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Chapter 1: What Is Total Instructional Alignment?

Lisa Carter Solution Tree Press ePub

Have you ever overheard two doctors discussing a medical issue? They use terms with which we are totally unfamiliar, but they seem to understand one another clearly and are able to communicate their thoughts very freely. Most professions have this type of common language that allows practitioners to communicate with one another about the concepts in their field. Educators, however, have developed only a very limited ability to do this. For whatever reason, educators do not seem to have this kind of precise professional vocabulary when it comes to instruction. Half a dozen terms may be used to refer to a single idea, or one common “buzz phrase” can be applied to a number of concepts that are barely related.

“Alignment” is one such word that has entered the jargon of education without any widespread agreement as to its precise meaning. In training sessions, I will often ask principals and teachers to work in small groups to develop a common definition of the term “instructional alignment.” Although they all claim to be familiar with the term, they often struggle within their groups to come to consensus on its definition. And I have yet to see two groups yield definitions that are the same. Their definitions often include parts of the alignment process, but it is clear that there is no common understanding of what alignment is and how it works.

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Chapter 6: Leadership and Change

Lisa Carter Solution Tree Press ePub

Educators who have been around for a while know that change is constant in education. While some of these changes have been positive, many of them have been practically meaningless. As a result, some teachers have come to view new educational initiatives with caution and skepticism. Often, initiatives are seen as just “this year’s new thing.” As a result, educators often suffer from what I refer to as TTSP (“This too shall pass”) syndrome. Instead of becoming engaged in the initiative, these educators choose to step back and wait out the change. To be successful, Total Instructional Alignment cannot become another flavor of the month. It is a meaningful change with proven success that will truly make a difference and positively impact student learning.

As school leaders know, positive, lasting change does not happen by chance. Someone has to provide the vision, the direction, and the energy to keep the boat from slipping back to the same old course. Leadership is the key to successful implementation of the Total Instructional Alignment process.

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Chapter 3: Aligning Standards, Curriculum, and Assessment

Lisa Carter Solution Tree Press ePub

The dog lesson from the introduction is a not-so-subtle reminder of the problems we may encounter when curriculum and assessment are not properly aligned. I really like teaching the dog lesson during my training sessions, and participants seem to enjoy it. They commend me for being prepared, engaging everyone, using visuals, inserting humor into the lesson, teaching to different learning styles, and using effective teaching strategies. This great lesson, however, does not usually bring about great results on the dog test.

What if I added some new teaching innovations to the dog lesson? I could use state-of-the-art technology to teach the lesson, create a brain-compatible environment, use dynamic instructional grouping based on detailed running records—the list goes on and on. But would this impact scores on the dog test? No, because these cutting-edge instructional methods, as important as they are in our classrooms, cannot correct my content errors.

The dog lesson does not yield successful results for one simple reason: I have not aligned what I am teaching and what I am assessing. No matter how well I teach, the best the participants—all college-educated teachers and administrators—typically can do on the dog test is an average score of 50%. New innovations will not increase scores; they can only be effective if I am teaching what I am testing. And this alignment is even more critical than ever before considering the importance of assessment in the lives of today’s students.

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References and Additional Resources

Lisa Carter Solution Tree Press ePub

Abbott, S. (1997). Standardized testing. Westminster, CA: Teacher Created Materials, Inc.

Block, P. (1991). The empowered manager. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Block, P. (1993). Stewardship. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Bloom, B. S. (1976). Human characteristics and school learning. New York: McGraw Hill.

Brookover, W. B. (1996). Creating effective schools (Rev. ed.). Holmes Beach, FL: Learning Publications.

Carroll, J. B. (1963). A model for school learning. Teachers College Record, 64, 723–733.

Covey, S. (1990). The 7 habits of highly effective people. New York: Free Press.

Covey, S. (1992). Principle centered leadership. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Covey, S. (1994). First things first. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Cummings, C. (1990). Teaching makes a difference. Edmond, WA: Teaching, Inc.

Cummings, C. (1996). Managing to teach (2nd ed.). Edmond, WA: Teaching, Inc.

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Chapter 4: Aligning Instruction

Lisa Carter Solution Tree Press ePub

Many schools and districts have devoted a small fortune in human, material, and financial resources to aligning standards, curriculum, and assessment through the development of aligned curriculum documents. All this work, however, will make little difference if it does not impact instruction at the classroom level. We all know that what happens when the classroom door closes and the teacher begins instruction is what ultimately matters the most.

Before the onset of standards, teachers could teach whatever they thought was important for their students to learn. For example, as a beginning teacher, my favorite social studies unit was one on service jobs (what we called “community helpers,” such as police officers, firemen, doctors, and nurses). I developed this unit during a university teaching methods class. I invested many hours in the development of that unit, and I had a wealth of materials to accompany it. I enjoyed teaching it, and the students seemed to enjoy learning about community helpers. In retrospect, I am really not certain that the goals I established in the unit were actually part of the local district curriculum for first-grade students; however, it did not matter at the time. There was no focus on accountability as there is today, no designated testing program designed to measure whether or not students met certain predetermined learning goals.

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