Helping Data Analysis Take Root
It is a concept that spurs rich reflection from many, but eyerolls or quizzical looks from too many. Some teachers feel that the data analysis they do is just to satisfy someone else’s administrative need or to show that, yet again, the same set of kids in their class struggled. This feels like barren ground.
But the reality is that there is no better way to learn and grow as you look at student results —the harvest of your teaching labor—than to use student performances to approach two key PLC questions:
- What will we do when students don’t learn it?
- What will we do when they have already have learned it?
Without such analysis of student thinking and moves, we can’t design the best next step for each learner.
So, let’s prepare a few seeds of thought for spring planting with our teams:
Seed 1: Data = Student Work
While some teachers I speak with believe that student data is simply meaningless “numbers,” they need to understand that we are actually looking at patterns of student thinking. Each “number” comes from a student performance—and by looking at those performances closely we can see what our students have learned from us about how to tackle a task. Please note that while numbers give the overview, until a team progresses to looking at actual samples of the student work representing the numbers, they will only guess at what students need to learn next.
Seed 2: Everyone Has a Stake
When a team sits down to look at data, every person at the table should have a stake in the work being examined. No one should sit at the edge of the conversation and say, “Well, this doesn’t really concern me.” If one teacher has students draw a model of photosynthesis and another has students answer four multiple choice questions regarding the same topic, the teachers are assessing different skills and content. Therefore, the assessment should be a common assessment, and each teacher should contribute to the data gathered before the group. Like a team of horses plowing the fields, they must pull together.
Seed 3: Patterns of Student Thinking and “Moves”
Examining representative students’ work allows your team to understand what instruction has led students to think and do. For instance, if students have constructed a short paragraph arguing for or against America’s involvement in the Bay of Pigs invasion from history class, a savvy team would look at an example of a “mastery,” “approaching mastery,” and an “early development” answer from each teacher’s class.
- What moves have these students made in common? (For instance, your “approaching mastery” students may show a pattern of including an attempted claim statement, using an article to draw evidence, and often featuring three pieces of evidence to support their claims.)
- What misconceptions or areas for growth do they reveal? (For instance, is a pattern that the claim is often not debatable? Is the evidence sometimes irrelevant? Why? What have they overlooked?)
Seed 4: The Point is Teacher Learning
In a professional learning community the first learners are the teachers. Now that specific student misunderstandings or areas for growth have been revealed, it is time for teachers to collaboratively determine an instructional response. Although it is often not faster to create new, focused responses to a few common issues raised, the shared creation process results in each teacher engaging in the creation, explanation, review/defense, and implementation of new methods.
To tend any new lesson idea, individual teachers must understand how and why it was created—and therefore understand how instruction like it could be transplanted into future lessons they design. This is rich soil for professional learning.
Helping Ideas Take Root
Planting these seeds of ideas is an essential first step toward boosting teacher professional learning in your school. But that can’t be all, right? Yes, you must pay attention to their growth and support the young seedlings until the culture of your school has made them firmly rooted concepts. As you might guess, your garden is not really ever “done,” and there are tools for improved practice that you might never have imagined.
In my own school, Adlai Stevenson High School of Lincolnshire, IL, we have found that these seeds described above especially thrive when there is a focus on student performances calibrated around key standards. This model of proficiency-based grading leads to additional focus and learning with teacher teams and students and is described in detail in our new work Proficiency-Based Grading in the Content Areas.