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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

Sharing Data with Students: Turning "Data-Driven" on its Head

Sharing Data with Students: Turning "Data-Driven" on its Head

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Everyone seems to be talking about data all the time, but always in the context of reporting it out and discussing it at the school and district level. In my first and second grade classroom I share data with my students in several areas including reading, math, and behavior. I do a combination of whole class and individual data tracking and analysis with students.  The individual work is done with each student as part of our CAFE reading conferences http://www.thedailycafe.com.  

This year I hope to begin math conferencing where I will facilitate students to do reflection, goal setting and basic data analysis of their learning.  I have had tremendous success when letting students know what their numbers are on an assessment, helping them learn how to set goals to achieve more, and then helping them look at the things they need to do to make that goal a reality.  

For example, when progress monitoring with DIBELS reading assessment, my first and second grade students do all the data plotting and tracking themselves on their results.  Not only do they learn math skills, but we discuss the trends that the data shows and if they are headed in the right direction (up), leveling out, or going down. Then we brainstorm how to change the trend if necessary.  I do all this conferencing and work with students in a fun and relaxed manner- in no way do I increase their stress through this process.  My students can even describe the meaning of a bell curve.  ;)  I like to think that I'm turning "data-driven" on its head in a really positive way and turning it into "data informed." 

How are you making the data work for your kids instead of the other way around?


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Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

I'm feeling better now -- you have 18 students? I have 160... so I don't feel so bad that I can't spend too much time helping them understand data. But I am grateful for teachers like you who do help them grasp that concept as a young age! Good on ya.

(1)
Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.
Facilitator

I'm still thinking about this post, John. These are great math lessons.

But I keep coming back to these questions in my own paranoid tested to death way:

Are we teaching kids to analyze data because of the whole data movement in education?

Would we teach data analysis to 7 year-olds if education wasn't data crazy at this point in time?

Will kids eventually ask for their numbers instead of a verbal exchange, a human interaction.

I see this happening with reading levels all of the time. One of son's friends came over for a visit and I made the suggestion for all of us to do some reading. Instead of him asking if I had any books on dinosaurs, dragons, or bugs...he said, "Do you have any B books?"

What are your thoughts?

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

Oh, don't even get me started on the Accelerated-Reader-quiz-happy-don't-read-a-book-unless-there's-a-quiz-don't-reread-a-book-gotta-read-new-and-quiz-more-and-earn-stickers obsession that is destroying pleasure reading for our kids! By the time I get them in 8th grade, they think reading means taking quizzes and winning prizes and not being able to read the book they want to read because it doesn't have a quiz sticker on the back. That's data that needs to go away.

Laura Thomas's picture
Laura Thomas
Director, Antioch University New England Center for School Renewal, Author of Facilitating Authentic Learning, Director of the Antioch Critical Skills Program
Facilitator

Gaetan, I totally agree with what you and Laura have said here about the crazy way that reading instruction has evolved. The whole quest for the "Just Right Book" makes me sad. I know that we have books on my kids shelves that are more advanced than they're ready for- and old favorites that they love like dear friends, even though they're way below their reading levels. When I was helping John set up his classroom library (can I get a shout out to all the teacher kids, spouses, and friends who put in hours helping set up classrooms before school starts?), I really appreciated that he had some books sorted by level AND some books sorted by theme. Looking for a book at your level, beginning reader? Here you go! Want to see what Mr. Thomas has about Star Wars? That's over here! I love that that kids can see (and choose) the books that interest them, but that they can always find an easier read if the selected text is too challenging- and that they get a bit of incentive to become a better reader because they really want to be able to read the longer book!

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct faculty Antioch University New England
Facilitator

That is exactly my hope is that we begin in elementary having them understand the concept of data and the data can be either given to the students or ideally collected by the students to use to understand their skill development better. For instance, a middle school student can track the different types of mistakes that he makes in a writing assignment and reflect on how to look back at his work and learn from it to help improve his next project. So if your familiar with Collin's Writing- the student can help identify his own FCA's. I am talking somewhat simple data collection and reflection for the purpose of looking forward and learning from it. The students just need to have some background in data collection and analysis and understand the process of using it to create simple goals. Just to be clear- the work we put into this is a very tiny percentage of what we spend out time on. We also spend time talking about collecting data about the number of race cars they own, number of times they have been to the beach, or the number of pockets they have on their clothes that day. All of these things along with the more academic data collection provide the students with real world math experiences and get them more excited when learning about data. It allows me to skip the boring math lessons in our math program that are about a hypothetical class who gave us data about their favorite colors. :)

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.
Facilitator

John,

I totally get it. Streamlined integration. I need some of this in my classroom. I need to improve my math instruction. I think I'm just brainwashed with data. I hear data and think robot, computer, etc.. I don't think of humanity.

With the writing portion of this, I am a firm believer of .... write now... the thinking comes later. And when kids are thinking of mistakes they have made in the past from data collection, it just hinders the first draft. I think I'm still playing devil's advocate. Healthy conversations here. Thanks!

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.
Facilitator

Laura,

The quest for the just right book allows students to learn how to choose books when the levels are not there. It teaches them to be professional and honest with themselves. Of course it's good to level books. My books are leveled to a degree in my own classroom, but teaching kids to evaluate a book on their own is a life-long skill. But this is teaching-- we accommodate for the learning needs of all students. "Hey, if you can't find a just right book, I'll help you." Or, "hey...go over and check out the green basket. There are some scorchers in there. No worries." The teacher should be an active participant in the reading workshop (If reading workshop is the manner in which reading is delivered.)

There's not really one way to do it. We all know this. And if you're doing it one way, you're not reaching all kids. The time of "This is the right way to teach..." is pretty much over. So, my son's friend who was a "B". All he had to do was read a few words for me. I got your "B" book right over here.

The onslaught of testing and data only proves what teachers can find out in a minute with a child. right?

Gaetan

ps. I still can't read David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. It's definitely a challenge book for me. :)

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct faculty Antioch University New England
Facilitator

Gaetan,
To answer a two of your questions-

1. Are we teaching kids to analyze data because of the whole data movement in education? Would we teach data analysis to 7 year-olds if education wasn't data crazy at this point in time?

I teach data because it is part of the standards. But I believe data is something even young kids can understand on a basic level. If you give a first grader a clipboard and pencil they love taking surveys in other classrooms. I feel that my students will be better math students for truly understanding data when they are given more significant data work.

2. Will kids eventually ask for their numbers instead of a verbal exchange, a human interaction.
I see this happening with reading levels all of the time. One of son's friends came over for a visit and I made the suggestion for all of us to do some reading. Instead of him asking if I had any books on dinosaurs, dragons, or bugs...he said, "Do you have any B books?"

I just started two years ago leveling part of my classroom library. I worried it was too restricting to students. I do have students during our reading CAFE time read from their independent reading level book bin to help them develop their reading and comprehension skills. Then I make sure to have DEAR time where students get to pick from any book they want. But I starting watching these young readers read and had this big epiphany: These young readers really enjoy finding books on their reading level. For example, how would I feel if I picked up a book about physics and loved the pictures but could not read or understand much of the text. Would I really enjoy looking at that book. Or would it just make me feel like a bad reader. But what if I could find a book on force and motion where I could actually read most of the words and it had interesting pictures. I'm going to be a bit more confident in my reading skills. Learning to read is all about confidence (so is math but that is another discussion) :) Anyway, I have found kids enjoy learning how to read working with book on their reading level.

I know personally as a child I picked up the Danny the Dinosaur book every day wanting to read it, pretending to read it. However, when I was sitting at my desk staring at the pictures I became more and more frustrated that I couldn't read. I would have LOVED to have a dinosaur book in a "B" bin that I could actually read.

I think it is finding a balance between books on a child's reading level and books that just have wicked cool stuff in them. Like Laura said, my classroom has binds made up of level B books, some bins with just mysteries of all reading levels, a complete science topic section with no reading levels marked, and bins with Star Wars or Lego books of all levels in the same bin. I have found that kids who like a topic like Star Wars will pick up the SW book closest to their reading level and enjoy it. Then he becomes more motivated to work harder to learn to read so they can actually read the chapter book in the back of the Star Wars bin. :)

John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct faculty Antioch University New England
Facilitator

Gaetan, I totally agree about your writing comments- students should write what feel right now, think later. I work to help the kids understand the process of writing and when they are thinking freely creative part they should just write what inspires them, not worry about mistakes, spelling, etc and just get something on paper (or screen). Spill the beans so to speak- they can always organize them and pick the best one later. I talk a lot about kids putting on certain hats- sometimes you look for mistakes, sometimes you ignore any mistakes. Gaetan- Thank you for making me think even deeper about student learning!

Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.
Facilitator

John,

Thanks for the detailed answers. You get the job. Good interview. I love the passion you bring to what you do. I feel like I should write more since you just wrote an essay, But I don't think there's much more to say. Cheers!

Gaetan

Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT's picture
Laura Bradley, MA, NBCT
Middle school English/Digital Media teacher

I'm feeling better now -- you have 18 students? I have 160... so I don't feel so bad that I can't spend too much time helping them understand data. But I am grateful for teachers like you who do help them grasp that concept as a young age! Good on ya.

(1)
John S. Thomas's picture
John S. Thomas
First & Second Grade Teacher/Adjunct faculty Antioch University New England
Facilitator

I was never a big data person myself. I do limit the amount of assessments my students complete as much as possible so we spend more time exploring, discussing, and creating. But the school district has started requiring more in-depth data analysis of assessments such as DIB ELS , NWEA, etc. But I started to find that students actually liked the concrete nature of data. It was a way for them to quantify certain parts of their learning and easily set goals for themselves. For example knowing 14 out if 26 letters of the alphabet can translate into a goal of 20 of 26.

Gaetan, I agree 100%- we need to limit what assessment and data we collect to the most useful pieces which guide instruction and learning. After reading what assessments you have to do, I am feeling better about the few that we do. ;)

Brian, I use quite a bit of informal data as well. I primarily use the formal data for district mandated assessments (NWEA) or assessments that provide me with a clearer picture of the skills my students have (DIBELS.) When I'm dealing with students acquiring phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, comprehension, and inferential skills DIBELS and Running Records assessments give me a clear picture of their development of reading skills. I balance that formal study of their skills with the informal ssessments/data gathering I get when having individual reading conferences when I get to interact with them reading a story of their choice. I also only have 18 students and we get all day to go in much deeper into the various skills. For example, I gather my own informal data watching them read during math, science, writing, etc. So I understand how situations are different depending on school requirements, student numbers, grade level, and personal style and that data is not for everyone in every situation.

Laura, it REALLY is about giving them ownership of their learning. For example, I had a child who could read 13 sight words at the beginning of the year. But the look on their face when they plotted on the graph that they knew 213 sight words in May was priceless!

It's funny, I have found that the concrete nature of 1-2 students help them to become good at looking at data, goal setting, and honest reflection. Those are three things that I would say most adults don't enjoy and are not necessarily very skilled at- so I guess I'm trying to change that fact one child at a time. :)

(1)
Brian Sztabnik's picture
Brian Sztabnik
AP Literature teacher from Miller Place, NY
Blogger

I'll be honest, I don't use formal data all that much, I'm much more focused on informal data. I look for things like how many students are staying after class to ask questions, how many students are checking out extra books at the library, how many want to re-write their essays and how many eyes appear eager to learn and be inspired by the literature we are reading. It is a way to check the pulse of a class and determine if my instructional methods are effective.

While I could analyze how students perform on pre-20th century multiple-choice poetry questions, I could also drive myself crazy trying to break down the needs of 120+ students. Yet, I do wonder if this prejudice against formal data-driven instruction is rationale. One year I hope to use data and find out once and for all if it is for me, I just don't know when that year will be.

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Gaetan Pappalardo's picture
Gaetan Pappalardo
Teacher, Author, Guitar––Word.
Facilitator

I don't have issues with data. I have issues with too much data, uses of data, ways to get data, uninformed parents on data....I'm not sure how much data you collect with monitoring tools like Dibels, but... In my school we use Dibels, RENN Learning (math and reading), Common Core State Mandated Math Tests (talking 15-16 page tests after each unit) Reading Tests every two weeks- this is all required. Plus PARCC this year in March, then in May (no clue why its so close). It's A LOT.

Then as a teacher if you want to do more like conferencing, anecdotal notes, PBL, Rubrics for Writing, etc.... As a teacher, half of the evaluation is based on growth on the REnn Learning Tests (50%). 34 adaptive questions. I can go on forever. I won't.

My hope for the future is that we (education community) can whittle down the data collection to the most important. Then I can do those data math lessons without worrying about time. While it's important for kids to evaluate data. In my situation, I don't think it's important enough to take away reading and writing time in order to evaluate data.

I did start a system for students on index cards. We just converted to standards based report cards and our reading assessments are graded by fractions (math lesson). Phonics, Vocab, and comprehension. Each section is graded with a fraction. 4/6 or 6/6. Divide the index card into thirds and students record their fractional grades in the sections. We do learn fractions and the students can see where improvement is needed. I keep the index cards on a binder ring. It's my grade book. :)

Data, data. Let's keep the data that matta'.

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