensure that all tested standards have been taught, and that students have been provided sufficient instructional time to achieve mastery. For example:

    Standard 11.3
    The student will read and analyze relationships among American literature, history, and culture.
    Describe contributions of different cultures to the development of American literature.
    Compare and contrast the development of American literature in its historical context.
    Discuss American literature as it reflects themes, motifs, characters, and genres.
    Dates taught:      
    Dates assessed:      
    % of student mastery:      

  • Use a variety of instructional methods to address standards. Expand your repertoire of teaching methods and address standards in a variety of ways—direct instruction, cooperative groups, Socratic Seminar, Synectics, concept attainment, creative projects, research projects, individual or small group presentations, Webquests, and so on. Incorporating a variety of methods as you address standards provides students an opportunity to learn in a way that best suits their individual learning preferences.

  • Visit your state's department of education Web site. Most state sites identify the specific standards for your area. It is also likely to offer resources, lesson plans, sample assessments, and information about state conferences and opportunities for professional development.

  • Visit your textbook Web site for correlations to state content standards. For example, Glencoe/McGraw-Hill offers online guides to textbook materials that correlate directly to your state standards. Online activities and chapter-based content are also often correlated to the standards.

  • Visit reputable English and Language Arts Web sites for ideas on lesson design. Many reputable groups maintain Web sites that either provide lessons that already match many state standards or that can be easily tweaked to match state standards.
Web Sites for English and Language Arts Lessons

The National Council of Teachers of English
The home base for English and language arts teachers, this site offers a wealth of information on research, professional development, and lessons designed to match state and national standards.

The National Endowment for the Arts
The NEA Web site offers a plethora of carefully designed lessons correlated to state and national standards that can be accessed, reviewed, and implemented with ease and assurance.

This article was contributed by Janice Christy, M.Ed., English Department Chair, Louisa County High School, Louisa, Virginia.

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