During my work as a teacher, I learned that there are a huge number of tasks that educators do every day that are never seen or even indirectly known by outsiders to the profession. Working as an educational content writer, I also saw that much of my research and prewriting might not always be directly observable in my finished work. Of course, most professions require some sort of unobserved background work. Still, that behind-the-scenes work is vastly important to the overall quality of the final product.
In today’s classrooms, educators must be able to use a variety of techniques and materials to reach their students. It is not enough to solely teach facts from a textbook. Instead, teachers use their assigned standards and knowledge of their students to help children achieve certain levels of understanding and performance. They must decide which resources to use, from those provided in textbooks to those found in the wealth of information on the Internet. They must also be adept at unpacking standards to determine what skills their students must master. When educators unpack standards, they use a process to understand all of the skills and knowledge that go into an expected educational outcome.
Good educational content writers who produce excellent content often understand the work of the classroom teacher from their own experiences. Many of the same skills that educators must use in unpacking standards and identifying relevant resources are also essential to educational content writers. Instead of using these skills to teach particular students, a writer is able to use them to create content or assessments. No matter how skilled and experienced a writer is, to produce effective educational content he or she must also be skilled in interpreting and researching the standards required of the content produced.
Standards are dense phrases that can comprise a year or more of learning in a student, so the first step in creating quality content is to decipher what the student should have learned and how he or she should be able to show it. The verbs used in a standard, such as analyze, interpret, identify, and explain, help the writer to determine appropriate skills that students should demonstrate and also assist in the identification of appropriate DOK or Bloom’s levels. It is important that the educational content require students to demonstrate the appropriate level of understanding of the standard. Simply focusing on factual recall for a standard that specifies analysis will produce content that does not match the standard. Similarly, the nouns used in a standard help the writer focus on the specific content knowledge required. It is essential for the educational content writer to focus on the identified content and not to assess knowledge that is simply tangential to the standard.
Once the writer has identified the essential nouns and verbs of a standard, he or she can combine them to form a list of skills that students should be able to demonstrate upon mastery of the standard. This list of skills may actually be quite long, depending on the details included in a standard. Educational content may focus on a particular skill or the standard as a whole, but it must be carefully aligned to the specific language of the standard and appropriate for the grade level.
These are just the first steps in developing standard-aligned educational content. These steps are sometimes completed in advance for an educational content writer, but a writer must still dig deeply into the standard and its language. Writers must consider the context of the standard within a classroom, entire course, or even from one grade level to the next. This means that a writer must be able to conduct thorough research regarding the pedagogy and factual content of a standard. Research is an individual endeavor that must be tailored to the needs of the writer and based on the standard.
Writers, like teachers, have their own specialized knowledge of certain subjects and gaps in others. It is important for writers to recognize the gaps in their own understanding and work to fill them in order to produce high-quality educational content. Even when a writer is very knowledgeable in the subject matter, finding at least three reliable resources to confirm the knowledge is essential. Writers who are less familiar with the subject must locate many more resources and assimilate them into the content produced.
Just as many outsiders mistakenly believe that teaching is an easy job, they may also not realize the highly complex work that goes into effective educational content writing. Teaching is a skill and talent that educators hone into an art, and so is writing. Writers should never stop learning so that they may continue to hone their skills and produce their very own art form.
(This blog post was written by guest blogger and Director of Science and Mathematics Development at A Pass Educational Group LLC, Lynsey Peterson.)