May 12, 2022

Visual teaching aids are essential when teaching Common Core Standards

When I first saw the long list of common core ELA standards for my classes, I remember feeling overwhelmed and worried about how I was going to cover them all in one school year. I was asked to teach about 60 standards in a year, a pace I had never tried before. Many of the standards were complex, requiring higher levels of analysis and assessment and more time to teach. I didn’t know what resources to use or how to use them effectively and efficiently.

It was like being asked to run a marathon without proper training or equipment. I knew this was going to test my skills and my patience. How am I going to teach at a faster pace than I was used to while maintaining a work-life balance? How will I keep students’ attention? That summer, the light bulb went on for me: visual teaching tools adapted to each standard. What I imagined was to take each standard, visually deconstruct it and place its basic elements in a graphic organizer, and use it as a teaching tool for my students.

What are standards-based visual teaching aids?

Standards-based visual teaching aids can take many forms, depending on the standard. This can be a multi-column/row table, sample guide, flowchart, or Venn diagram. The power of visual learning is unleashed if the tool conforms to the standard. For example, if a teacher is teaching a reading analysis standard, such as “compare and contrast,” a Venn diagram would be the best tool to use because it naturally directs the mind to the comparison task.

But, for some writing process standards, such as “use a formal style” or language application standards, such as “use a particular grammar topic”, a sample guide is probably the best option because it prepares the field for the demonstration.

In teaching writing style standards, such as “persuading using assertions, reasons, and evidence,” a flowchart or table would make sense because it ensures that each component is captured in a connected way. Thus, a teacher can transform his class from talking and assigning the common core in verbal form (which involves some ambiguity) to the ability to clearly show students how to perform the task and to create activities where students are able to practice the skill inherent in the standard, not just the verbal expression of it.

For example, asking students to write a paragraph to compare and contrast two authors’ presentation of events (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.6.9) is made more precise and understandable with a Venn diagram because students are able to Analytically organize similarities/differences before expressing them, thus maximizing class time and keeping attention to the standard of learning at hand.

How can teachers use standards-based visual teaching tools?

  • Since whole-class teaching modeling is an essential first step in learning skills, a visual teaching aid can be projected onto a screen/whiteboard, and a teacher can use it to explicitly show students how to complete the standard.
  • Cooperative/Independent Learning As group and individual lessons are a secondary process for deepening understanding and independence, a visual teaching tool can be distributed to students so that they can engage in more focused learning of the standard(s).
  • Assessment Since both formal and summative assessment are essential elements in measuring what students know and are able to do, a visual teaching aid can be part of an assessment, ensuring that the intended standard is accurately measured and data is valid/reliable.
  • Projects/Portfolios As projects/portfolios are great opportunities to individualize instruction and engage students, a visual teaching tool can ensure that student takeaways are up to standard.

Standards-based visual teaching tools enable visual learning and provide the out-of-the-box resource needed to master the quantity and rigor of the common core. They can be used in many ways to tailor instruction to student needs and provide a more direct path to mastery as well as student growth.

Sargy Letuchy is a bilingual ESL teacher at Bolingbrook High School in Illinois and author of The Visual Edge. You can also find his visual teaching resources in Getting Smart.

This position is part of the EdSurge Fifty States Project (representing the state of Illinois). The project is supported in part by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the individual contributors and do not reflect the views of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.