Leveraging Data to Support Students

Recently, George Couros wrote a blog post titled “From Data Driven to Evidence-Driven.” George brought up several superb points, one including this, “If we are going to change the way we teach, we need to also change how we assess, not just what we assess.” I agree with this thought process- As we become more innovative, we also need to let that innovation flow into everything we do as teachers: Teaching, learning, collaborating AND assessing.

I similarly read another post on Evidence Based Practice from the Data Science Association that I found especially informational. Within this post, Walker says that the three reasons why Data and Evidence Based Practices are not effectively used are due to ineffective talent, processes, and technology. Though Walker was referring to how these reasons were applied in the business world, I find it fascinating to figure out how we can cross over approaches.

We all believe as educators that being student focused is our first and most important compass. What we do day-to-day should be all about students, not the data. However, I do think that data often has a bad reputation in the educational sphere. I venture to say the problem is not with the data, the issue is HOW we use data ineffectively. We lack vision on where we are going with the data, which leads us often unequipped to analyze the abundant information headed our way. I believe there is a place for both data and evidence-based practices to have a happy marriage in education. Although, in this post, I will stay focused on leveraging data, some of the principles can apply to evidence practice as well.

Leveraging Data to Support Students

  • Vision

    If you do not have a vision or purpose for why you are using data, then it is usually done in a trivial and lackluster fashion. If this occurs, change your path and ask yourself: “What are we trying to achieve?” and “Why are we interested in data?” 

  • Value

    If data does not truly help teachers teach and students learn, then no one will ever find value in it, and rightfully so. To find value, begin viewing data as an asset, rather than the “end all, be all.” Whenever data is the main word mentioned in meetings or in e-mails, students and staff will be immediately disengaged. No one gets inspired by data alone, but data is informational when used properly.

    As a Mentor Teacher and Technology Integrationist, I used Google Forms to track my day-to-day plans with teachers. With the data, I was always able to view in pie graph form and in charts how often I met with each teacher and team in the building, future plans we had for instruction, which subjects and standards we integrated technology with the most, and reflections on the lessons. All of this curated information was easy to insert and view, which allowed me to take action to meet with teachers in a timely and meaningful manner.

  • Target

    Sometimes when data is collected, it feels like you are tracking anything and everything there is to track, which can be enormously ineffective. The best kind of data is purposeful and targeted for optimal results. Similarly, think of your intentions as you collaborate with students and staff: Through the data, do you hope to make small instructional changes or to have huge radical changes? Your answer can guide your plan.

  • Data Management

    Once you have the foundations covered, it is crucial to have conversations with your staff and students to determine how often data will be collected and maintained. Be proactive and clear. Teachers want to feel prepared to plan and teach adequately with the data they receive, rather than always wondering when the “data is due.” Make the data management and maintenance process as streamlined as possible.

    Also, will students track goals and progress? Students love to see their own personal successes and to share them with you, others, and their family. I always loved embedding goal setting into everything I did with my middle school students. After inviting students in on the journey with me, they would keep me in check. If I went a day without talking about goal setting, they would say, “Ms. Welty, you forgot to talk about goal setting today!” Moreover, they always created such fun and creative ideas to track and visualize goals and visions for the classroom.

  • Data Infrastructure

    This subject is almost never talked about, but it is essential. Teachers and principals spend so much time working with improper technologies, infrastructures, and operating models that make data analysis time consuming and frustrating. Once the data is collected, the technology should do as much of the work as possible to sort, organize, and tell the story.

    I hope we can begin spending more time on reflecting, planning and determining how to develop better instruction for our kids, and less time dealing with faulty systems and processes.

    But, with fields like Data Science booming, there is a lot that will continue to change for data in the future. The skill-set needed in this area, and in big data, is in HUGE demand. Over the next couple of years, I am eager to see how developments in this area can directly benefit school systems.

    What does your infrastructure look like at your school and what programs or tools do you use to track data and progress?


Image Credit- LinkedIn
In the digital age we live in, we need to stay focused on our people first, while still keeping an eye to how data will change and how platforms will integrate better with technology over time. With collaborative apps like Google Apps for Education and student reflection video services like Recap, I see a bright future where data is not always a number and students have more agency.

As Carly Fiorina says, “The goal is to turn data into information, and information into insight.” By focusing on insight gained rather than data or information alone, we can take the action that will help our students soar to new dimensions.

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The Power of Student Learning Playlists

Student learning playlists are a unique way to personalize learning for students. Many educators are taking various versions of this approach to differentiate learning for their students.

I first heard about learning playlists through reading articles and posts about Alt School.

On Alt School’s website, they describe their playlists with the following explanation,

“Playlist is a set of tools that enables educators to manage what each child does to meet his or her personalized learning goals, and functions as a customized workspace for students to cultivate agency by managing their own work. Educators create, sequence, and remix curriculum units to curate Playlists where students can view assignments, communicate with their teacher, and submit work generated on- and off-line. Education teams provide feedback and assessments that update students’ Portrait in real time. Playlist allows educators to help students accelerate in any areas where they are already advanced, and work on areas that require more attention and development.”

Immediately after reading about this, I loved the idea but wanted to take our own spin on it based on our students’ needs and the separate set of technology resources we had.

Hence, to get started with learning playlists, I knew I wanted to try this with a few students in a small group first. I thought that this would give me more information on what worked and what did not work before I implemented the design with an entire class.

Brainstorming

The lovely Ms. Montgomery, who teaches 4th grade at my school, is always such a risk-taker; She is willing to try anything and everything to help her students succeed. Before starting the learning playlists, Ms. Montgomery and I first met to look at student data and achievement. Through this, we decided to begin learning playlists with a few students who needed more challenging learning activities.

Before moving any further, we met with the students to ask their input. Although Ms. Montgomery and I initially steered the students to goals that would most benefit them, our students decided to create a brainstorming list of goals they wanted to work on. After looking through their previous work, and thinking about the area in which they needed the most guidance and extension, this particular student chose to focus on “main idea and details” and highlighted her choice.

What I love about the brainstorming doc is that students can continue to go back and add thoughts or goals to work on at another opportunity. See a student-created sample below via Google Docs:

The Playlists

Here is a sample playlist:

 

First, I started learning playlists with two students who had two different learning goals. We met weekly face-to-face for one hour, but in between these sessions, students can ask me questions on a classroom I created through Recap.

Let me break down the organization of my playlist format:

  • At the top, students type their name next to “Learning Playlist”
  • Goal: Students write in the goal/target they decided upon with the teacher.
  • Track: Tracks are learning activities that can be online or offline. Some are videos, creations, games, podcasts, hands-on activities, and more. If the activity is online, hyperlink it.
  • Track Info: This gives directions on what to do or more information about the activity as a whole. Students also can hyperlink things they have created that display the track into this box as they go.
  • My Thoughts/What I Learned: Gives students a place to reflect, pose thoughts, or ask questions.
  • Track Completed: Students place a “Y” if they have completed the track; Students have said this helps them remember where they are at. Students can type an “N” if they have not completed the track yet, or some leave the box blank to show that it is not yet concluded.
  • How Will I Show What I Know: Before students go through the playlists, they think and jot down a cumulative project idea to start after their learning playlist tracks are complete. Students can review and modify their idea for this project as their learn more about their target. For example, you can see in the picture above that this student initially chose to do a 5 paragraph essay. But once they had more skill in the area, they decided they still wanted to produce a 5 paragraph essay, but to take it a step further, they would also create a podcast to show their learning in a way they have not attempted before.
  • Add your own track: Gives students a chance to start finding sources and researching potential activities that transcend learning.

Gradual Release of Learning

When we began the learning playlists, we as teachers created and culminated all of the track ideas for the students. Although I think it is important for the teacher to guide, oversee, and to embed expert curriculum resources, I realized that there is HUGE value in students also being partners in the process.

Therefore, as I continued to use these playlists with students, I would show them how I created videos to make content resources and how I vetted tracks online and offline that were worthy of their learning. Although there were bumps along the way, it lends itself to excellent teachable moments on research, creation, valid and worthwhile sources, and more. Furthermore, students WANTED to lead their own learning which is a craft that is invaluable.

In addition, time management is a skill that improves for students as they determine, through trial and error, how to pace themselves to finish tracks and complete goals without a teacher “timing” them.

Important Notes and Adjustments

  • Start individualized learning playlists in student small groups first.
  • Create Google Calendar schedules & share with your students so they know when the face-to-face meeting times are. Again, during these meetings, you will discuss learning playlists progress, provide guidance, and students will share what they have created. Feel free to alter meeting times and scheduling based on your student needs.
  • Have students begin with one goal/playlist at a time until they become familiar with the concept.
  • The tabs at the bottom of Google Sheets allow you to organize all of the different playlists in ONE sheet! Students can name the tabs based on their learning goal to keep it organized.
  • Playlists can be fitted to a mixture of grade levels, learning standards, curricular areas, and student needs. Playlists can be a supplementary resource to help bridge learning gaps, or it can be a device to extend learning to a new dimension!
  • Hold onto student playlists examples. Many of these playlists can be customized and shared with other students who need an extra boost in similar target areas.
  • Student-Created Adjustments:
    • Once a student completes their first playlist, that particular student will then show another student how to determine a learning target and how-to-begin a learning playlist of their own.
    • Students can display their learning in a variety of ways, even if it is not addressed on the learning playlists. When students think of a new way to show their learning, they can add a new track to a different row in Google Sheets. If the project is not online, they can quickly describe what their project is in the box. If the project is online, students can hyperlink their creations and ideas.
    • Students share their work with friends and family using the sharing settings of their Google Sheets.
    • Students have now started creating playlists on skills like “collaboration” to help themselves grow in non-curricular areas and to team with multiple students on one playlist.

Closing Thoughts

Ms. Montgomery just e-mailed me today to share how much her students continue to be empowered by our learning partnerships and playlists. Students talk about their learning playlists constantly; They are overjoyed to help lead their learning! Most of all, they have a blast creating and thinking outside of the box. On Friday, students even asked if they could skip recess to work on their playlists!

As you try learning playlists, feel free to take what will work with your students and modify or supplement anything that your specific students need.

Additional Resources

  • Make a copy of my learning playlist template on Google Sheets here.
  • Education Week shows how Nathan Hale Middle School uses algorithms to provide personalized learning for each of their students.
  • Jennifer Gonzalez of Cult of Pedagogy discusses how she has used learning playlists here.

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Goal-Setting Checklist

As the new year begins, everyone is excited, and rightfully so, to start the year on a new and fresh foot.

Losing weight, focusing on fitness, spending more time with family, or becoming more balanced are among the common objectives many of us set for ourselves. The hard thing is, once February hits, our willpower to reach our goals often diminishes into the daylight just as quickly as we set them. Trust me, I am guilty of this, too.

The truth is life gets in the way sometimes, and I am here to tell you that is okay. Side note: When life does happen, be kind to yourself.

But, here is what I have found from experience: When setting your goals, no matter what the occasion, it is beneficial to check yourself to see if the goals you are setting are even the goals you truly need the MOST.

Here are guiding questions that I have created and written down over the past three years. I read these often whenever I need a swift kick of remembrance of what matters when setting goals. Also, when teaching, I show these questions to my students as well, while sharing my goal-setting stories and struggles. After all, goal setting needs to go beyond academics.

-What goal will bring the most meaning to my life?

In education, we have “power standards” to choose from which will bring the biggest bang for your buck when teaching and learning; This same theory can be applied to setting goals. We all would love to improve ourselves in a variety of aspects of our lives, but Rome was not built in a day, and neither are strong, accomplished individuals. Ask yourself: What goal will bring the most meaning to my life? Then, go for it!

 

-Am I focusing on what matters?

This question is THE question that rattles me the most. Sometimes what I think matters the most to me in certain moments, is not what REALLY matters. It is easy to get caught up in the nuances of life- Almost too easy. If this question shakes you to your core as well, get a trusted outside opinion of your goals as you set them. I often ask Adam, my fiancee, his thoughts about the goals I set, so he can refocus me when I become cloudy.

 

-Am I setting the bar for myself too low?

If you set the bar low, you will hit it every single time. We often are more scared of achieving than we are of losing. Do not misinterpret this as setting completely unrealistic expectations. I believe that no dream is too big, but you have to pair that idea with real-life action steps.

 

-How will achieving my target help the well-being of others?

Goal-setting needs to move beyond “me” into “WE.” How is what you are aiming to achieve going to benefit others beyond yourself? Improving yourself is a beautiful thing, but if this improvement can also inspire others along the way, THEN you have created magic.

 

-Have I prepared mini-short-term steps and long-term steps to take along my journey?

As Tony Robbins says, people who are inventors create and design everything twice: Once in your imagination, and twice in reality.

Now, take this theory and transfer it to goal-setting. As you set goals, you are the inventor. But, it takes laying out the design, tenacity, and trial and error to find the right recipe for YOUR personal success. Always remember- What works for ____________(Insert name here), may not work for me.

 

-Am I trying to press the fast-forward button on my life without enjoying the present moment?

Life is short. Are we enjoying each beautiful moment giving to us? OR are we trying to wish ourselves OUT of the current moment we are living in to be catapulted into something better?

When I was a child, I spent most of my years trying too hard to grow up as fast as I could. Now, I look back and wish I could have told myself to JUST BE. Sometimes, that little girl inside me now still needs that reminder.

I hope this checklist of sorts helps you in some small way. Here’s to achieving all you were born to achieve and giving yourself grace when you fall.

I believe in you,

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