Monday, May 24, 2010

What looks different?: Lessons from Walk-throughs

One of our data components for assessing teaching and learning comes from conducting walk-throughs. These 3 minute snapshots help provide a photo album of data describing teaching and learning. As an administrative team this year, we spent a lot of time creating a template that would embody the vision for Van Meter schools. The 1:1 initiative and the Iowa Core are two big pieces that make a standard template less useful for us. For example, we don't really care about the posters on the wall supporting the curriculum.

Our template went through many transformations. A final draft of the template was loaded onto our iTouches so we could collect and email the data immediately. Teachers have helped create the template and join us on walk-throughs to share ideas. This helps create consistent meaning across our district. This conversation is a great professional development experience in and of itself.

Two examples changed my thinking about walk-throughs and the longevity of this type of tool for collecting useful data about the change in teaching and learning. First, a teacher was behind her desk and students were all on their computers (some talking to others and some working alone). It was an example of a student-centered classroom where the teacher was updating her wiki to help facilitate the individual learning projects that students were creating. This teachers wasn't disengaged, she was facilitating learning from behind the scenes.

After periodic walk-throughs into a science classroom, I noticed how some students seemed to engaged with the teacher's explanation of a problem and others weren't. It seemed like some students were even blatantly ignoring the instruction. I asked about it and learned that the "lecture" was actually recorded, posted online, and assigned for homework. A quick quiz afterward showed that a few students had problems in different areas, so class time was when the kids actually practiced the skill or did the traditional "homework." The teacher could explain things to a few students who needed it while the rest worked on what they needed in class. They were ignoring the instruction! And it's ok! The lecture was homework and class time became lab time, practice time, application, time to ask questions.

How does this translate to the longevity of walk-through data? As we progress, teaching and learning will be so individualized that there will never be a "predominate pattern" for data collection (We also use the work from Jerry Valentine, Instructional Practices Inventory). We will see all levels of engagement with levels of thinking. Our elementary teachers who implement the Daily Five are just another example of this. Some kids are reading to themselves, some working with others to make new words, some listening to their peer reading and asking them comprehension questions. How do we quantify that?

I will know that Van Meter Schools has totally transformed education when the only reliable way to collect data on teaching and learning is through products, reflections, and portfolios. Maybe our earlier assessment plan was setting the bar too low?

Monday, May 10, 2010

Role of Data

Last week, I was sharing the student achievement summaries with the school improvement team, and then let them loose to explore the data on their own. The professionals in the room, for whom I have great respect, were overwhelmed. It made me realize that we have not empowered our teachers to use the data to answer their own questions. Much like our traditional classrooms, we have in the past told our teachers what the data say and have given them the questions that they should hunt and find the answers to (and we know the answers already, so really we are seeing if they can come back with the correct answers). In a student-centered classroom, we want kids to make their own meaning from the information and make connections to their prior knowledge. This is no different than what we want for our teachers.

I don't believe that data say the same thing to everyone. Sure the overview or summary of percent proficient is a place to start, but based on my experiences, the kids I have in my room, what I saw happening during testing that day, and a variety of other factors, I will want to go into the data differently than another teacher. That's when data really becomes powerful. When teachers can look at data and generate more questions than answers, that's when I believe the data is impacting and informing instruction. I love it when teachers ask me to get them more data. I love it when teachers say, "If this data were correlated to that data, then I could see if..."

Here's my ultimate goal, teachers will be the driving force behind our data collection, analyzation, and communication, not some lady in the curriculum office. AND the students will be right there with their teachers making sense of the information and using it to inform their learning.

Some of my favorite data phrases:
- If we can't use it, don't collect it.
- Kids can't take a test seriously if teachers don't take the information from the test seriously.
- Shouldn't kids understand their scores? Whose data is it anyway?