Using Data to Customize for Kids
Of all the promises of Blended Learning, the most impactful center around student achievement is data. Blended teachers have more data — that’s more easily gathered and at more regular intervals, and that come with more specific action steps for teachers — than ever before.
Teachers love data, but for decades we’ve asked them to make tremendous gains for kids, without giving them solid data-based tools to work with to get the job done. But with blended learning, better, actionable data is closer than ever. Blended teachers work hard making sure they have the best data possible — “best” meaning here both that kids are showing significant progress and the data is reliable and accurate. The first time teachers pull reports on how kids are doing on a particular online content program, frequently their ensuing action steps are filled with interventions designed to help ensure kids are using the program well. Did they take their time? How do I know they did their best? Do they have a system for keeping notes? Maybe I need to demo that part of the program again. Before teachers intervene on helping kids learn the content, their first investment of time and energy is often ensuring kids are setup for success on computers as much as possible without further teacher instruction. This “use the program well” strategy is an initial investment that ensures that the long term achievement data is both reliable and more clearly highlights the learning gaps that most need a human teacher’s intervention.
Perhaps the most profound game-changer for blended classrooms when it comes to data, though, is not how the teacher uses it, but how students do. Kids in blended classrooms own and know their own data like they know their address or all the lyrics to their favorite song. Students know how to access their own data, set goals, create individualized learning pathways and mark their own progress. Problems definitely arise when teachers aren’t comfortable letting go of curricula pathways on which they formerly placed students; which is exactly what needs to happen when you’re supporting kids who are focused on their own customized content goals. If [student] is in Xth grade I have to grade them on Xth grade content, regardless of their academic skill level for that skill/concept/grade-level. Teachers empowering kids with their own data within their subject area, though, have to let go of this outdated idea that an ‘A’ needs to mean the same thing for all kids in class, or — gasp! — that a letter grade is even needed. (I recognize that individual teachers are frequently not at liberty to abandon traditional grading, but let’s at least focus on high quality “feedback” and ask teachers to spend a lot less time with “grading.”) If we’re going to ask our students to be our future nurses, lawyers, first-responders, pilots, Navy, engineers and educators, then I say we help them understand the importance of knowing well their own skills, strengths and areas of growth, and instill in them a love of lifelong learning. Let’s let go of old ways of sorting kids that are no longer relevant in a world moving to mastery-based learning.
Lastly, teachers getting started with blended learning frequently have multiple data sets to choose from, say, from multiple online content providers. In the beginning, I’d highly recommend first codifying a set of analysis questions that the team of teachers plan to ask themselves repeatedly throughout the year. And then ask those questions with the data set (or online program) the kids have used the most and with the most fidelity. Over time the team can incorporate more data sets and drill down deeper into each. For many teachers, even having access to one high quality data set, that doesn’t just come around 2 or 3 times a year, is more than enough to get them started thinking in new ways about better serving kids.