Helping Teachers Use Data to Plan Instruction, Part Three: On-the-Fly Assessment
For Administrators

Helping Teachers Use Data to Plan Instruction, Part Three: On-the-Fly Assessment

By Terry Wilhelm May 16, 2013
Helping Teachers Use Data to Plan Instruction, Part Three: On-the-Fly Assessment

In parts one and two of this series, we examined protocols for helping teams of teachers increase their effective use of data to plan instruction. As mentioned, it is key to remember that data can come from a variety of sources. We commonly think of assessment data being used to plan instruction, with “assessments” being formal tests or quizzes.

However, any assignment can be an assessment. And whether it is a formal test or quiz, homework or an in-class assignment, analyzing and studying the students’ papers in addition to the numerical group and individual scores are what provide meaning to the planning process.

On-the-fly assessment

For teachers in areas such as performing arts, debate, or physical education, a student’s in-the-moment performance is the data for the teacher to provide instruction via coaching — giving immediate corrective feedback and reinforcement. In order for this data to be used in a team planning protocol, video or audio recordings can be fairly easily made, given the prevalence of user-friendly technology.

If we take a page from the book of an athletic coach, music teacher, or theater or debate coach, on-the-fly assessment is not a big stretch for a classroom teacher. The optimal time for an English teacher —  or any teacher —  to give students feedback on a specific aspect of their writing is while they are writing, not after their paper has been graded. The best moment for a math teacher to correct students’ work is while they are working, not when papers are corrected in class.

This is not to say that homework and practice are not important or should not be given, but as any coach knows, the most critical time for learning a new skill is when the student immediately begins to attempt to perform it. Too often, students practice at home or at their seats incorrectly while the teacher sits at his or her desk. Then the learning process is unnecessarily complicated by a need to go back and unlearn.

Effective on-the-fly instructional and assessment methods

Part of the remedy is to make the guided practice segment of lessons more robust, using strategies sometimes referred to as active participation or simultaneous engagement. After the teacher has correctly modeled, several times, what the students are to do, everyone practices together. Individual white boards are great for this purpose. Everyone works the problem or writes their response on the board, then everyone holds their own board up toward the teacher so that s/he can see at a glance whose responses are correct and whose are incorrect.

Unison voiced and whispered responses are also effective, and even with a unison whisper, the teacher can fairly easily discern whose answers are correct/incorrect. Everyone practices at once – a far superior method to having a handful of students come to the board at a time to practice publicly.

Giving one final problem or question to determine who is really ready to begin the assignment is a way to catch those who might need one more review of the skill in a small group before they are released to begin working independently.

Keeping students on task using VIPs

Finally, it is crucial for the teacher to circulate through the room during independent practice to ensure that everyone is, indeed, on the right track. Referring students back to the board — or better yet, a chart — that shows a model of the work desired helps prevent the teacher getting stuck re-instructing while students in other parts of the room begin to get off task.

Classroom management guru Fred Jones has referred to these charts as Visual Instructional Plans (VIPs), and effective teachers use them to instruct. The teacher can quickly look at a student’s paper, fix a mistake that may have been made, and say, “You’re on step four now,” before moving on to the next student. This allows the teacher to check in on each student multiple times during a typical practice period.

Just as effective coaches help students more closely approximate a desired performance, teachers who use on-the-fly assessment can vastly improve their own instruction, assisting more students more effectively and efficiently virtually every time they teach a new lesson.

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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