Shifts in the Classroom: Raising the Bar through Deeper Instruction ~ Troy Rivera


Troy Rivera teaches high school English Language Arts at University High School in Greeley, Colorado. Within his 13 years of teaching, Troy has taught 1st, 4th, 7th, and 8th grades. Currently he serves as an Adjunct Professor of English Composition at Aims Community College. It is his MISSION to ensure his students become successful lifelong learners. Troy also manages his own educational consulting business entitled Brilliance Builders, LLC (
In the late 1990s, I can remember sitting in college-prep English class reading Shakespeare’s MacBeth. From the vocabulary sheets, questions, quizzes, and many more assignments to complete for this unit, I never really felt any learning occurring. I never felt challenged. I never really did any thinking. Now fast-forward 20 years.

The year is 2015. It’s a 9th grade level classroom. I’m teaching. Just recently within the past several years, our state standards took a shift and merged with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). Expectations for our students shift. So, the question is, for the better, or for the worse? Before we answer that question, let’s review a few things.

As educators, we are responsible for making sure that our students are life long learners. Yes, I said it, life long learners. In order for our students to become life long learners, there is much work to be done. Our students look to us for the guidance, tools, skill sets, and knowledge on how to be successful upon leaving the classroom. We do accomplish this by providing the best education possible, for all. We set our own expectations, but we also have the expectations required for our students to match up with other student nationally.

When our state made the shift of merging CCSS into our current standards, this raised the bar for our students. By raising the bar, I was able to raise the bar in the classroom. Now, standards are expectations of what we strive for our students to be able to do in order to be productive citizens in the world. How we go about teaching, using the standards, as our map is our curriculum. Let me clear the air real quickly; standards are not curriculum, they are expectations.

Coaches and athletes do this every day. Coaches set expectations for their athlete to become the best. So, educators must do the same for our students. By raising the bar, my instructional approach of units/lessons for my students shifted. Because of the CCSS and the need to raise the bar, I implemented the 3 C’s in the classroom: Collaborate, Cooperate, and Critical Thinking.

The CCSS ask educators to have students become learners that function similar to the 3 C’s. By using the 3 C’s as my guide to instruction for my students, I found myself creating deeper thinking units/lessons. I also discovered that my students were being challenged and discovering their potential as a life long learner. Many times students shared that “class was challenging and difficult, but we were learning how to think things out”. Isn’t this what we want students to do? Become “thinkers” and not just absorb the knowledge.

I know there has been much fear about raising the bar, but my question is when is the right time? Raising the bar will lead to deeper rigorous instruction. Yes, this will be hard or awkward in the beginning, but this is the best for our students. Raising the bar will challenge you as an educator. Raising the bar will allow you to reflect on your instruction practices. Raising the bar is beneficial to both you and the students.

Reflecting back on the beginning of this post, 1990s expectations didn’t require my teachers to challenge us. School became too easy. I knew if I would sit back and wait long enough, my teacher would give the answer. Worksheets didn’t teach me, but trained me to fill in answers. This style of practice is obsolete in my teaching. My teaching consists of raising the bar for all students. My teaching is helping all students of various needs to be able to match up with others. My teaching is creating life long learners. Why? I choose to raise the bar, and I choose to provide a deeper and rigorous instruction for my students.

What’s your plan?