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February 3, 2010

Teaching in a Data-Driven Society

By Victoria Jasztal

    Every day in our lives, we have to face that our society is data-driven. If you think about it, everything is "ruled" by numbers: Social Security numbers, credit card statements, the time we must arrive at work in the morning, and how many minutes are we mandated to teach reading and math. Often, teachers comment that teaching is more void of individuality and creativity than it was ten or twenty years ago.

    It seems like our lives are ruled by the perils of comparison and contrast. Teachers are compared to other teachers; schools are compared to other schools in their districts. We hear about intensive instruction outside of the reading block, RTI documentations and interventions, and acceptable achievement levels in Success Maker (computer lab) programs. Time and time again, there are new expectations we are required to meet, and hopefully exceed. Reading programs like Macmillan Treasures are mandated. Fidelity checks are made to make sure we are writing focus questions and focusing on the lessons in our series. Centers must be differentiated. Thinking about all these aspects of my career this afternoon, I went home with my mind racing, frankly feeling frustrated. However, after pondering on the subject for a while, the picture became clear.

    Teaching is data-driven for a very important reason. Students need to receive a high-quality education and be challenged in their studies. Students need to realize that their dreams can become reality. In order to achieve academic success, students need to become strong readers and thinkers:

    • Disadvantaged students in the first grade have a vocabulary that is approximately half that of an advantaged student (2,900 and 5,800, respectively).
    • The educational careers of 25 to 40 percent of American children are imperiled because they don't read well enough, quickly enough, or easily enough.
    • Since 1983, more than 10 million Americans reached the 12th grade without having learned to read at a basic level. In the same period, more than 6 million Americans dropped out of high school altogether.
    • It is estimated that approximately 21 million Americans are illiterate.

    It is a devastating thought, isn't it? We desire for our students to succeed, correct?

    Last year, I remember when I was developing my professional development plan. Immediately, I glanced at student data from third grade FCAT testing, data from the first standardized test practice of the year, and other important information I gathered through one-on-one conferencing in the first month of school. I honestly never expected to see so many correlations.

    I remember sitting down with a parent and discovering with her that her son struggled with the order of events. While going through the seven multiple choice questions he had missed out of 40, four questions addressed that concept. I reviewed my resources and discovered that there was so much that could help him in that area. Eventually, he took the FCAT in fourth grade and his score had risen from a 4 to a 5. In fact, the DSS levels of every single student in my class rose last year, and the number of students who achieved the highest score of a 5 went from two students in third grade to eight students in fourth grade. Out of 20 students, five or six students nearly achieved a level 5. That was mindblowing.

    This year, can I repeat what I did last year with my advanced fourth grade students? Or am I comparing apples with oranges? Am I generalizing? Perhaps what I think is working for a student this year is not helping him or her as much as I originally intended. Hopefully I am being effective. I exert myself beyond measure, trying my absolute hardest to discover more effective strategies every year.

    My students are one month from taking the FCAT, and next Tuesday morning is the Florida Writes. How can I plan effectively for my students before they sit down to "prove" themselves?

    Pertaining to Data:

    • In the data aspect, I am going to make a check-off list in the next week. Using data from FCAT Explorer (www.fcatexplorer.com), computer lab (Success Maker Software) last year's FCAT scores, anecdotal records, and other assessments, I am going to rate my students in these reading areas: main idea, vocabulary, comparing and contrasting, author's purpose, and characters, setting, and plot. In math, I am rating them based on: number sense, geometry, measurement, data analysis/probability, and algebra.
    • I am then going to plan more mini-lessons based on whole-class needs and differentiate homework. Students who are doing quite well in all areas will receive challenges that will deepen their problem-solving skills. A few small projects will be given. Parents will be called in to check on their child's progress in a few weeks and receive extra suggestions on what they can do at home. We need to realize, though, that every family is different. One may work diligently; one may not as have much time to work, and that is completely normal. We as teachers have to be understanding and do as much for our students as we can. You know that you are doing the right thing by providing the resources for your students' parents. (See a post on here from a few weeks ago where I provided resources.)

    Striving for Creativity:

    Block Creativity as an applied skill is important and should be encouraged. There are games out there that address the different areas of creativity where students may need extra practice. Here is a list of skills and games that address them (remember that Quizmo is available in most areas as well):

    Number Sense: Payday, Roll and Multiply
    Geometry/Measurement: Block by Block (addresses area and volume), Shape by Shape, Brick by Brick, Square by Square

    For more information about math games, visit this website.

    As for reading strategies, Lakeshore Learning has several superior games! There are two levels: one for the younger students and the other for the students in grades 3-6. Reading Roadway is one of my absolute favorites for main idea and supporting details.

    • Teachers can also use newspapers. I am honored to know people who work for Newspapers in Education for one of Tampa Bay's incredible newspapers, The St. Petersburg Times. Wherever you are, you may enjoy these suggestion guides from our NIE department.  
    • I would also read this weblog. Chets Creek Elementary School in Florida has a superior weblog called "Coaching Chronicles" that focuses on superior lessons, motivational strategies, and collaborations among teachers.
    • Last, I suggest making learning REAL for your students. I expose my students to numerous concepts and topics. Currently in math, we are focusing on "United States Math", which addresses measurement, geometry, number sense, and numerous other concepts through "real life" questions. I visit websites for different monuments, museums, theme parks, and attractions from the United States to gather data like heights and weights to write questions. The picture below shows one slide of my PowerPoint presentation from today:

    IMG_5596

    Whatever you hear, whatever you have done, whatever way you are motivated, persist in your teaching endeavors and realize it is very important to individualize student instruction by staying on top of your students' data. At times it may seem daunting or stressful, but you are only helping your students in the long run to become more effective learners.

    Last, if you are testing in the near future, such as the Florida Writes next Tuesday morning, I wish you the very best.

    Every day in our lives, we have to face that our society is data-driven. If you think about it, everything is "ruled" by numbers: Social Security numbers, credit card statements, the time we must arrive at work in the morning, and how many minutes are we mandated to teach reading and math. Often, teachers comment that teaching is more void of individuality and creativity than it was ten or twenty years ago.

    It seems like our lives are ruled by the perils of comparison and contrast. Teachers are compared to other teachers; schools are compared to other schools in their districts. We hear about intensive instruction outside of the reading block, RTI documentations and interventions, and acceptable achievement levels in Success Maker (computer lab) programs. Time and time again, there are new expectations we are required to meet, and hopefully exceed. Reading programs like Macmillan Treasures are mandated. Fidelity checks are made to make sure we are writing focus questions and focusing on the lessons in our series. Centers must be differentiated. Thinking about all these aspects of my career this afternoon, I went home with my mind racing, frankly feeling frustrated. However, after pondering on the subject for a while, the picture became clear.

    Teaching is data-driven for a very important reason. Students need to receive a high-quality education and be challenged in their studies. Students need to realize that their dreams can become reality. In order to achieve academic success, students need to become strong readers and thinkers:

    • Disadvantaged students in the first grade have a vocabulary that is approximately half that of an advantaged student (2,900 and 5,800, respectively).
    • The educational careers of 25 to 40 percent of American children are imperiled because they don't read well enough, quickly enough, or easily enough.
    • Since 1983, more than 10 million Americans reached the 12th grade without having learned to read at a basic level. In the same period, more than 6 million Americans dropped out of high school altogether.
    • It is estimated that approximately 21 million Americans are illiterate.

    It is a devastating thought, isn't it? We desire for our students to succeed, correct?

    Last year, I remember when I was developing my professional development plan. Immediately, I glanced at student data from third grade FCAT testing, data from the first standardized test practice of the year, and other important information I gathered through one-on-one conferencing in the first month of school. I honestly never expected to see so many correlations.

    I remember sitting down with a parent and discovering with her that her son struggled with the order of events. While going through the seven multiple choice questions he had missed out of 40, four questions addressed that concept. I reviewed my resources and discovered that there was so much that could help him in that area. Eventually, he took the FCAT in fourth grade and his score had risen from a 4 to a 5. In fact, the DSS levels of every single student in my class rose last year, and the number of students who achieved the highest score of a 5 went from two students in third grade to eight students in fourth grade. Out of 20 students, five or six students nearly achieved a level 5. That was mindblowing.

    This year, can I repeat what I did last year with my advanced fourth grade students? Or am I comparing apples with oranges? Am I generalizing? Perhaps what I think is working for a student this year is not helping him or her as much as I originally intended. Hopefully I am being effective. I exert myself beyond measure, trying my absolute hardest to discover more effective strategies every year.

    My students are one month from taking the FCAT, and next Tuesday morning is the Florida Writes. How can I plan effectively for my students before they sit down to "prove" themselves?

    Pertaining to Data:

    • In the data aspect, I am going to make a check-off list in the next week. Using data from FCAT Explorer (www.fcatexplorer.com), computer lab (Success Maker Software) last year's FCAT scores, anecdotal records, and other assessments, I am going to rate my students in these reading areas: main idea, vocabulary, comparing and contrasting, author's purpose, and characters, setting, and plot. In math, I am rating them based on: number sense, geometry, measurement, data analysis/probability, and algebra.
    • I am then going to plan more mini-lessons based on whole-class needs and differentiate homework. Students who are doing quite well in all areas will receive challenges that will deepen their problem-solving skills. A few small projects will be given. Parents will be called in to check on their child's progress in a few weeks and receive extra suggestions on what they can do at home. We need to realize, though, that every family is different. One may work diligently; one may not as have much time to work, and that is completely normal. We as teachers have to be understanding and do as much for our students as we can. You know that you are doing the right thing by providing the resources for your students' parents. (See a post on here from a few weeks ago where I provided resources.)

    Striving for Creativity:

    Block Creativity as an applied skill is important and should be encouraged. There are games out there that address the different areas of creativity where students may need extra practice. Here is a list of skills and games that address them (remember that Quizmo is available in most areas as well):

    Number Sense: Payday, Roll and Multiply
    Geometry/Measurement: Block by Block (addresses area and volume), Shape by Shape, Brick by Brick, Square by Square

    For more information about math games, visit this website.

    As for reading strategies, Lakeshore Learning has several superior games! There are two levels: one for the younger students and the other for the students in grades 3-6. Reading Roadway is one of my absolute favorites for main idea and supporting details.

    • Teachers can also use newspapers. I am honored to know people who work for Newspapers in Education for one of Tampa Bay's incredible newspapers, The St. Petersburg Times. Wherever you are, you may enjoy these suggestion guides from our NIE department.  
    • I would also read this weblog. Chets Creek Elementary School in Florida has a superior weblog called "Coaching Chronicles" that focuses on superior lessons, motivational strategies, and collaborations among teachers.
    • Last, I suggest making learning REAL for your students. I expose my students to numerous concepts and topics. Currently in math, we are focusing on "United States Math", which addresses measurement, geometry, number sense, and numerous other concepts through "real life" questions. I visit websites for different monuments, museums, theme parks, and attractions from the United States to gather data like heights and weights to write questions. The picture below shows one slide of my PowerPoint presentation from today:

    IMG_5596

    Whatever you hear, whatever you have done, whatever way you are motivated, persist in your teaching endeavors and realize it is very important to individualize student instruction by staying on top of your students' data. At times it may seem daunting or stressful, but you are only helping your students in the long run to become more effective learners.

    Last, if you are testing in the near future, such as the Florida Writes next Tuesday morning, I wish you the very best.

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