Skip to content

4906 Bardstown Road | Louisville, KY 40291 | 502.373.2700 

Unpacking a Standard in the Formative Period

Ed Directions coaches and trainers are currently presenting “Rhythm of the Learner Year – Formative Period” workshops in our partnership schools.

The focus of these workshops is to prepare academic leaders and teachers to plan for a Formative Period that builds each student’s competence as a learner and potential for proficient performance. To do this, the participants have to understand what their students are expected to do under the state standards, what learner competencies must be developed for students to be independent and proficient learners, what it will take for the students to be proficient test takers, and what it will take for students to make a successful transition to the next stage.

This is an important core element in the Ed Directions approach to teaching and learning because a successful Formative Period builds the knowledge base and provides an opportunity to erase or ameliorate performance gaps to prepare students for the next period of the learner year – the Calibrating Period.


What Do Students Have to Learn

Determining what’s expected of students requires administrators and teachers to unpack the standards to determine what students have to know and do in order to score proficient on the test and to make a successful transition. When working with an Ed Directions coach, analysis of a language arts standard looks something like this:


ELA Standard – Sample Unpacking

Unpacking a Standard in Ed Directions Workshops – A Three-step Process:

1. The process begins with breakout of the learnings and test information included in the state documents. Each standard is broken down into vocabulary, tasks, and possible test items. This process is repeated for each state standard and produces an overview of each standard.


Critical Vocabulary


Possible Test Items

L AFS.5.RL.1. 1

·       Explicit Meaning

·       Literal Meaning Inference

·       Conclusion

·       Text

·       Phrases

·       Sentences

·       Main Idea

·       Key Idea

·       Central Idea

·       Theme

·       Supporting Details

·       Relevant Details

·       Language Choice

·       Audience

·       Purpose

·       Character

·       Emphatic/ Expressive Language

·       Reading for Information

·       Literature

·       In Formal Writing

·       Story

·       Excerpt

·       Folktale

·       Legend

·       Newspaper Article

·       Magazine Article

·       Poem

·       Drama

·       Play

·       Map/Chart/Graft

·       Inset/Graphic

·       Picture

·       Inset

·       Text Features


·       Identify the main idea

·       Identify supporting details

·       Show supporting detail impact on the development of the reading

·       Recognize and show how language is used

·       Drawn inference our conclusion and support

·       Multiple-choice

·       Hot text selection

·       Identifying correct inference our conclusion

·       Multiple selects

·       Drag and drop text into response

·       Drag and drop text to support an inference or conclusion

·       Extended response question

·       EBSR


2. The second step involves establishing the level of work expected from all students on the state assessment. In Florida, for example, the state provides clues as to what the test is going to cover, the venue or genre that will be used to test proficiency, and clues to the level of rigor that will be expected from all students in this case at the fifth-grade level.

Reporting Category


Percentage of Assessment

Indications of Rigor

Key ideas and details



·       Reading selections may include grade level selections that include from 300- 800 words

·       Variety of testing formats will be used including electronic formats

·       Readings will be on grade level and will include discipline specific language in test prompts

·       Question values were determined by the rigor and difficulty of the questions


Craft and structure




Integration of knowledge and ideas




Language and editing:

·       Evaluating correct errors

·       Use grammar rules such as capitalization, punctuation and spelling

·       Language use and conventions

Literature or Informational


3. The third step involves collecting samples of the different types of questions and the different genre that meet the levels of rigor described by the standard to be used in calibrating student performance to the level of the assessment.

At this point, teachers know all of the learnings that fall under a standard and the type of work that is going to have to be done with those learnings. This will enable them to make informed decisions about the content of lessons and the types of work that will be needed in order to prepare students to work at the levels described. Teachers need to understand that teaching something that falls under the standard is not sufficient to prepare all students to demonstrate proficiency.

The learnings and the tasks represent a minimum competency set that’s expected of all students and should describe a student knowledge base at the end of the year.

In an Ed Directions workshop, we emphasize that the standard does not define what the teachers have to teach. Rather, it defines what the students have to learn, what they have to do with what they learn, the venue in which they must demonstrate proficiency, and what’s expected for students to take from their current grade to make a successful transition to the next stage.


Priority #1 – Build the Cognitive Base

For academic leaders and teachers, in the Formative Period, the first priority is building the cognitive base, i.e. the knowledge of concepts and tasks that the student will have to own to perform proficiently. In our workshops, coaches emphasize that learning with meaning, which is what the standard is about, requires that students learn how to learn at high levels. This requires that they learn how to

  • Do attending work
  • Do acquiring work
  • Do organizing work
  • Create meaning for the critical learnings

When Ed Directions coaches talk about proficient learners, they are talking about learners who can attend, acquire, organize, and create meaning independently and proficiently.


Priority #2 – Build Student Confidence

The second priority during the Formative Period is to begin the process of building student confidence and competence with the assessment venue they’re going to face on accountability tests. This includes an introduction to the types of questions, experience working at the level of rigor expected, the use of appropriate vocabulary in the development of the thinking skills, and habits of mind that support successful test taking.

In 2020 the challenge for academic leaders and teachers will be to build the knowledge and performance base in an unsettled and unfamiliar teaching/learning environment. Many best practices for classroom teacher and student work will not be best practice in a virtual classroom or an independent distance learning environment. Similarly, best practices for virtual school or for independent learning centers will not readily transfer into classroom best practice.

Academic leaders and teachers, especially teachers, must intentionally build a Formative Period curriculum that includes building a proficient learner, preparation for high-stakes accountability assessments, and an experience base that will support making successful transitions. All of these objectives will include an optimum learning environment, optimum learning behaviors by students, optimum best practice teacher work and student work, intentional diagnostic and summative data gathering, and data informed decisions to ensure that decisions about unit and lesson planning and about student support programs.

If teachers take this charge seriously, it is possible to make significant gains in student potential as learner and performer.


Want to Learn More?

Want to learn more about the Formative Period and how it relates to the Rhythm of the Learner Year?  Check out our website for more information, download free tools and information that you can immediately put to use in your classroom and school planning, or take a look at one of our two books on improving student performance in the series Turning Around Turnaround Schools.

Think your school could benefit from Ed Directions coaching? Contact us and let’s talk about how an Ed Directions partnership could benefit your students today.


About Post Author