Set the Tone of Learning, Not the Limit

As a Geometry teacher, I loved teaching the unit on right triangles because it gave students an opportunity to experience real world applications of right triangles beyond what they knew. In the years that I taught, students devised methods and explored everything from determining the length of missing sides to eventually finding angle measures when given sides…inverse trig functions. Unfortunately, our state standards did not extend to inverse relationships.

When we started using “Cscope”, now The Texas Curriculum Management Program Cooperative (TCMPC), it defined our unit even further. In its “specificities”, we were to only teach through trigonometric ratios. In our experiences, especially when solving problems involving angles of depression/elevation and applications involving surveying, inverse functions came in handy. If we stopped at the “specificity”, students who wanted to explore methods of determining angles given sides would not have the opportunity to do so.

I could not imagine denying this particular skill to students as it proved to be a favorite topic amongst the majority of learners.

I’ve never looked at standards as the “end all be all” of learning. I always saw them as a starting point. Those were our minimal expectations for what kids needed to know. In planning, my beliefs were often questioned as teachers generally had the opposite idea. To them, standards represented an “end game”. Teachers gave a worksheet or textbook assignment covering a particular topic and stopped at a specific point. In other words, there was a box that teachers taught from which also established how far students would be allowed to go.

This past week, I captured a series of student tweets regarding standards. Below is what she had to say…

“Why is it we are taught to be individuals but schools say follow your passion but yet we are hindered due to standards?”

She then goes on to add…

“I am saying when we go to school the 1st thing we go over are standards and everyone needs to do this and that lesson plans are made for the entire year based on standards. To me it is like we are put into a small box and are only allowed to expand within the box…Not like go beyond what the box holds inside but stretch it to meet the standards of our own passions…”

To this student, the standards hindered her learning. She goes to school and sees what she is to learn everyday. To her, that represented a box and more than likely it was communicated as such. What she wanted to do was explore her passions, sticking to the standards, but be allowed to examine learning beyond them.

I have to wonder how our limits hinder what students can and will do. In most cases, especially when dealing with reluctant learners, our limits become their limits. If we give them a box to fit in, they will fit…period. If we give them a starting point and say explore, they will do that as well.

It’s up to us to set the tone for learning…not the limit. Standards should be communicated as minimal expectations with definite room to grow. Yes, we have to facilitate specific skills but we do not have to hinder what students learn as a result of or in response to the menu of objectives that we give them.

It’s about letting the experience lead the learner and moving from the position of “owner of all knowledge”  to support.

As our classroom lead learners, it’s about helping students to build a relationship with the learning process…not limit it…

Regardless of standards






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