Saturday, January 4, 2020

Using data to drive instruction

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For all the Fixer Upper fans reading this post, you are going to totally relate to it. 

If you don't know who Chip and Joanna Gaines are, or that Chip LOVES demo day, you will have a greater understanding after reading this post. :-)

If you've been following my blog for a while, you know that I enjoy analyzing data and using it to find strengths and weaknesses and get better at what ever it is we need to improve. 

I wrote a collaborative blog post with Bob Starkey, the Assistant Coach for the Texas A&M women's basketball team, titled Why Data is Not the Villain

I also wrote a blog post describing a data meeting we held at our school, which was an encouraging and empowering meeting for our teachers who were not used to reviewing standardized assessment data. 

Data can and should be used to help identify areas where there are weaknesses. It passes no judgment, it only notifies and highlights those areas where we are not strong. It shows us not "what was taught," but "what was learned."

For example, If I follow an eating plan and hope that I lose weight and inches, I will use data from a scale or measuring tape to inform me of how well the diet plan is working. I will know if I followed it closely or not, and keeping a food journal will help me to have even more data to use for determining if there are improvements that might need to be made. 

Data is not about adding more to your plate. Data is about making sure you have the right things on your plate.  

I recently attended a workshop for the International Baccalaureate program, where I met some really thoughtful and incredible educators. One of them was Kurt Nuss

Kurt, sharing another awesome insight

Kurt is the kind of guy who is full of analogies, a great listener, and a sharer of awesome ideas. I took so many notes when he spoke that my hand started to cramp, and I realized that he is someone that I want to stay connected with long after the workshop.

I asked him if I could share his data day analogy on my blog, and he said yes! I'm a fan of the HGTV home decorating and DIY show, Fixer Upper, and I love watching the husband and wife who star in the show, Chip and Joanna Gaines. 


Chip and Joanna work with clients to remodel and renovate the "worst house on the block" in Waco, Texas. Chip acts as the lead contractor and Joanna is the designer. What you'll see in every episode is just how excited Chip gets about Demo Day. It's the day that they go in and start ripping down walls, cabinets, fixtures, and more. 

At the IB workshop, we started talking about data, and Kurt told us about how at his school, he teaches his faculty that Data Day is like Demo Day. How so? On Fixer Upper's Demo Day, that's when Chip learns about the structure of the house, if there are any hidden secrets that Chip needs to fix, and what exactly they need to build the house back so that it's better than before. Kurt makes the point that Chip sees all the ugliness and areas that need improvement so that he can put together a plan to build it into a fantastic home. 


I thought the analogy was awesome. Sometimes we DO get data that we don't like or that we wish were different. But without having it and knowing what needs to be improved, we can't get to where we need to be. 

Chip loves Demo Day! He loves it not because it makes the house look ugly or so that he can find a ton of problems. He likes Demo Day because he can find the weaknesses, and he's able to turn them into strengths. 

Just like Chip, we can approach Data Day like he approaches Demo Day. We can look forward to finding the ugly, we can create a plan and work collaboratively to build a masterpiece.

In Driven by Data: A Practical Guide to Improve Instruction, by Paul Bambrick-Santoyo, he gives us some questions to help us dig deep into data results: 

Larger Picture Questions
* How well did the class do as a whole? 
* What are the strengths and weaknesses in different standards? 
* How did the class do on old versus new standards taught? 
* How were the results in the different question types (multiple choice vs. open-ended, reading vs. writing)? 
* Who are the strong and weak students?
“Dig in” Questions
* Bombed questions – did students all choose the same wrong answer? Why or why not? 
* Break down each standard – did students do similarly on each question within the standard? Why? 
* Sort data by students’ scores – are there questions that separate proficient and non-proficient students? 
* Look horizontally by student – are there any anomalies occurring with certain students?

When teachers examine and analyze data, there must be an action plan to follow that is based on the results. 

Below are some strategies from Driven by Data that will help ensure that the action plan will be implemented in classroom instruction.
* Re-write and tighten objectives: Teachers should use assessment results to focus the objectives of future lessons on the areas students need improvement. The more specific the objective, the better. 
* Do Nows / Bell-ringers: During the quick 5- to 10-minute assignment to start the class is a perfect time to review those standards outlined in the action plan that require more attention. Teachers can include questions students struggled with in the last assessment. 
* Differentiation: When the action plan calls for targeting certain groups in the class with specific needs, differentiation can be a good strategy to work with those groups while others work independently. 
* Ongoing assessment: Constantly checking for understanding (for example, having all students write an answer on a white board and hold it up to show if they understand) is an effective way for teachers to see if the action plan is achieving results. 
* Peer-to-peer support: A student who has mastered a standard can help another student, identified from the assessment results, as needing help.  
* Homework: Re-design homework to target those areas that students need to review according to the action plan. 
* Outside of the classroom: Have students who struggled on the assessment come to a breakfast club or guided study hall for extra practice or provide afterschool tutors with assessment results so they can help students with their specific weaknesses.

So, let's get excited about breaking down data and reviewing our strengths and weaknesses. Then let's make a plan for getting better (and follow through). Just like #DemoDay!  








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