A Powerful Tool for Student and Teacher Learning
I remember early in my leadership constantly assessing where we were as a school and setting goals for where we needed to go as a school. With a clear vision in mind, we would chart incremental milestones and then celebrate breakthroughs. The next step was to identify our next stretch goal, which is a goal that is attainable and inspiring as it moves us outside our comfort zone.
Now, in my work as a PLC associate partnering with schools, districts, teachers, and leaders, I am very encouraged when I see more and more educators embracing collaboration as best practice. I find myself spending less time trying to convince participants about the compelling “why” of collaboration and focusing more on the “how” of collaboration.
Now that I have acknowledged this positive progress, here comes the "nudge" toward the next stretch goal. I find that teachers are seeing the benefit of identifying essential learning targets and building the teacher-created common formative assessments in an effort to answer the second critical question in a PLC: How will we know if they have learned it?
Many groups with whom I work are skillful in disaggregating the data, finding strength areas in student performance, and identifying areas of concern in student performance. Teams identify which students “got it” and which students didn’t “get it.” In fact, it’s my assertion that most teachers can determine which kids “get it” and which kids don’t without administering common assessments. They can do so in their sleep, while multitasking, in the car, at home, while shopping, in a boat, with a goat, in the rain, or on a train. My point is, determining the performance level of students is almost hardwired into a teacher’s DNA. The stretch that collaborative teams of teachers must make is to apply that same disaggregation to opportunities to improve instructional practice.
When a collaborative team embraces learning as their fundamental purpose, one of the paradigm shifts that must take place is the idea that improved student learning is directly tied to embedded teacher learning. However, I’m finding that teams:
- identify essential learning targets
- create common formative assessments
- administer common formative assessments
- explore the questions of student performance
and then stop short of examining opportunities to discuss and improve instructional practice.
I know a part of this is about continuing to change the paradigm from a focus on teaching to a focus on learning, which includes continuing to de-privatize teaching. However, the absence of improving instructional practice makes common assessment work ring hollow. Efforts will be in vain if they don’t include, as a priority, a discussion and examination of instructional practice. If your team is looking for questions to guide their work, there is a Data Analysis Protocol (PDF) on our Tools & Resources page that you are free to print and share.
The questions in the protocol below are great for teams to start exploring this powerful side of data analysis. These questions are not hierarchical; in fact, they are each of parallel importance:
The following analysis is based on our team’s common assessment of the following essential learnings.
- Which of our students need additional time and support to achieve at or above proficiency on an ssential learning? How will we provide that time and support?
- What is our plan to enrich and extend the learning for students who are highly proficient?
- What is an area where my students struggled? What strategies were used by teammates whose students performed well?
- What is an area where our team’s students struggled? What do we believe is the cause? What is our plan for improving the results?
Teams do a great job of addressing questions one and two through the lens of common form of assessment data. My challenge for teams is to embrace the philosophy that student work is examined in an effort to improve our own work. I challenge teams to give equal attention to questions three and four.