Post 3: Informed Teaching and Learning

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.

Resources cited:

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

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9 thoughts on “Post 3: Informed Teaching and Learning

  1. I am curious if your reading curriculum provides you with weekly running reading selections or if you supplement. We currently use Jerry Johns each quarter, but I do not feel it is enough. I know realistically I would not get them done weekly, but I would like to try at least once a month next year.

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    1. I am curious about this as well. I have not heard of Jerry Johns but I would love to find running records that are appropriate for kindergarten. Our curriculum does not provide us with running records so we supplement with other resources such as Dibels. This works okay but the passages we use are meant for first grade and are usually too difficult for our students until the last few months of kindergarten.

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    2. I supplement – I just do a quick RR on whatever text we used in our guided reading lesson (so just doing the running record on a blank piece of paper.) I count out around 100 words to get an accurate accuracy score, but it becomes very quick and easy!

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  2. I agree that it used to feel like our students were “data points” to measure my success. I have changed my thinking since my school has started letting preschool teachers have data days (just like the rest of the grades). The school district gives us time look over our data, help each other (the teachers), and create a plan for our students. It is so nice. I feel that now, I understand all of the data, have time to understand where each one of my students fits into the data, and I can plan what I need to do or change in my future teaching with these students. Thanks for the nice reminder!

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  3. I agree with and like your quotes! I used the same one from Vogt and Shearer- the statement greatly summarizes the need and why of using data to drive our instruction. We have to figure out where our students are in their understanding of a concept to know how to move forward. I also really like your quote from Lucy Caulkins- what a great way to think about our struggling students- giving us more motivation and hope that we just need to keep plugging along, doing all we can for the promises and possibilities to come to light! Great thoughts!

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  4. It can definitely be hard to not get swept into feeling like our students are “data points.” As educators we obviously want all kids in the “green” of test results. What frustrates me the most is when a very bright student has trouble with testing. Their results do not demonstrate their abilities. I know this because of the formative and other data I keep on my students. If I solely relied on the MCA or FAST results I would not be serving that student in the most successful way. I like your quote about assessment and instruction being linked. It is a true cycle effect!

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