• Gene Tavernetti, Ed.D.

Same concepts, same skills: a conversation

Dear reader,

As a community of professional learners, we share ideas with each other for the purpose of getting feedback and refining our thinking. Often, the inspiration for our articles is a response to something we've read or heard from elsewhere. We're simply engaging in academic discourse around instruction and supporting schools in improving their practice. When the conversation is worthwhile, we want to include some of that with the related articles so that you too can further the conversation. You can always feel free to reach out to us and formally respond, or you can share the article with a fellow educator. These are all ways in which you can join us in reflective discourse about teaching and learning.



When the new, Common Core, standards were adopted many said that students were going to have to learn differently. The reason, they explained, was that the students would be assessed differently.

How were the assessments different? The simplified answer is that students would be assessed on the application of concepts and skills, rather than simply remembering and/or restating them. Or, to be even more crass, students would not be simply choosing the correct answer in a multiple-choice question.

They are correct about assessing differently. They are wrong about having to learn differently. The concepts and skills that continue to be assessed did not change; how the concepts and skills were to be applied have changed.

Below are some examples, metaphors, for how the context of application can change while using concepts and skills remain the same.

Imagine a student in shop class being taught to properly use a miter box. Initially, the student might be tasked to cut different types of wood using the miter box, cut different sizes of wood using the box, cut different angles using the miter box. Then, after sufficient practice cutting scrap pieces of wood, the student would be taught to connect two pieces of scrap wood together to create various angles with tidy corners.

At some point, after this process of teaching and practice is repeated with a number of different concepts and skills the student will be asked to apply all those skills to build a birdhouse.

If this task was transformed into the form an assessment, what might be some assessment questions? You have been hired to build a birdhouse for your neighbor. What is the best wood to use? What tools will you need?

Same concepts, same skills, different application.

Another example how concepts and skills stay the same but the context of the application changes comes from a scene in the 1995 movie “Apollo 13.” You will recall the there has been an explosion in the spacecraft and the air filter system was damaged. The astronauts needed to repair the system or die.

The character played by Ed Harris, the head of the mission, meets with a group of engineers to discuss the needs of the astronauts and the task of the engineers to save the men and the mission. The Ed Harris character walks into the meeting with a box of miscellaneous items and empties the box on the table. He tells the engineers that contents of the box represent what the astronauts have available to them on the spacecraft to repair their air system.

It was the job of the engineers to figure out to repair the system using only those supplies. The engineers had to use their prior knowledge, concepts and skills that they used to initially design the air filtration system to plan how to fix the system with new materials.

Same concepts, same skills, different application.

Between 1997, when the prior standards were adopted in California, and 2012 when the new standards were adopted, the concept of the triangle did not change. The number of degrees in a triangle is still 180.

If now, students need to prove and explain how they know triangles are 180 degrees that does not change how they learn that information. What could possibly change is that teachers will insure students are taught how to prove and explain mathematical concepts.

Same concepts, same skills, different application.

One of the jobs of leaders is to tell the truth. The truth is Mathematical concepts have not changed. The truth is English/Language Arts concepts have not changed. The truth is effective teaching has not changed.

Leaders, the job of teaching children is difficult enough. Do not make it harder by throwing out everything we already know about effective teaching and learning because the context in which concepts and skills are applied has changed.


This is a good article and treats, with examples, a misunderstanding about teaching/testing that pervades the landscape. One question is why does this type of jump to faulty conclusions takes place...ignorance? laziness? Inability to do some critical analysis of problems?

Good work.


I agree. I like it but I have some questions about the argument. What if, before, we never expected them to build the birdhouse? What if the whole course was all about cutting pieces of wood? The teaching does change when the expectation changes. I wouldn't say the methodology changes but the scope of the teaching changes.


Gene's original premise was the assertion that because Common Core changed the assessment, people assumed the learning would have to change. I think his unstated insight was that because students would be asked to use critical thinking skills in the assessment, the assumption that "discovery" learning would have to be used in the classroom - thereby somehow carrying over into success on the assessment.

Of course, that throws out all we know of the taxonomy of learning and that in the case of learning, basic skills are the chicken that lays the egg. (The a priori of education)

Regarding the other point - of course the expectations embedded in the assessment are going to drive instruction...common sense, even though it has been portrayed as a Communist plot. The expectations not only impact the methodology but also the scope of the instruction. I.E., if the test is recall, why teach anything more than the facts?

What impacts the classroom instruction is the unfounded urge to change methodology, even with a lack of evidence that it needs to be changed...that goes to the lack of critical thinking/analysis skills of the leadership. What is missing is the drive to the 'Core" of the issues, rather than the dance around the surface. For example, if I'm going to assess the student's critical thinking skills, what do I have to do differently in the methodology and the scope of my instruction? How do I build a model(s) of critical thinking skills that the students may practice? Th answer is NOT to just throw them into "discovery." It's another case of a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, and teachers with experience plus practice in reflective analysis of what they do and have done will successfully change their methodology and scope to match the expected outcomes.

So there!!


#dialog #sameskills #sameconcepts #newassessment

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