Deconstructing CCSS

This is bound to be one doozy of a blog post!

This summer, I did some unguided, personal work on developing “I can” statements for the CCSS.  I thought creating learning targets would be as easy as taking exactly what was written in the standard statement, making sure the words were “student-friendly,” rewording as necessary and adding “I can” to the beginning of each sentence.  For some of the more simplified standard statements, this method works.  I then broke the “I can” statement into specific terms students need to know and what they needed to do to say they could reach the learning target.  I would not argue that my “I cans” were bad, per se, but having done them 1) completely alone (collaboration always amounts to better results), and 2) without much research (“deconstructing” was not a term in my immediate sphere of influence at the time), I would argue they could be better than what they are.  My goal, though, was to get them completed and start working with them before the school year started.

I have now learned quite a bit more about deconstructing standards and the process that goes into doing so.  If you are interested in having the standards handed to you, and judging by the incredible number of people whose Google searches of “I can statements” leads them directly to my blog I can guess there are quite a few people who just want a document with each of the deconstructions handed right to them, visit the Kentucky Department of Education site, where they have deconstructed all the kindergarten through grade twelve ELA CCSS.

But, I want to dissuade you from doing that and encourage you, as a teacher, administrator, curriculum specialist, to sit down and devote a little bit of time to deconstructing the standards with a group of peers.  Why?  Because the standards are rich in complexity, and the process of deconstruction will make you more familiar with the expectations—the clearer YOU are about expectations, the more easily you can make those expectations clear to YOUR STUDENTS.  To me, clear expectations are at the root of CCSS and formative assessment; the only way to truly understand the standards is to pull up your sleeves and dig into the nitty-gritty of semantics and underlying philosophies.

1.  Pick a standard, any standard

Deconstruction is a process by which long, convoluted, complicated standards are broken down into their essential component parts.  Some standards are already in their simplest form and may just need a little tweaking to be student-friendly:

Take L.3.2.a (Language, grade 3, anchor 2, bullet a):

Capitalize appropriate words in titles

Because the aim is for the student to know which words to capitalize and to capitalize those words, in my opinion, adding an “I can” to this statement is appropriate enough:

I can capitalize appropriate words in titles

Many standards, though, require more significant work in deconstruction.  An example of a more complicated standard would be L.3.6.:  “Acquire and use accurately grade-appropriate conversational, general academic, and domain-specific words and phrases, including those that signal spatial and temporal relationships (e.g.,After dinner that night we went looking for them).”  Obviously, this standard is not student friendly.  Even as a teacher, I have to spend some time thinking about the particular statement before I can really understand what it is asking/expecting.  If I don’t understand it, how can I teach it?  If I can’t teach it, how can my students meet it?  How can I assess it?  How will I assign a grade to it?

These are the statements you need to work with through deconstruction to break them down into component parts that can then become student-friendly learning targets.

2.  Determine the type of Standard

What is the ultimate goal of the standard itself as it is writtenDecide if it is based on a knowledge-, reasoning-, skill-, or product-based goal (definitions below).  Having a solid understanding of the overriding aim for the standard will be crucial in checking the appropriateness and thoroughness of the  “I cans” you develop in the next two steps.

3.  Understanding the Four Underpinning Target Types

Chappuis (2011) defines four types of learning targets:

  1. KnowledgeTargets—“factual information, procedural knowledge, and conceptual understandings that underpin each academic discipline” (p. 44)
    1. All other target types build on the foundation of knowledge targets
    2. Knowledge includes: factual information (verbs you may see in a standard that signify fact-based knowledge targets:  “knows, lists, names, identifies, and recalls” [p. 45]) and conceptual information (verbs: understands)
  2. ReasoningTargets—“specify thought processes students are to learn to apply effectively…within a range of subjects” (p. 47)
    1. Verbs you may see that signify reasoning targets:  “predict, infer, classify, hypothesize, compare, draw conclusions, summarize, estimate, solve problems, analyze evaluate, justify, and generalize” (p. 47)
    2. As you may notice, the ability to reason on a concept builds on the basic knowledge involved in that concept.  I am finding the bulk of standards involve knowledge and reasoning targets more frequently than the next two types.
  3. Skill Targets—refer to “those learning targets where a real-time demonstration or physical performance is at the heart of the learning” (p. 54)
  4. Product Targets—“specify the creation of a product” (p. 55)

I would very much encourage you to spend some time reading at least pages 44 through 56 in Chappuis: Classroom Assessment for Student Learning to get a more detailed understanding of each of the learning types, particularly as the way you assess learning (both formatively and summatively) depends on your understanding of the type of learning that was to occur.

In step three, you will break down the complicated standard statement into its inherent knowledge, reasoning, skill, and (if there is one) product learning targets.

Deconstructing a target

For this demonstration, I am going to use Reading Literature, Grade 7, standard 1 (RL.7.1):  “Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.”

  1. Figure out:  What is the ULTIMATE learning type for this target?
  • “Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.”
  • This is a reasoning target
    • Goes beyond knowledge
    • Does not require a performance of a skill
    • Does not require a product
  • As you watch student progress toward the learning target, you will be looking for the development of a reasoning ability.

2.   Targets that are complicated enough to be deconstructed will have underpinning targets in the other types.

3.  What does a student need to know to reach the target?

  • “Cite several pieces of textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.”
    • Know how to make inferences
    • Know how to determine what the text says directly
    • Know how to cite from a text

4.  What reasoning does the student need to use to reach the target?

  • Make inferences about what the text says
  • Determine what the text says directly
  • Cite several pieces of evidence from the text

5.  Students are not being asked to perform a skill or produce a product in this target.

4.  Develop Student-Friendly I Can Statements

Side note:  You know, if I am being honest with myself, using “I can…do this” and “I can…do that” would get somewhat obnoxious to me as a student.  While empowering to say, “Yes, Mrs. Hank, I can do that!” I think “student-friendly” doesn’t necessarily have to mean “redundant.”  So, in the quest for student-friendly learning targets, I would encourage you to keep student engagement in mind.  If they’re hearing redundancy, where will their interest go?

Using the same deconstructed statements from our work in step three, we can make the expected learning clear to students by adding “I can” or “I will be able to” (or something more interesting and less repetitive!) to the underpinning targets.

  • I know how to make inferences
  • I know how to determine what the text says directly
  • I know how to cite from a text.
  • I can make inferences about what the text says.
  • I can determine what the text says directly
  • I can cite several pieces of evidence from the text.

5.  Using the Targets

I created a post a while ago about how I was using I can statements in my own classroom.  But right now, let’s just go a step at a time.  Start your CCSS implementation process by digging in to the standards, figuring out what they mean, deconstructing as necessary, and creating learning goals that make education accessible to your students.


Chappuis, J. (2012). Classroom assessment for student learning: doing it right, using it well. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Kentucky Department of Education–Deconstructed ELA Standards

Bullitt County Schools– Deconstruction Template

Website by Jacque Melin of Grand Valley State University–Deconstruction Template and Formative Assessment Templates


27 thoughts on “Deconstructing CCSS

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  3. Really nice job of explaining how to deconstruct or target a standard. I would also suggest the work of Rick Stiggens for those who are interested in learning more about this facet of curriculum design. And, I fully agree with you that teachers should be doing this work rather than allowing textbook publishers to tell them what the standards say or mean! Kudos to you!


    • Thank you! I hope it helps the explanation helps teachers at the classroom level as they move toward implementation. I will add the work of Rick Stiggins to my reading list–thanks for the recommendation!


      • I just want to thank you for your blog. I am taking an ERM course now and we were discussing deconstructing standards. I felt that your take on letting the students help in the deconstruction was a brilliant idea! Have a great school year!!


    • And in 2-3 years when our new, recycled fad comes along, where will this be? Christina, I appreciate your decision to change the redundancy of the “I can” statement. Even Chappuis, Stiggins, Marzano all suggest alternatives to the “I can” statement. They even have the heretical viewpoint that the learning target does not always need to be on the board, but rather communicated in some way to the students. I say these things, because my district expects differentiation for our students while trying to make teachers work strictly in a one size fits all methodology. My original question still stands though and I’m looking forward to the “new” fad that comes along.


      • I understand the fad viewpoint. It seems like everyone wants to put their two cents in when it comes to education–everyone from the know-nothing politician to the good-hearted, well-intentioned reformist. I subscribe to the belief that anything worth doing is worth revising, so I look for the bits of wisdom in fads–what can sustain? What is worth hanging on to? Is there anything worth believing in and shifting toward? I try not to jump on the fad bandwagon, but instead to approach change with a cautious realism. Everything will change; I’m sure the common core will be revised at some point, but I believe it should change. We should keep trying until we’re truly doing what’s best for our kids. Thanks for the comment! I really appreciate it.


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  18. You must have gone through the training we just did today because a lot of what you have in your post is verbatim to what was in our book 😦 Hope they don’t mind you sharing it….or they gave you credit if it was yours first. Deconstructing the standards is a crazy, big job. And it should be done by a team of people in a whole district. I’d be happy if it was done at the state level with teachers from all over the state. It is very enriching to do, but incredibly time consuming to add to an already full time job when your district does not give you pull out time to do it!


    • Hello, as it says in the post, the information is from Jan Chappuis’ book, and I encourage readers to read that book for its innumerable resources if they are beginning the work of digging I to the standards. My blog posts are dedicated to sharing my learning as I learn, so that others in the education community can learn with me. As far as the time issue, I would encourage you to check out some of my posts on formative assessment. Time is always an issue for teachers (hence another reason for my blog–to save you valuable time by translating curriculum mumbo-jumbo into practical, easy-to-digest info), but I we start shifting our thinking away from a graded homework everyday and hours of lesson planning a night to quick formative assessments and more facilitation of student learning, I think we’ll see more available time. That’s a long-term ideological shift, though, not something we can just switch to tomorrow. Thank you for your comment!


  19. So…what is the next step after deconstructing standards…how do you take it to the students? OR is this to be done WITH the students? Keep your expertise posted.


  20. Pingback: Achieving CCSS Success Relies on Aligned Objectives | Partner in Education

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