Data Isn’t Always Numbers

The word “data” naturally calls to mind lists of numbers to most people – to teachers this usually means tracking students’ scores on assessments. This can be an extremely informative tool for teachers, but data doesn’t always have to mean numbers.

Collecting observational data in the classroom can be as simple as observing (and recording) ongoing behaviors of students and using that information to make instructional decisions

Example Instructional Decisio15046542586_6209a96b6e_o.jpgn Based on Observational Data

The first thing that comes to mind when I think of making instructional decision based on non-numeric observational data is crafting an intentional seating arrangement for students. The research of Spencer Kagan shows that student achievement goes up when they are seated in groups containing students of varying ability levels. This does not naturally occur when students are allowed to choose their own seats. A well-crafted seating arrangement made using observational data by the teacher is one of the true art forms of education and can change the entire instructional atmosphere in a classroom.

This is one of many examples of how teachers can (and do) use observational data to improve their classrooms. If numbers aren’t your thing, don’t worry, data isn’t always numbers.

Photo credit: Photo Credit: privatetutoring001 via Compfight cc

Providing Feedback During Questioning

We have conversations in our classrooms every day, but have you ever considered the fact that the when you question your students and provide feedback you are engaged in formative assessment? Those discussions help your students (and you) know in which areas they are doing well, and they also help students improve in areas of need as you speak… literally.

How teachers react to their students’ responses to questions determines how the students process (or don’t process) the content on which the questions is focused. Intentional questioning and thoughtful responses can increase student engagement in a big way.

For example, research shows that when a teacher replies to a student’s response by asking a follow-up question, it expands the thoughts of all the students. However, when a teacher offers a monosyllabic response like “Yes” or “Correct” students often ignore the answer.

In their book, Quality Questioning: Research-Based Practice to Engage Every Learner Walsh and Sattes offer the ideas in the table below to help guide teachers as they react to student responses to questioning:

Adapted from

Adapted from “Quality Questioning” page 96.

Research Says: Tracking Data Increases Achievement

Most teachers are part of a data team that works together to gather and analyze student data, but you don’t necessarily have to be working as part of a data team for your students to benefit from tracking achievement data. Research shows that teachers who create graphic representations of students performance, like charts or graphs, see a 26% gain in student achievement on the chosen objectives over time.

In addition, when students track their OWN progress on a specific objective over time, research shows a 32% gain in achievement.

There are many ways to graphically track individual student data. This graph is just one example.

There are many ways to graphically track individual student data. This graph is just one example.

To get the highest return on the investment of taking time to track student data, researchers have found that there are 3 important things to keep in mind:

1) It works best to have the students track their progress on a single objective. Trying to track multiple objectives at the same time can get overwhelming and confusing, especially for students and teachers new to the process.

2) Students and teachers must have a clear and consistent rubric to successfully track achievement data.

3) It is best to use many types of assessments while tracking data, not the same one over and over. Written questions are only 1 type of assessment. Discussions, observations, and demonstrations can often be assessed using the same rubric as a written test.

For more information on the research behind tracking students data, read: Marzano, Robert. “The Art and Science of Teaching / When Students Track Their Progress.” Educational Leadership 67.4 (2010): 86-87. ASCD. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.

This is a repost from October 4, 2014.

What about Late Work?

Photo Credit: Gokik via Compfight cc

Photo Credit: Gokik via Compfight cc

Late work is a hot topic in the middle school teaching world. Middle school is the first time that students are expected to travel from classroom to classroom, keeping track of up to 9 assignments a day, depending on the school they attend. Many students struggle with some aspects of this transition, and completing class work on time can become quite a problem. I do not have a solution to the problem of late work and grades in the middle school, but I have been searching for a theory that keeps students’ interests at heart, but does not put an unfair burden on teachers.

I recently came across an article by Rick Wormeli entitled, “Late Work: A Constructive Response” that outlines ways to teach students the importance of punctuality and responsibility without indiscriminately lowering grades for every late assignment. I highly recommend reading it to anyone who struggles with finding the right late work policy for their own classroom.

Mr. Wormeli has been in education for 33 years and has taught math, science, history, English, PE, and health. He has written many books on education, including Meet Me in the Middle and Fair Isn’t Always Equal. He is much more an expert than I am on effective classroom policies, so I want to share here some of his thoughts on this topic that stood out to me.

Regarding giving no credit or severely lowered credit for late assignments, Wormeli says:
“Let’s deal with late work in ways that lead to students’ personal investment in learning. Driving an assignment into the ground doesn’t serve anyone. While there should be consequences for not meeting deadlines, we can still spend time
investigating the situation before arbitrarily lowering the grade.”

He also stresses that it is important to remember that middle school students come to us as 11 or 12-year-old children and leave us 4 years before they will be considered adults:
“We are teaching young adolescents who are learning [adult-level] competencies for the first time. To demand consistent, adult-level competence of middle schoolers is inappropriate. We have to walk students through mature decision making and action-taking regarding their time.”

Recurring late work is undoubtedly a problem in middle schools. To get the full value of Mr. Wormeli’s thoughts, read his article: here. Don’t be afraid to try something new if you feel that what you are doing hasn’t worked. And by all means, if you have discovered a late work policy that works for you, please share!

EDPuzzle for Making Videos into Lessons

Last week I attended the 2015 Midwest Education Technology Conference and learned a lot! More than I have really had time to process, honestly. But one of the cool technology tools that I learned about was EDpuzzle, a tool that can be used to manipulate videos and make them into interactive lessons.

You can use EDpuzzle in 3 main ways:

  1. Crop a video to get right to the point and show only the part you want.
  2. Record over the existing video in your own voice.
  3. Embed questions into the video. The video will pause and give the students time to answer, then continue to let the students view and answer at their own pace.

All of the features of EDpuzzle are cool, but I found this last feature to be really amazing. Below is an example of a video I cropped (from 3:30 to 1:28) and added 2 questions to.

//edpuzzle.com/embed/m/54e39d3eeaff856e1e3ffecc

Here are some video directions for using EDpuzzle, OR shoot me an email and I will come and help you get started using it one-on-one.

Graphic Displays of Student Progress Increase Student Achievement

Most teachers are part of a data team that works together to gather and analyze student data, but you don’t necessarily have to be working as part of a data team for your students to benefit from tracking achievement data. Research shows that teachers who create graphic representations of students performance, like charts or graphs, see a 26% gain in student achievement on the chosen objectives over time.

In addition, when students track their OWN progress on a specific objective over time, research shows a 32% gain in achievement.

There are many ways to graphically track individual student data. This graph is just one example.

There are many ways to graphically track individual student data. This graph is just one example.

To get the highest return on the investment of taking time to track student data, researchers have found that there are 3 important things to keep in mind:

1) It works best to have the students track their progress on a single objective. Trying to track multiple objectives at the same time can get overwhelming and confusing, especially for students and teachers new to the process.

2) Students and teachers must have a clear and consistent rubric to successfully track achievement data.

3) It is best to use many types of assessments while tracking data, not the same one over and over. Written questions are only 1 type of assessment. Discussions, observations, and demonstrations can often be assessed using the same rubric as a written test.

For more information on the research behind tracking students data, read: Marzano, Robert. “The Art and Science of Teaching / When Students Track Their Progress.” Educational Leadership 67.4 (2010): 86-87. ASCD. Web. 3 Oct. 2014.