In this episode
Data provides a blueprint for what our students know, what our students need, and what our students bring to the classroom. Data allows teachers to provide instruction that ensures their students are learning necessary skills, and it allows school leaders to better understand and support the teachers in their community. How can we support educators at all levels in understanding and applying data in ways that enhance student success?
What is one thing we learned about data collection during the pandemic that should continue into the future?
In this episode
The word “data” can be a trigger for many educators. However, data that tracks student engagement and academic progress gives us a picture of what’s happening, so we can create what’s possible. We're joined in this episode by educators from Crosstown High School, a project-based learning school in Memphis, Tennessee, for a look at a non-traditional approach to collecting and understanding student data.
What is a common misconception about the use of data in project-based learning schools that you wish more people understood?
In this episode
It may seem like a new development, but single-sex education is actually a throwback to older curriculum systems that date back to before the 19th century. Are single-sex classrooms beneficial to students today? We're joined by a panel of educators who weigh in on the benefits and drawbacks of same-sex classroom environments.
What is a common misconception about single-sex schools that you wish more people understood?
In this episode
Data is much more than test scores — it can also be a powerful tool that informs, engages, and creates opportunities for students. On a practical level, data can refocus and improve instruction, make connections that lead to insights within curriculum, and help us build upon individual student strengths. Although the past two school years have been non-traditional when it comes to data from standardized tests, we can still lean on alternative forms of data to continue learning about our students.
What is one thing we learned about data collection during the pandemic that we should carry into the future?
BY LAURA RIGOLOSI
James Popham, our favorite assessment guru, explains that “the right data will, in fact, help teachers do a better job with students. Those are the data we need.” It makes sense that if we are using data to inform our instruction, that data needs to reveal authentic learning.
When I teach a Methods or Content Area Literacy course, I want to know what my students know about unit planning or principles of backward design before we dive in. My students are typically education majors and have been taking courses for two years, so it is likely that they are already familiar with the principles of Understanding by Design (UbD).
On the first day of classes, I poll my students using a survey that asks how much they know about unit planning and Understanding by Design. In theory, this helps determine how much class time I need to reserve for unit planning, and how many lessons I need to design to help my students unpack the UbD principles and templates. I am also modeling what good teachers do: assessing what my students already know by using a baseline assessment that will inform my instruction.
The surveys typically reveal that my students feel confident with unit planning and are familiar with Understanding by Design. Good! I continue with my curriculum.
Inevitably, the first major assignment of the course is a unit plan, and the students who were confident in their day one surveys are suddenly flooding my email with questions: What exactly are ‘essential questions’? What do we mean by ‘skills’? How much do we need to ‘differentiate’? And how do you really ‘differentiate’ in a unit?
And suddenly, I need to pause, recalibrate, and create lessons around principles that my students previously indicated they already knew. This means pivoting and redesigning lessons to make room for more unit planning content. During this process, there is a part of me that wonders: um, why wasn’t this clear when they filled out the baseline assessment on this topic? I could have planned for this.
The same is true when teaching high school students. When teaching high school seniors, I tried to be a proactive and responsive teacher by polling my students at the beginning of the year, to find out what they knew about essay writing — and wouldn’t you know, they checked “yes” to knowing all aspects of the essay. Yes to knowing how to write a thesis statement. Yes to citing and explaining evidence. Yes to having experience writing introductions and conclusions. Great! I thought, until it was time for our first essay and suddenly I was inundated with requests and concerns around our essay assignment. I had to rethink and redo my plans, and squeeze in additional lessons around essay writing.
Once again, my baseline poll gave me a false sense of what students know. They may have known what these writing concepts are in theory, but still needed support in their execution. Had I not polled my students at all, I would have assumed they needed more support in writing, and would have researched and created more thoughtful writing lessons. Instead, I relied on my baseline assessment and thus my essay writing lessons felt rushed, as we were closing out the semester and trying to meet deadlines.
Using data from baseline assessments can be helpful in informing instruction, but in my case, I was not asking the right questions.
Answers vs. action
The next time I teach an education course, I will instead ask students to actually write out a unit plan as a baseline assessment, instead of asking them about their knowledge and comfort with the concept of unit planning. Similarly, the next time I work with high school students, I will ask them to write an in-class essay to use as a baseline assessment, and use those essays to inform my planning. These student samples will serve as formative assessments, and will give me insight into what my students understand and don’t. From there, I can design lessons tailored to my students’ needs.
Using a baseline assessment can offer very straightforward results, in some courses. Students either know how to graph functions or they don’t; they’ve learned about causes of the Revolutionary War or they haven’t. But when we are using baseline assessments to determine the extent to which students know a topic that they have familiarity with, it would be more helpful to have them produce or write out the assignment, rather than self-assess their knowledge on the topic. This is why I will shift my formative assessment from reflecting on prior knowledge to requesting that students take action to demonstrate their knowledge.
As teachers, we have to be flexible and allow for some spontaneity in our instruction. When we realize that a baseline assessment isn’t accurately revealing what our students understand, we need to be prepared to pivot and shift our instruction to meet them where they are. Baseline assessments can be helpful, but what is more crucial is committing to meeting our students where they are, and uncovering the authentic knowledge that lives within them.
BY CRISTINA ROMEO COMPTON
Productive struggle, a term that has gained popularity over the last decade, is found in instruction that “stretches students’ thinking and performance just beyond the level they can do on their own — the zone of proximal development.”
Finding and teaching to each of our students’ sweet spots is no easy feat. As teachers, we are often guilty of over-scaffolding, or rescuing our students out of fear or our desire to avoid student discomfort. Alternatively, we sometimes push students too far by introducing a task that is well beyond their level, without also providing the necessary tools or assistance they need to meet the challenge. In order to support students in productive struggle, we need to be patient, persistent, and committed in gathering and using data in our instruction. This can include quantitative data such as reading levels and test scores, or perhaps more importantly, student actions and behaviors — what we know as qualitative data.
How can we gather qualitative data about our students in order to support them in finding a meaningful, productive level of struggle in their learning?
Identifying zones of struggle
Before we can locate promising practices for our instruction, we first need to identify look fors and listen fors that can help us determine if and when students are being pushed too far, or are not being pushed enough.
When students are not being challenged enough or instruction is below their level, we consider this a level of no struggle. At the other end of the spectrum is destructive struggle, in which tasks are too challenging for particular students, or are significantly above their level. A zone of productive struggle lies between the two.
Let’s identify the look fors and listen fors for each of these zones:
When students are in a no struggle zone, it might look like and sound like:
When it comes to the destructive struggle zone, we might observe students who:
In contrast, when students are in a zone of productive struggle, we are likely to see them:
Observing student behavior online
Given that so much instruction is happening remotely, and we may not be able to observe the same behaviors from our students in a remote setting, we can also identify look fors and listen fors when online teaching and learning is taking place.
In a no struggle zone, we might observe online students who are:
When students are in a place of destructive struggle online, they might:
In contrast, productive struggle might look and sound like:
Determining students’ current zones of struggle is a helpful starting point for potential shifts in your instruction. Different students at different times might exhibit these behaviors, and this can inform your responses and course of action. By leaning on these look fors and listen fors, we can more effectively and confidently determine if, when, and how many scaffolds need to be introduced so that students are advancing their skills.
In addition to locating student behaviors and communication that can surface as they’re working on tasks, we can also lean on preemptive planning, which will support us in predicting and creating opportunities for productive struggle in our classrooms. Preemptive planning encourages thoughtful consideration and analysis of each task we’re offering students — whether it’s a culminating task of a unit or a task for a particular lesson. This process involves asking questions such as:
These questions can inform your instructional design as you work to meet the individual needs of students. Your assessment of students’ areas of struggle can inform where and how you’ll need to scaffold your instruction, and the areas of strength can inform where and how you introduce extensions or opportunities for deeper learning.
Similar to identifying and responding to look fors and listen fors, preemptive planning is a meaningful form of data collection that can help you predict or anticipate student performance and ultimately use these predictions to inspire, inform, and cater your planning and instruction to your students.
There is no denying the challenges involved in meeting students where they are, especially when teaching large numbers of students — many of whom are on vastly different levels — or teaching at a distance. But by engaging in strategic planning based on data and evidence, we can create opportunities for our students to challenge themselves, recognize that they can do hard things, and make progress in their learning.