Data cycles-- sounds kind of scary, huh? I can vividly remember my second-year teacher self sitting in a professional development session. “Data, Data, Data” they said, naively thinking we’d be discussing data from the previous year’s state tests. In that session, I quickly learned the importance of studying student work and data to help me tailor my instruction to close my students’ targeted learning gaps and help me understand the gaps that I had in truly understanding my students. At that time, I realized I was not providing an equitable education to all students. As we all know, cycles are continuous; “you do, you redo” and when you find that secret sauce you then get into the cycle of “rinse and repeat.” Before learning about data cycles, I thought my instruction was equitable (fair and inclusive). I studied the given curriculum which promised to meet all students’ needs. I loved my students very much and I allowed for just enough “productive struggle” to encourage critical thinking skills in my students. As I reflected, I realized the false positive I was living. I never took into account the importance of studying my students’ work and creating a cycle that was consistent and sustainable to guide my instruction and improve my daily practice. I left the PD that day empowered, ready to study my students’ work, after realizing I had failed to identify their strengths in, and misconceptions of, the content because I had been teaching the curriculum without knowledge of their diverse understandings and levels of knowledge.
The most sustainable data cycle I created included:
- teaching a lesson,
- studying students’ work after the lesson,
- examining future lessons to plan for misconceptions, and,
- using the data to create checks for understanding and small group planning for groups of students.
I would repeat this cycle daily and within a few weeks, I got so good that I could study student work in the moment. This allowed me to use real-time data to close conceptual gaps and misunderstandings. This data analysis skill enabled me to pivot my discourse based on trends I saw in the class for a fair and inclusive learning experience.
You don’t need to be a math wiz or a project manager to understand a data cycle. When you understand the data, you as the educator have the ability to empower yourself and your students! This deeper knowledge of learning paths by both teachers and students results in students having the ability to own their own learning and understand the gaps they need to fill to achieve mastery of their own self-created learning goals. These data cycles lead to student-centered and equitable classrooms where you as the educator can now guide learning progress with subgroups of students you may have historically been unsuccessful in teaching.
There are many existing tech tools that will support you in becoming data-literate and creating a student-centered classroom. Quizizz is a free tech tool I used in my classroom to make data cycles more sustainable and consistent. It uses artificial intelligence to diagnose individual student’s learning gaps and trends in the class to create learning goals based on gaps. Quizizz allows the teacher to conduct student-paced formative assessments in a fun and engaging way for all students (made for grades 3-12). Quizizz also generates reports for you after every assessment, allowing you to download the reports as an Excel spreadsheet or upload them to Google Classroom to support messaging to all constituents. The ability to sync to Google Classroom may just be my favorite feature! Based on my experience in the classroom and now as a coach, it is important to incorporate the latest technology and innovative approaches in your data cycle. This ensures all constituents are engaged in the cycle and are effective in moving students’ understanding-- all important elements in creating an equitable classroom.
If you’re someone who is not ready for an edtech tool and want to first focus on tracking your students’ data with pen and paper, do it! The most important step is to know the importance of studying students’ work to push students academically through strategic coaching and goal setting in the data cycle. This focus will increase student agency for the simple reason that you are taking time to engage in goal setting with and for students. As a reminder, it is key to have a reflection routine where you reflect on data in order to make adjustments and respond to students’ needs.
All this means is that you share the data with students to empower them in setting goals for their own learning. This is where you will increase the level of student-centered instruction and equity in your classroom.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and reflections on data cycles and any other tech tools you may use to support data cycles. Connect with me via Twitter: @CarolynHanser or email: CarolynHanser@LincLearning.com.
**Other resources to learn more about data cycles:
- Learning for Action Newsletter
- 3 Ways Data Can Inform Your Teaching - Edutopia
- How Teachers Use Student Data to Improve Instruction - Resilient Educator
- Sown to Grown: Tap into the Power of Goal-Setting and Reflection - Cult of Pedagogy
- Three Ways to Put Assessment Data to Work in the classroom - NWEA