Using career relevance as opportunities for students to apply their knowledge

In the world of standardized tests the content and skills, often called power standards, drive instruction and the focus for learning. This is critically important information for student success on tests and the data that determines school and school system success. This knowledge and understanding are also important for the world beyond school. With the pressures of high stakes testing , this can be overlooked as educators worry about student test scores. Applying this content through the lens of careers and career relevance can help students engage more purposefully in the classroom and this context can help to answer two age-old questions from students:

• Why do I need to know this?

• When I am ever going to use this?

The Pennsylvania Department of Education has created the Future Ready PA Index which includes College and Career Readiness measures. Within the Career Ready Indicator is a collection of evidence from all students at various grade levels in the elementary and secondary school. The Commonwealth has defined this evidence as documentation or artifacts, written or electronic demonstrating a student application of a Career Education and Work academic standard. Each student will have a portfolio that will contain these artifacts as well as other information tied to career exploration, awareness, and education.

Bringing standards-based content and career relevance together does not have to be something extra to be done in an already packed curriculum. Using careers and/or career relevance as opportunities for students to apply their knowledge to new and varied situations can accomplish many goals. It can allow students to learn about a variety of careers and the knowledge and skills necessary to work in these careers. Furthermore, the workplace is rapidly changing and careers that will exist for our students do not yet exist. We must educate our students to succeed in the workplace and understand what is needed in the workplace, regardless of what that workplace looks like.

This mandate has become more important in that it is now a measured part of school success, therefore, it is imperative that educators and school systems address this as part of teaching, assessment, and data collection. Thinking about what this means in terms of curriculum, instruction, and assessment it reinforced my belief in project and problem based learning through performance tasks utilizing the Understanding by Design’s GRASP template. Performance tasks utilize the “R” in GRASP promotes putting students in a real-world role. In Defined Learning that role is always career-based. The “A” represents the audience that the students will be solving problems for and/or creating products to help understanding. Products and projects must be purposeful and must represent student knowledge of important content while using 21st century and workplace skills.

Students create a variety of products that connects to the Goal of the performance task. These products serve as artifacts linking the career connection, critical content, and demonstration of understanding. This process is used in classrooms around the country and can be as easily applied in Kindergarten classrooms, as well as in High School classrooms. If you want to take a look at what this performance task could look like for a classroom I have shared a few below:

Primary – Smart Products, Smart Consumers

Intermediate – Aquarium Designer

Middle School – Baseball Bat Analyst

High School – City Planner

The products within every task can be selected by the teacher, the students, or together. An issue that has arisen is how to best store the products created by students. This can be challenging as they are an important part of the Future Ready PA Index and must be accessible. Some schools are using paper pencils, and folders; others are using some form of digital classroom, and still, others are using the Performance Assessment Manager through Defined Learning.  The Performance Assessment Manager is an electronic portfolio system that has students uploading their work, taking pictures and video, and creating multimedia presentations, which is a workplace application in itself. As you make your decisions it is important to think about having the students upload or keep their information.

Administrators will need to think about how best to align curriculum with this initiative. Once that has been accomplishes it will be just as important will how to store the products by individual student each year and over time as the students continues through the school system.


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