Taking the edge off a naughty four-letter word: Part 1, The Classroom

Do you know what’s become dirty little four-letter word that I really like?  Or used to like…before it was twisted and turned into a nasty term due to blatant misuse? Data.  Don’t believe me? Try walking into the teacher’s lounge, office, or library of your local public school and say it. Just like whispering the name “Voldemort” in the Harry Potter movies, the word “data” sends tremors down the spines of those present with its mere mention. Many tiptoe around it and don’t even say the word out loud, but instead call it “that which shall not be named.”

Yesterday I had the pleasure of eating breakfast with Pam Allyn: literacy expert, blogger, and Common Core advocate.  One of the jewels that came out of our conversation was data-related: how so much of our current dialogue is about assessment and it’s the tail that’s wagging the dog. Her husband Jim then offered this solution: if we believe that we are misusing data to the point that it’s become a dirty word, we must change that dialogue.  We must offer solutions. If we are concerned that society is too obsessed with quantitative black and white numbers, we need to demonstrate how we’d like to think about it more effectively. Also, if we strongly believe in qualitative data, we need to show what that can look like. We must gently nudge and offer out-of-the-box, bold solutions based on our deep knowledge and experiences as education professionals in order to begin to change the conversation around data.

So what can that look like? How can we “do” data differently? (And by do, I mean think about it as more that just a test score.)

Here are some starting points I have swirling around my head. I’ll preface by admitting this list is incomplete and idealistic, but it’s a solid foundation to start collecting ideas.

First of all, data should be a storyteller. And not just a page or chapter of a story, but a miniature version of the growth that has occurred. It should paint a picture of the whole setting, not just be a peephole into a tiny segment. For quantifiable data, how about:

  • How many books my students have read by the end of the year (thank you to Donalyn Miller for that great nugget of an idea from the Book Whisperer!)
  • Parent surveys
  • Student surveys (The Metlife Survey of the American Teacher found these to be great predictors of “teacher effectiveness.” I find them to be great data for me as a growing professional!)
  • Family communication: the number of times we’ve communicated, worked together, and the perceptions of parents on our partnership
  • The number of hours spent researching and reading to make our practice stronger (I think this would be laborious, but I think it would be amazingly interesting!)

And for qualitative data:

  • Student reading journals and reading logs
  • Self-reflections completed about student growth as readers and learners
  • A portfolio of each reader’s progress throughout the year
  • Videos of my students learning
  • Student interviews
  • Interviews from my colleagues and teammates

And here is one my biggest reflections. I think some of the most valuable results don’t always show up in a year. That is a quick turn-around for big goals, and many of my goals for my students are monstrous. My main goals in my reading class?  That my students have begun to fall in love with books, that they see reading as a tool to be a lifelong learner. That they see education as a lever to reaching their dreams, that they see school as an avenue to help them reach their goals in life. And how do you measure that?

Please add your thoughts and ideas below. And be watching for part two: how do we measure teacher leadership?

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