During my 23 years as a classroom teacher, I learned that student success dramatically increases when you’re able to get everyone in the boat rowing in the same direction. That means administration, family members, and—most importantly—students. But student success starts with data—data that’s immediately actionable, so you know what each student needs at the starting line.
Teaching shouldn’t be a solitary effort. Cross-grade-level groups can enable conversations about students longitudinally, so you’re not making decisions only from your perspective. Having input from your students’ prior-grade teachers can shed light on how your students learn best, and family members and caregivers can provide insights on how life outside school impacts their growth. The more rowers you have working together, the faster the boat will go.
Actionable Student Assessment Data
Data is only as good as what it empowers you to do with it in the classroom. Traditionally, assessment data was the result of the chapter test and a collection of homework grades and quizzes. While that provided a snapshot of how well students retained recent grade-level learning, it didn’t really inform instruction or identify where students had the greatest need.
If you’re going to take time to give your students an adaptive assessment, the data needs to indicate specifically where each student is in their understanding, regardless of grade, and it should provide detailed instructions (and resources) on how to support their growth to get them to grade-level mastery.
Make Your Data Chats Collaborative
Today our vision of student success looks at student growth as well as grade-level proficiency. Start by letting your students know why you’re having data chats, what’s expected of them, and how everything works. Help your students see where they have learning gaps that may be preventing them from being successful with grade-level learning, and encourage them to take personal responsibility for gaining that missing understanding. Provide a grade-level form to allow them to record their needs and thoughts. This is the time to include families or caregivers by inviting them to share their insights and guide the process so everyone begins rowing in the same direction.
Encourage Students to Take Ownership for Their Learning
It’s sometimes difficult for adults not to step in and take over the process. They want to be helpful and “save” their child, but they need to understand that their student must take some ownership for their learning. Just like an adult wouldn’t chime in to provide the correct letters during an eye exam, adults shouldn’t take over the planning process either.
You can provide all the norm-setting and general directions to the entire class so the one-on-one student discussions—assuming students have had time to reflect and complete their prework—can flow quickly as part of rotations or during student work time. It might take a week or so to meet with everyone, and you may have some students who will require additional time, but generally, it makes the whole process quicker and easier. You can prioritize the students you want to focus on first and begin pulling them into a quick, personal “conference” while the rest of the class works independently or in centers to ensure the students with the most gaps can take advantage of learning opportunities earlier.
Let Your Students Take the Lead
As you begin individual student chats, always start with something positive. You can focus on a recent academic or behavioral success to help your student relax—then let them take the lead. Students are generally well aware of their needs, so don’t assume your plan is set in stone. Listen. Validate. Adjust. This may be the first time anyone has ever asked your student what they need educationally, and it can be incredibly empowering. You are their partners in learning, and you will assist them as much as you can this year, but they will continue their journey in another boat the following year.
I know teaching a class of students with different needs is never easy. But my time in the classroom taught me that data with specific insights and getting everyone in the boat rowing in the same direction will lead to student growth and grade-level success for every student, no matter where they are starting.
To hear more, listen to this episode of the Extraordinary Educators™ Podcast.