Recently a teacher said to me, “We gather all of this data and I don’t know why.” Honest statement that made me realize that there are probably other teachers out there who don’t value a variety of data as much as I do. Not because they have used it to guide their instruction and found it misleading, but instead because they don’t understand how it should guide their instruction. Data collected about our students can and should make our jobs so much easier.
When I first began teaching, I was an enthusiastic first year teacher. I was also a busy mom of school aged children. My plan was to create a group of lesson plans that would last for eternity. I knew this would take at least three years (ha!) as I would test them on the group of students the first year and perfect them on years 2 and 3. Then years 4-25 I could just ride the wave of awesomeness that I created and leave at 4:00 every day. So, I began planning… and planning I did. Before school started I had created lesson plans for the year with a side benefit of getting a clear understanding of the curriculum. I was ready to make “slight” changes to the lessons as needed. However, it did not exactly go that way.
Some of my lessons were good, but at the end of the year I did not get the outcome I had hoped for. The next year I rewrote those lessons and tried again. I began to “blame” it on the groups of students I taught – they don’t study enough, they don’t care about the content, they are all ADHD, they don’t like me enough to work hard enough, I have the SPED inclusion students, they are all ESL learners. Really, those were all lies and denials that I created in my head. The real problem was I was planning for my convenience and not with the understanding of what each group of students needed as learners.
So today let’s look at some “data” choices that have produced positive results for my students. It is important to remember that a single piece of data is never going to be the only thing to look at that will magically change the end result. Jennifer Serravallo brought this to my attention in her book THE LITERACY PLAYBOOK. Jennifer wrote that teachers should be analyzing at least 3 pieces of related data when making instruction decision. The analytical ability of the teacher to gather a variety of data and make an educated decision based off trial and error practices is what makes data a magical wonder.
At the beginning of the year, the first piece of data you can look at is very simple. Get to know your students. In a previous post, RELATIONSHIPS BUILDS RIGOR, we discussed this topic. Get to know them as individuals, as readers, as writers, their likes and dislikes, what is their vision of who they are as learners. Allow them to tell you they hate reading without fear of a negative reaction from you. Build trust and vulnerability in your classroom. This piece of data helps you meet each learner where they are and build from there. If they hate reading, find out their interest and pull books for them to read. Or maybe they have been selecting books that are too hard. It could be some sort of learning disability that you need to be attentive to OR maybe they have never had a teacher to make learning exciting. You have to use the information to decide what you can do to help.
Jennifer Seravallo writes about goal setting in all of her books. Therefore, goal setting is a large piece of data that I consider essential. First, I look at the academic profiles from previous years. This is important to me as I typically use this data to set personal goals for my students. To help guide my students in setting their own goals, I use their past performances to help the student decide what a positive and reachable goal would be. The student should set goals based on discussions with their teacher and their own internal confidence. I like to compare the two and even show them my goal for them and tell them what my thoughts were for this goal. It is great way to show them that they matter to you as a learner and a person. Goals are motivating and usually students want to see improvement in their academic lives.
Another form of classroom data I gather throughout the year is through observations. I sit back and watch while taking notes of what I see. One student has trouble focusing and seems to be fake reading, another is sleeping, while a third one can’t take their head out of their book even when we need to transition to the next subject. I can now take these observations and find several topics to use during student and/or small group conferences. Jennifer Serravallo has a great engagement survey sheet and speaks extensively on engagement surveys in her book THE LITERACY TEACHER’S PLAYBOOK. Engagement is important for many reasons. Without engagement we lack focus which creates a multitude of problems.
I am sure most you do some type of benchmark testing at the beginning of the year. Our district uses the Fountas and Pinnell Benchmark kits. Once I have tested all of my students I then move on to the most important piece of data I will use all year. The bands of texts and their reading levels help me understand not only what my entire group of students learning needs are, but it also helps me understand the gaps that I can fill in for those struggling readers. I found a great site that summarizes the band of texts if your district does not provide this for you –http://blogs.darienps.org/royleadmin/files/2013/11/Text-BandsDRAFT-2-2h4xuqq.pdf. Let’s look at a reader who seems to be ready to move from a level G onto a level H. When I look at the text complexity of H, I know the type of conversations I need to begin having with them: helping build strategies to deal with more complex vocabulary, help them build stamina because the text is getting longer, guide them with ways to create understanding with complicated plots, etc. If I simply handed him an H book without tools to tackle the work, his work would progress slowly. This my friends is the most freeing of work you can do once you have procedures and engagement in place. Readers read but many times they don’t really know why the reading is frustrating. Most of the time it is simply that they don’t know the work they should be doing to make the reading easier.
Data can open windows to allow me to help children learn about what fuels their frustrations. Once I stopped planning for my convenience, but instead began planning with the children’s interest in mind my job actually became easier. Not easier like leaving at 4:00, but easier like I felt like I had actually been a teacher at the end of the year with all of my students. I no longer blamed the group of students for not being engaged or interested. It feels good, no great and amazing, when a year ends that way.
MAKING IT A READING AND WRITING – TASTIC WEEK!