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Put data into student hands

Learning gaps are learning opportunities when students take ownership of data. See how.

5 min read


Put data into student hands


When data reveals learning gaps between what a student has learned and what was expected, we must respond. I’ve found putting data into students’ hands can be quite successful.

Students are capable of understanding their struggles. Their data is a part of who they are; they need to own that data and understand it before they can truly bridge the gap. Here are some tips for helping students get the most from their data.

Make sure students understand the assessment tool. If students understand the assessment tool, then they can understand the data it generates. In my classroom we focus on what Exceptional looks like. If students can’t articulate the difference between Proficient and Exceptional, we use mentor texts to scaffold this process, using mentor texts–papers from previous years–that were Exceptional for a certain writing skill. I ask students to mark up these mentor texts, annotating them by using the common language in our rubric. Eventually students can not only recognize Exceptional elements, but they also begin to imitate them.

Using a single column in the rubric can simplify discussions about proficiency. Students who live in the Developing or Inadequate zones of a rubric can be given just the Proficient column so they see what they should do rather than what they shouldn’t do.

Student-created rubrics can be extremely powerful in diminishing learning gaps. My students create anchor charts that we hang in the classroom identifying what exceptional looks like when we are learning to write a claim or learning to analyze instead of storytell. When they see this common language in a rubric, students know how to produce Exceptional work or understand when their work is not Exceptional and articulate how to get there.

Help students connect teacher feedback to their data. I use Turnitin Feedback Studio in my classroom; it’s been a powerful tool in getting my students to see how comments I’ve given connect to the rubric data. Using QuickMarks aligned to the rubric, students see how comments on the paper connect to a specific standard. Additionally, I ask students to write reflections about their papers where they describe what is needed to move to Exceptional. When I confer with students, our focus is on skills and learning targets rather than on grades.

Teach students how to track their data. Provide a structured system such as data notebooks, spreadsheets, or digital portfolios to track data, then embed class time to analyze data. Sometimes I will use a simple table with standards aligned learning targets on the vertical column and formative and summative assessments along the bottom horizontal column. Students take the feedback they get from their work and track their achievement of learning targets throughout the year. They use this data to take charge of their learning path by requesting mini lessons and selecting learning resources in our online course.

Help students understand how they learn. Understanding the data that reveals a learning gap sometimes is not enough to bridge that gap. Students need to understand how they learn so that they can commit to the most productive learning path and persist when the learning becomes difficult.

At the beginning of the year my students do a short unit in which they explore how the brain learns including the reading brain, social/emotional brain, and the adolescent brain. When students look at their data and consider what they need to do to bridge any learning gap made apparent by the data, they can rely on their knowledge of the brain to help them.

When my students did a unit on language this year, we referred back to the reading brain and how the brain learns language. They understood that repeated exposures to a word in a variety of mediums would help them learn words more fully. Students whose data revealed a learning gap were able to reflect on the missing elements in their initial learning experience so that when we focused on language again later in the year, they achieved more success because they committed to reading, writing, and speaking to learn.

Interpreting data shifts the brain from an active limbic system focusing on the stress of failure to an active prefrontal cortex focusing on the cognitive aspects of analysis. When learning gaps are large, students can be empowered by becoming involved in their own learning process, especially if they understand the science of learning.

Let students choose evidence of learning that shows mastery. If students can recognize when their work meets proficiency standards, that learning gap will have been diminished. My students are currently doing a book club and as a group will select items from the work they have done to indicate their mastery of speaking and listening standards. If they can talk about evidence, I know that they understand their data and its relevance to their learning path. Their discussions in this unit were significantly better than from two months ago, and for me, this change is visible proof that learning gaps are actually learning opportunities where teachers can act as guides, providing support, praise, and hope.

Lisa Wathen is an English and Communication teacher at Nicolet High School in Glendale, Wisconsin. You can follow her on Twitter: @Lwathh

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