In this day and age, the word “data” is a word that can bring out strong emotions in many teachers. In my experience, data has become something we have to collect early and often throughout the school year. We have to spend hours entering it into a system – so long in fact, that it is hard to find the time to actually analyze the data. I have struggled in many school-wide conversations because it has begun to feel as though our kiddos are no longer people, but merely “data points” used to measure the success of teachers and our school as a whole.
However, while it can be a daunting task to analyze data, so long as we are using effective assessment processes it will be a process that will grow us as teachers and will benefit the learning of our students.
There are a million things that we can teach at any given moment. How we decide what to teach, and how to teach it, should be informed by what our students most need in order to succeed. “Assessment and instruction should be inextricably linked in a recursive, ongoing, and dynamic way” (Shearer and Vogt, p 74.)
If we know what a child is already capable of doing, we can then build on those strengths in order to reinforce any weak points. I use weekly Running Records from my students to determine individual reading teaching points. In this way, I can provide very focused, individualized, and targeted instruction for students.
When thinking of data, a quote that has always resonated with my comes from Lucy Caulkins, she says that:
“We have the choice between seeing despair and problems or possibility and promise.”
If we are truly to use data effectively, we have to analyze it in a way that puts a child’s strengths first. Since there are so many things that we have to teach each day, it makes so much more sense to start with what a child can do and use that to move to the next logical step.
When sharing data with parents and guardians, the information should be clear and informative. Vogt and Shearer suggest that information should be provided in a factual way, without judgment or biases. Additionally, parents will often want to know how their student is performing in respect to other students. When talking with families about struggling students, I have sometimes found it helpful to be able to compare their reading text level to that of a student who is reading at grade level (as laid out by my district) so that parents are able to see a very concrete example.
The most important thing to using data in our instruction is to ensure that the data we are using is helpful. When we are using data processes that are helpful and efficient, our lessons will be a much better fit for our students. Students will be supported and challenged, learning will always be moving forwards, and we will have clear learning goals in mind.
Lucy Caulkins quote from: https://catchingreaders.com/quotes/
MaryEllen Vogt and Brenda Shearer, Reading Specialists and Literacy Coaches in the Real World, 2nd Edition, Pearson Education Inc, 2007