Leveraging Alignment in Service to Engagement: Part II

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In Part I, I challenged Brilliant or Insane readers to distinguish entertainment from engagement and standardization from alignment. This was my attempt to establish clarity about two forces that have a significant influence on learning and teaching. I also suggested that talented teachers are able to leverage each force in service to the other and that when we do, learners flourish.

Something else: I’m learning that when we don’t leverage each force, we do great damage.

Consider these scenarios

Each reveals one teacher’s attempt to assess the following Common Core State Standard for fifth grade writers:

Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons and information.

a. Introduce a topic or text clearly, state an opinion, and create an organizational structure in which ideas are
logically grouped to support the writer’s purpose.
b. Provide logically ordered reasons that are supported by facts and details.
c. Link opinion and reasons using words, phrases, and clauses (e.g., consequently, specifically)
d. Provide a concluding statement or section related to the opinion presented.

Scenario A: Jon’s Experience

Jon is a fifth grade teacher whose department adopted a new English Language Arts curricula three years ago. His principal expects him to use this program with absolute fidelity, even though significant evidence suggests that adaptations are necessary.

Jon and his colleagues know that the assessments, in particular, are very weak. The task below served as the culminating activity for a recently completed unit of study:

The article provided, “From Kosovo to the United States” relays the firsthand account of Isau Ajeti, a figure who faced human rights challenges. Use evidence from the article and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (explored previously) to compose an essay response to the following question:

What specific rights violations did Isau and his family face, and how did they respond?

In your essay, be sure to:

1. Use evidence from the article and the UDHR.

2. Connect the specific rights violations you mention to specific articles of the UDHR.

3. Use complete sentences.

Scenario B: Aisha’s Experience

Aisha’s students recently completed the same unit of study as Jon’s students, using the same curriculum. When she and her colleagues shared concerns about the culminating task with their principal, they were encouraged to adapt it. Aisha’s team worked together to craft the following culminating task. During their design sessions, they remained sensitive to issues of alignment and engagement.

Where do you notice injustice at work in your own life or in the lives of those you care about? Where are human rights being violated?

Over the next several weeks, you will complete an independent study of one injustice that matters to you, locating evidence from primary or secondary sources that can help an audience better understand the issue.

Then, you will compose an opinion about the causes of this issue and one potential solution. You will use your writing skills to communicate this opinion to a leader who can work for justice.

Be sure to:

1. Determine which form your opinion piece should take. Who is your intended audience? How should you communicate with them in order to increase your chances of being heard? Perhaps you will choose to write a letter, a blog post, or an editorial. Perhaps another form is more suitable. Which mode will communicate your opinion best?

2. State a clear opinion, using evidence from your research to support it.

3. Connect the injustices you describe to specific articles of the UDHR.

4. As you organize your writing, group similar reasons and evidence together. Speak about each one in a logical order. This creates coherence.

5. Use linking words and phrases to connect sentences and paragraphs together. This creates fluency.

6. Offer a conclusion that not only restates your opinion but invites the reader to take a specific course of action.

Scenario C: Allan’s Experience

Allan has been supported to design his own curriculum. He embraces student-centered learning approaches, including project based learning. Although Allan expects all of his students to explore the same content and topics that Aisha and Jon’s students study over the course of the year, his students determine what content they will study when, in alignment with their unique research interests and needs.

Allan feels it is wrong to impose common assessments and teacher-designed tasks on his students. Instead, students craft research questions that align to the content and topics they choose to explore. Then, individual learning contracts and pathways are established to ensure that all students engage in research and produce meaningful work for real audiences.

Allan does not define standards or learning targets for students. He does not measure their progress toward them either. Instead, he invites students to craft their own definitions of quality under his guidance, based on the projects they are pursuing.

When Allan was asked to share what his students studied and produced relevant to the study of human rights, he provided the following data:

10 students pursued answers to questions relevant to the purpose of the UDHR and its role in American history. They were unable to formulate opinions about this, though.

3 students pursued answers to questions relevant to injustices in their own community. Their answers inspired strong opinions, but they struggled to locate evidence to support them.

2 students worked together to petition the Board of Education, requesting a revision of the school code of conduct in order to create opportunities for peer-led conflict resolution prior to suspension. Their reasons and evidence were supported by articles and pamphlets gathered at a recent student leadership conference.

3 students read numerous articles about specific human rights violations. Each kept a journal about their own experiences with injustice.

3 students wrote fictional narratives about human rights violations. They may choose to publish them for a wider audience if they wish.

Now, consider these questions:



  • Which dimensions of this matrix are the most desirable? Which are the least desirable? Why?
  • Where would you place each of the tasks defined in the scenarios above on this matrix? Which tasks could be adjusted in order to improve alignment or engagement or both?
  • Where do you notice opportunities to leverage alignment in service to engagement? How could this happen?
  • Where do you see a need to lift engagement? How could this happen?
  • How would you describe each teacher’s commitment to alignment and engagement? What do you wonder about those who are leading them?
  • How can you use this matrix to start important conversations with your colleagues? How can you use it to push your own thinking and improve the way you design curricula and assessment opportunities?

Is your head spinning yet? Mine is, and I’ve learned that’s a good thing.

Come chat with me a bit in the comments. I’m wondering if thinking about the relationship between alignment and engagement is a useful endeavor. What are you discovering? What are your best questions?


Don’t miss Part I in this series

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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.

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