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Example 2: Unpacking a Complex Standard

Now let’s take a closer look at examples of Steps 1 through 4 with a more complex, real-
world standard. For this demonstration, we’ll use a sixth grade English Language Arts
national/state standard.

STEP 1: IDENTIFY KEY CONCEPTS & SKILLS

We’ll start by highlighting the nouns (concepts) in green and the verbs (skills) in blue, just
like we did in the destination trip example.

CCSS.ELA-LITERACY – RI.6.8

Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, distinguishing claims that
are supported by reasons and evidence from claims that are not.

STEP 2: IDENTIFY LEARNING TARGET TYPES

Next, we’ll identify the types of targets the standard represents. You may benefit by using
a graphic organizer like the one below.

Knowledge Targets Reasoning Targets

Define argument
Evaluate an argument
Define claim
Distinguish between supported and unsupported
claims
Define evidence

Skill/Performance
Product Targets
Targets

Trace an argument in a text Not applicable for this standard

Identifying specific targets within a standard provides clear direction for instructional
planning. It helps to not only focus on important content students should know, but also
what skills they should develop. This is a critical balance that can easily get a little
lopsided if there’s too much on content and not enough the skills.

STEP 3: DETERMINE BIG IDEAS

You’re halfway there! Determining Big Ideas is next, and it’s one of the most important
parts of the learning process. This is where we help students to make connections and
attach relevance to new information.

We want student thinking to extend beyond fact retention, because, let’s face it, facts
alone aren’t going to get you where you need to go unless you’re a contestant
on Jeopardy!
Below are some examples of Big Ideas for our standard:

 Presenting an argument with evidence is more persuasive than sharing an


opinion.
 Unsupported claims can lead to an invalid argument.
 Identifying a claim supported with evidence is a skill applicable to all areas of life.

These Big Ideas go beyond one standard, unit of study, or even a class. They are the
key learnings that move with students to new targets, new applications, and new
connections.

STEP 4

In our opinion, the real fun begins in Step 4. As teachers, our favorite moments were
those that allowed us to watch a student learn, grow in understanding, or have an ah-
ha! Moment. Essential Questions can get you there every time!

These questions are open-ended opportunities to stimulate interest, stretch thinking,


make connections that haven’t been made before, and much more. They can be used at
the beginning of the instruction on a learning target or during instruction to advance the
thinking process.

Examples of Essential Questions for our standard include:

 Why is evidence important?

 Why do we need to be able to recognize an argument that has support versus


one that does not?

 When do we use argumentation in daily life?

One important point to remember when using Essential Questions is to keep them truly
open-ended. Craft questions to have more than one possible response or to generate
discussion when different or conflicting ideas are presented. As teachers, our role in this
process is to facilitate thinking and discussion, not to validate. Be wary of responding
with, “I agree with you” or “That’s correct”; other students may not speak up if their
thinking is different than the answer you’ve identified as “right”.

The Unpacking Process


There are four key steps to unpacking standards:

STEP 1: IDENTIFY KEY CONCEPTS & SKILLS

Identify what students need to know and what they need to do. We like to highlight nouns
(content) in blue and verbs (skills) in green.

STEP 2: IDENTIFY LEARNING TARGET TYPES

Next, you’ll determine which concepts are content/knowledge targets,


reasoning/cognitive targets, skill/performance targets, and product targets.

STEP 3: DETERMINE BIG IDEAS


The next step is to list the conceptual understandings that students discover during the
learning process (the ah-ha! moments).

STEP 4: WRITE ESSENTIAL QUESTIONS

To focus and guide classroom instruction and assessment, write open-ended questions
to help stimulate student interest and make new connections.