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Key terms

"Teachers must describe how they plan to evaluate students’ achievement, effort, work habits and progress. They must then clearly communicate these plans to students, parents and administrators." (Guskey, Educational Leadership, p. 22).

Standard - Standards describe what all students should know and be able to do in each of the subject areas.

Content standards - The standards describe what all students should know and be able to do in each of the subject areas. The benchmarks indicate what students should know and be able to do at various developmental levels (i.e., early elementary school, later elementary school, middle school and high school).  (Michigan Curriculum Framework, section I, p. iii)

Benchmark - The benchmarks indicate what students should know and be able to do at various developmental levels (i.e., early elementary school, later elementary school, middle school and high school).

Performance task – A task designed for the purpose of assessing student learning. The task should be authentic, credible and user-friendly.

Performance descriptor - What specifically am I looking for students to do or demonstrate in a task?

Objective – Instructional objectives are similar to standards in that they indicate what the teacher wants students to know and be able to do. Objectives, however, are specifically related to particular units and lessons.

Rubric – Rubrics determine how the work will be judged and in particular what elements matter most.

Criteria – Criteria are a way of defining success at meeting an objective. They provide the range that describes the different levels of quality.

Indicator – Indicators are concrete examples of what to look for in a performance, usually behaviors or traits. 

Essential questions - These go to the heart of the discipline. Essential questions can be found in the most historically important and controversial problems and topics in various fields of study.

Essential questions recur naturally throughout one’s learning and in the history of a field. The same important questions are asked and re-asked as an outgrowth of the work. Our answers may become increasingly sophisticated and our framing of the question may reflect a new nuance, but we return again and again to these questions.

Unit questions - These provide subject- and topic-specific doorways to essential questions. Unit questions frame a specific set of lessons; they are designed to point to and uncover essential questions through the lens of particular topics and subjects. 

- Unit questions have no one obvious “right” answer.  They are not self-evidently true. Unit questions open up and suggest important multiple lines of research and discussion; they uncover rather than cover up the subject’s controversies, puzzles and perspectives. They serve as discussion starters and problem posers, rather than lead toward “the” answer the teachers wants.

- These are deliberately framed to provoke and sustain student interest. Unit questions work best when they are designed to be thought-provoking to students. Such questions often involve the counterintuitive and the controversial as a means of engaging students in sustained inquiries. They should be sufficiently open to accommodate diverse interests and learning styles and allow for unique responses and creative approaches – even ones that the teacher had not considered.

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From Wiggins, G,. & McTighe, J. (1998). Understanding by Design. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Merrill Prentice Hall, pp. 29-30.