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Three Ways Student Data Can Inform Your Teaching
In her work with UCLA's Graduate School of Education, Rebecca Alber assists teachers and schools in meeting students' academic needs through best practices. Alber also instructs online teacher-education courses for Stanford University.
The job of a teacher is to be faithful to authentic student learning. Currently, our profession is fixated on results from one test, from one day, given near the end of the school year. And, yes, that is data that can be useful, however, we teachers spend the entire year collecting all sorts of immediate and valuable information about students that informs and influences how we teach, as well as where and what we review, re-adjust, and re-teach.
So when we speak about student data, here's how teachers collect it and some of the ways we use it.
#1 From the Classroom
Checking for understanding with low-stakes assessments are really the most important and useful of student data. Using exit slips, brief quizzes, and thumbs up/thumbs down are a few of my favorite ways to gather information on where students are and where we need to go next.
The beauty of having a constructivist, student-directed classroom? The kids are comfortable with you walking around and sitting with them in their groups -- your "guide on the side" role. In other words, they don't freeze up when you step away from the podium or your teacher-directed spot by the whiteboard. This freedom allows you to be a fly on the wall, gathering data on individual students -- how well are they making sense of the content? Interacting with others? Are they struggling with a learning activity? Observation data then allow us to adjust pacing for the whole class or scaffold for those students who are still struggling.
Projects, Essays, Exams
Summative assessments, such as a literary analysis essay or an end-of-unit science exam, allow us to measure the growth of individual and whole-group learning. If a large number of students don't do well on a high-stakes assessment, we need to reflect back on the teaching and make necessary adjustments in the future.
#2 From Cumulative Files
It's difficult to find the time to do it, but if you haven't before, trust me it's well worth it. Much information is found in a student's file. Just from trekking to the counseling office, sitting down with a cup of coffee after school and reading through files belonging to students I had deeper wonderings about beyond the data in hand, I've discovered over the years, to name a few, some of the following:
From a child's cumulative files you can sometimes see a dramatic grade change somewhere along the road during their school journey. Perhaps prior to eighth grade, the child was an A student, then from there, D's and F's. You can express this concern, sharing this data with them. Students may then share with you a reason: parents divorced, they moved to a new city/community. I had one student share that she just gave up on school when her dad went to prison.
You then have an opportunity to provide empathy, acknowledge their hardship, and then set some goals together for the child to improve academically.
#3 From the State Test
Taking a look at previous standardized test scores for your current students is beneficial in several ways. A disclaimer: just as one grade does not determine all that a student is or isn't, nor does one test score. Use standardized test data results along with other data (i.e. in-class assignments, observations) when making instructional decisions. That said, here are some suggestions for using standardized test data:
What are ways in which you collect student data and how has this benefited the instruction and learning in your classroom?
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