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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and independent consultant, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at

Education Opinion

Is There Really a Visual Approach to the Common Core?

By Peter DeWitt — July 26, 2016 4 min read

Today’s guest post is written by suburban Chicago high school teacher Sargy Letuchy.

Yes, there is a visual approach to the Common Core.

And, if used properly, visual learning offers teachers and students a simplified path to meeting the challenges associated with ELA Common Core, including quantity, rigor, and a lack of precise resources. In terms of quantity, teachers are asked to teach and students to learn over 60 standards in 180 school days.

In terms of rigor, many standards are cognitively-demanding and require higher-level thinking skills, such as multi-variable analysis and evaluation. Finally, there aren’t many comprehensive resources available for the middle and high school standards. Even the most skillful teacher would be challenged. However, when teachers and students use visual instructional tools that are carefully crafted for each standard, the learning process becomes easier and more precise for everyone involved.

Standards Based Visual Instructional Tools
Standards based visual instructional tools can take on many forms, depending on the standard. They can be a multi column/row table, an example guide, a flow chart, or Venn diagram. The power of visual learning is unleashed if the tool intricately fits 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 points the mind to the task of comparison.

But, for some of the process writing standards, such as “use a formal style,” or the application language standards, like “use a particular grammar topic,” an example guide is probably the best option because it sets the stage for demonstration.

Furthermore, for the writing style standards, such as “persuade using claims, reasons, and evidence,” a flow chart or table would make sense because it ensures that each component is being captured in a logical order (See the example provided). My experience teaching a grade level quantity of standards using this approach has convinced me that when a consistent, tailor made visual instructional tool is used throughout a sequence of skill based lessons, teachers and students reap many benefits.

Benefits of Using Visual Instructional Tools for Common Core
Engagement Clarity A learning standard becomes more academically comprehensible when students can see what it entails. Visual instructional tools take the guesswork out of instruction and put both students and teachers on the same page, creating a more powerful connection between lessons and outcomes.

Student Centered Students can choose a developmentally appropriate topic of interest to read, write about, speak to, or listen to and use the visual instructional tool as the vehicle to show their skill based learning that has taken place.

Lesson Precision Because many of the standards involve accounting for multiple variables in one exercise, it becomes difficult to keep track of all of the moving parts. Visual instructional tools help organize all of the variables in a logical sequence to ensure that all components are accounted for in a single, pointed lesson.

Efficiency As the instructional pace has picked up with so many standards to teach and learn, maximization of time has become of the essence. Visual instructional tools maintain classroom attention on the standard(s) and ensure lessons are productive for

students in an environment where every minute counts.

Example Visual Instructional Tools This writing standard below asks students to utilize the elements of introduction, organization/broader categories, formatting, and graphics/multi-media for informative/explanatory writing. With this graphic organizer, students are able to write the topic at the top and brainstorm an introduction in the first table, an organization strategy/categorization in the second table, formatting in the third table, and graphics/multi-media in the fourth table.

Introduce a topic clearly, previewing what is to follow; organize ideas, concepts, and information into broader categories; include formatting (e.g., headings), graphics (e.g., charts, tables), and multimedia when useful to aiding comprehension.

This reading standard below asks students to outline and assess an informational author’s argument or claim in terms of reasons and evidence and recognize what is untrue and illogical. With this graphic organizer, students are able to write the author’s argument or claim in the top box, delineate reasons and evidence in the first column, evaluate validity of reasons and relevancy/sufficiency of evidence in the second column, and identify fallacious reasons and false statements in the third column.

Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.

Learn more about Letuchy’s book The Visual Edge: Graphic Organizers for Standards Based Learning, Common Core 6-12 (Letuchy, 2015).

The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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