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Grade-Level and Standards-Aligned (Always!)

There is a pernicious myth that students who are perceived to have "learning gaps," or "unfinished learning" need to be taught below grade level standards and given below grade level work.

I’ve heard that this is in an effort to "catch students up" and “build students' confidence” by providing them with work they can be "successful" doing.

What makes these instructional choices pernicious is there is no way to close “the gaps” if students are engaging in work that is not on grade-level. Below grade-level work inherently keeps students behind, widening the gap each year a teacher decides to teach below grade level.

For historically marginalized students, especially Black and Hispanic students, presenting work that is below grade level has become an acceptable norm. One that hinders students from closing learning gaps, because they are never given the opportunity to engage in work that is grade-level and standards aligned.

Frequently asked question:

What’s a hard working teacher to do when their students do not have the skills needed to access grade level work?

My Answer:

Provide just-in-time support through scaffolds and differentiation, that will allow your students to access grade level material.

Follow Up FAQ: But how? And are we still doing the least?

Answer: See How? below and YES! SuperTeachers, we are still doing the least and getting the most out of our students.


Doing the least is made possible because SuperTeachers DO the WORK before assigning anything to their students. This ensures there are no surprises.

SuperTeachers complete Do Nows, the example problems for the Mini Lesson, the classwork, the exit ticket, homework, and assessments (quizzes, tests, projects), to identify the skills, knowledge and understanding their students will need in order to be successful. These identified skills, knowledge and understanding are the Learning Objective.


Doing the Work allows you to plan a succinct mini-Lesson around what students will need to be successful in meeting the learning objective for the day. The miniLesson is the scaffold.

Note: According to brain science, a succinct mini-Lesson should be between 5-7 min, however if more time is needed, be sure to chunk the information in 5-7 min “chunks” with time in between each chunk for students to practice/apply, engage, ask questions.


The final consideration for ensuring access and success with grade-level standards-aligned content is pre-planning how the lesson will be differentiated for your learners who have demonstrated needing additional support, as well as your learners who have demonstrated needing an extension or something more challenging.

We are still keeping it simple, so this does not mean creating different assignments for each of your different types of learners. Rather this means identifying what the just right differentiation is for specific students. Maybe you pull a few students together to work in a small group, or possibly frequent check-ins are enough. For students who need something more challenging, look to the curriculum. There is likely to be a task or question that will provide a just right challenge that students can begin working on as an extension after they complete the classwork.

The beauty of high-quality instructional practices are they allow teachers to play a more facilitative role, freeing them up to stand back and collect data on how the lesson is going and what their next teacher move needs to be.

When students are given the tools and understanding needed to access grade level work, they are likely to be more engaged and thus have the opportunity to gain new insights and unravel misconceptions. This is how we will help our students fill in the gaps in their learning.

What are some of your tried and true Do Less but Get More out of your students differentiation moves?

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