Using Data to Customize for Kids

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 Teachers empowering kids with their own data within their subject area, though, have to let go of this outdated idea that an ‘A’ needs to mean the same thing for all kids in class, or — gasp!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.

Written by Greg Klein

Director of Blended Learning at Rogers Family Foundation. Greg is on the ground, supporting principals, teachers and students at four Oakland district public schools as they make their transitions to blended classrooms. You can follow him @gregdklein.


  1. Kiera Chase

    Thanks for this refreshing piece. I think the scenario you described is very realistic and one that I can completely relate to. I am curious about the types of questions that you use to approach the data Smörgåsbord? It is important and complex work developing the capacity in teachers to integrate the technology tools, read and understand the data that comes back, and then plan and change instruction in response. What I have noticed is that blended learning is so new that proper training has not be incorporated into teacher preparation programs as of yet. Much of this practical and theoretical learning must take place on the job.

  2. Hi Kiera, First: nice post earlier in the week =). As for questions, I think they are frequently the same nature of questions non-blended teachers already ask themselves: 1) What did I teach, or rather, what learning do I now expect kids to have mastered? 2) Do any of the data reports I have access to actually address the concept/skill/standard identified in Question 1? 3) Assuming yes, which kids does that report say got it, and which still show no mastery?

    For the kids who did not get it:
    a) Is there anything I can change about how they use that program? Switch content around? Assign extra help? Link to a different site for other support?
    b) Is there anything I need to do to change my instruction with them? Pull them for more time in a small group? Reteach with a different strategy? Buddy them up with a peer?
    Often times I recommend the teacher start just by tweaking the kid’s online experience to see if in fact the computer can bring the kid to mastery without further human teacher intervention.

    For the kids who did get it: Do I need them to go deeper, but do so on the computer? Or do I let them move on further down the online content syllabus?

    You are totally right that teachers are figuring this out before school, after school, on their preps, during PD time (if they’re lucky!) — and not likely in their teacher prep programs. One day!

  3. Hi Greg,

    Part of the challenge, and it is a BIG part, is that there is no standardization in the reports that the content providers provide. Has any work been done to come up with an “ideal standard report” that a teacher can use to base their decisions on? Assuming such a report existed, what would it look like? Has this been defined to any extent with any of the schools that you are working with?

  4. –> Suman

    For the schools I’m directly supporting, teachers are using existing reports from digital content providers, and at most, sending in their feedback to those organizations and companies. I’m not sure an ideal standard report is out there. The reports that teachers find most helpful help them answer the questions, such as: What have my students been mastering lately? Where have they been spending time lately but not showing mastery? What does their overall mastery look like for a longer period of time? Also, most of the pilot teachers here in Oakland are focusing still on just one main digital content provider at this point in time, so data integration across content providers has become less of a concern for now.

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