Helping Teachers Use Data to Plan Instruction, Part One: Collecting and Comparing Data

Teacher uses technology to help students

This series is for principals who have already spent years working with teachers to analyze the major, high-stakes annual tests that are the basis of your state’s — along with federal Title I — accountability systems.

That work, sometimes referred to as the “autopsy,” helps schools analyze the strengths and weaknesses of the past year’s instructional program. It also may be useful in providing teachers with beginning-point data on the students in their new fall classes, and as a way to flag students who may need immediate support and intervention to help them succeed in class.

In these posts, we will be drilling down to the classroom level, examining strategies for using data to pre-plan immediately upcoming instruction. Part one of our series looks at teachers in teams where everyone teaches the same course; the same grade level in elementary school and the same course at the secondary level.

Using data to plan instruction

The first step for a team of teachers to use data to plan instruction is to collect common data. This can be a short quiz — three items are sufficient — or a common assignment that reflects important learning all students must master. Bigger assessments such as end-of-unit tests and district-wide quarterly benchmark tests should also be examined by teacher teams, but again, this is autopsy work, not the regular weekly work of planning upcoming instruction as a team.

Not every assignment must be common to all teachers on the team. However, the majority of the work students are doing should be common to all classes to ensure equity of access to the most rigorous curriculum and instruction, capitalizing on the collective wisdom and expertise of the whole team. This will also enable the team to identify students who missed the boat on the most recent instruction, and collaboratively plan interventions for the re-teaching loop, since the typical pacing of the curriculum demands that the instruction keeps moving. With the increased rigor of the common core, this will be more important than ever.

How to compare common cata

Here’s an outline of a good discussion protocol for this purpose. To watch a team in action using this protocol, watch the Student-Based Protocol video from the Riverside County Office of Education.

Discussion protocol includes several steps:

Introduction (1 to 2 minutes)

The team facilitator reviews the team norms and ensures that everyone is prepared and ready to begin.

Successes (5 minutes)

Each member briefly shares successful strategies from the previous meeting that worked for the majority of the students, while a recorder charts a list.

Challenges (10 minutes)

Each member shares one or two sample papers with errors/issues that were typical of problems students exhibited on the assignment or quiz, while a recorder charts a list.

Team brainstorm (10 minutes)

Team members brainstorm strategies for reviewing and re-teaching, which are charted. These strategies will be used when students are re-grouped within the team for the re-teaching loop, or if problems are few, when individual teachers work with their own students needing further instruction.

New quiz or assignment (15 minutes)

The facilitator previews the upcoming week’s key concepts and skills for the team, and a recorder charts ideas for scaffolding/frontloading for students who are likely to have difficulty, as well as strategies for the major instruction).

Selection (2 to 3 minutes)

The team agrees on 1-3 strategies everyone will use, and each team member makes their own notes for reference.

Summary (3 to 5 minutes)

The facilitator summarizes agreements and any important notes from the discussion.

Evaluation (5 minutes)

The team evaluates how well norms were followed, and discusses any issues that arose with the process itself.

Continue reading this series

Part two focuses on teams where everyone is teaching something different – a vertical team in a small elementary school, or a team of “singletons” at the secondary level.

Part three examines “on-the-fly” assessment and adjustment that expert teachers do individually as they provide instruction.

Terry Wilhelm has served as a public school teacher, principal, district office and area service agency administrator, and adjunct university instructor in educational leadership. She is a regular contributor to Leadership, the bimonthly magazine of the Association of California School Administrators.

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