Teaching practice can improve if teachers are able to look at themselves and student data in an objective manner. In most education training programs, teachers are not taught to use data to design curriculum and analyze their instructional practices. They need training in both data management and analysis as well as in facilitating discussions about data. As professional developers, we can show teachers how to collect the appropriate data and evidence, analyze it for gaps in learning areas, find the patterns and themes that show over time, work with them to develop curriculum that meets those needs, and then help them modify their teaching.
Teacher research can be a valuable component of teachers' professional development. Professional developers can facilitate this research process:
- Help teachers focus on a problem on which they would like to reflect. It could be their teaching practice or a particular curriculum area.
- Collect data or evidence over a specified time period to help teachers examine their teaching practice. Evidence could be in the form of videos of classroom practice, samples of student work, or interviews with students and colleagues.
- Analyze the evidence or data by looking at themes or patterns. You could create a database to input evidence under specific labels.
- Record the teacher's findings from the evidence along with steps to take for improvement or an explanation of why something worked. This can allow them to use what they found to modify how they teach.
Patterns and Themes
Teachers collect data all the time, but it is our job as professional developers to help them understand how recurring patterns or themes can improve their teaching practice. Being able to analyze data patterns helps teachers justify the need for professional development and further an understanding of assessment. You can show them how to do this in a professional development session at the middle or end of the year.
- Create a chart similar to the one below, adding or deleting any categories.
- Demonstrate how to check for understandings by triangulating evidence to look for same themes or patterns in more than two types of data.
- Encourage teachers to try to be objective and nonjudgmental and to share their findings with other educators so they can bounce ideas off each other.
Data Collection Tools
Professional developers can create several instruments that teachers can use to look for evidence over a specific period, allowing them to become assessment literate. You can create:
- Disaggregated student data in a spreadsheet or chart
- A classroom observation tool using a form, checklist, or database
- An interview form to use with colleagues, students, and parents
- Teacher, parent, and student surveys
- A digital portfolio for each teacher to collect evidence
- Performance assessment tools that include examples of student products
- Threaded discussions, other online discussion tools, or databases for teachers to store or share reflections of what is working or not
Mary Herring of the Educational Technology Division of the University of Northern Iowa shared a data collection and analysis process they are using to assess the level of standards attainment by students. This process came about as a result of an application for national recognition using AECT/NCATE's Educational Communications and Information Technology standards. The division members developed rubrics for all assignments, then identified which standard each component addressed.
Spreadsheets track how students do on each component. Then they see where students are falling short of the target level and discuss with the division ways the curriculum or learning environment can be changed so students will attain the learning goals. Tying the findings to curriculum or environment change is the key.
Teachers sometimes believe they are reaching all of their students when, in a classroom observation, the mentor sees several students off-task. Teachers have used video as an observation tool, but it is a good idea to work with a mentor, coach, or another colleague to help reflect on the video. Mentors or coaches can use the Beginning Teacher Support and Assessment (BTSA) model when they work with teachers in their classrooms. New teachers are given support to examine, reflect on, and improve their teaching practice.
Iowa has adopted the No Child Left Behind effort's Teacher Quality Indicators as shown on the Iowa Department of Education's Teacher Quality Page. As for the guidelines for movement through the Iowa teacher levels, that state no longer uses class hours as the indicator of ladder movement for beginning teachers; it is now performance-based. Within the next few years, this approach is to be adopted for the rest of the teachers coming into the system. Below is a teacher observation tool that I use to help teachers look at their teaching practice.
Using Tools to Improve Teaching Practice
Successful schools are focusing on data-driven decisions and using more than tests, grades, and reporting of discrete numbers as indicators of success. Administrators participate in professional development in which they take an active role analyzing data with their teachers to define the focus of the student program. Yes, there are teachers afraid that the data will show they are not doing as well as they would like. This is where professional developers can facilitate the process so teachers use multiple sources of data to analyze without judgements or accusations whether what they are doing is working for their students.
Begin professional development before school starts in the fall, so teachers can take an in-depth look at student performance from the previous year, analyze how classroom management affected learning and their teaching practice, and work together to design new strategies. When schools have their teachers and administrators participate in shared decisions on designing strategies to meet student needs, collaborative learning communities result. Data-driven discussions are a collective process in which all stakeholders share their understanding of the current situation and use inquiry, experimentation, and reflection so teachers become active researchers committed to improving the way they teach. As teachers learn to link grades, scores, stories, evidence, and shared discussions, richer forms of professional learning emerge.
Working with Reluctant Teachers
Many teachers see technology as just one more thing on an already overloaded plate. In this piece, techlearning.com "IT Guy," columnist Wes Fryer, shares tips on simple ways staff developers can reduce resistance.
By Wesley A. Fryer
A staff developer recently told me: "Teachers in my school are very unsure about the effective use of technology. Last year, teachers were required to do at least three computer projects in a year. None of them did more than what they were required to do, and some of them were trying to get away with one...The teachers believe computer activities are just a waste of time, and students should focus on reading and math." This situation with reluctant teachers is not unique, but the good news is that there are ways you can help.
Enthusiasm Is Contagious. Focus on the few teachers in your building who are very enthused about using technology. Try to find ways to enable them to integrate technology use within their instruction. Technology integration is best when it works by modeling, rather than by administrative fiat. The best people to convince other teachers in your building (that using technology with kids is a good idea) are the other teachers in the building. For more on this topic, check out the video Keys to Technology Integration, available online at www.educ.ttu.edu/tla/videos/integration_keys.html.
Contact Others. Get in touch with others in your district working with teachers on technology integration. Get involved in a local chapter of your statewide educational technology organization and attend regional and statewide conferences. Pool resources and share ideas. Your situation is probably very common even within your district. Getting together with others who face similar circumstances and have similar desires for helping teachers grasp how technology integration is vital in today's classroom can be very beneficial.
Publicize Success. When teachers in your building have success using technology, find ways to publicize the success and champion that teacher and what they are doing. Talk with your principal about this strategy. Call in the district newsletter editorial staff, local newspapers, and television media contacts. Work with the district public relations people. The message needs to get out: kids respond when technology is used, and this has a positive impact on student achievement.
Leadership. Encourage your principal and superintendent to attend a technology leadership academy. In Texas, where I work, the Texas Association of School Administrators (www.tasanet.org) coordinates ours. Technology leadership at the campus and district level is vital. You can't do it alone, and an academy provides a great chance for administrators to learn from each other and experts in the field about the nuts-and-bolts of technology integration.
Read Books. For example, read David Warlick's Raw Materials for the Mind. He's a great teacher and practical thinker on instructional technology integration issues like the ones you are facing. I highly recommend his Web site, Landmarks for Schools (www.landmark-project.com), and the ideas he espouses there.
Read Magazines. OK, it's no secret that I like Technology & Learning. I'd also recommend TechEdge (www.tcea.org/Publications/TechEdge.asp), produced by the Texas Computer Education Association and Learning and Leading with Technology from ISTE (www.iste.org).
Literacy Framework. Read and get familiar with the Engauge literacy framework (www.ncrel.org/engauge), and share it with others on your campus and in your district. Engauge is a great tool for looking at the importance of 21st-century literacy skills and what we must be doing as classroom teachers to prepare students for their future.
Philosophy. Take a look at the philosophy that districts like Lewisville Independent School District in Flowermound, Texas (www.educ.ttu.edu/tla/videos/lewisville.html) have adapted in order to get both teachers and administrators excited about technology integration. There's a recipe and philosophy here that is transferable to other situations, although every district and campus has unique situations and a particular culture.
Wesley A. Fryer is director of instructional support services for the College of Education at Texas Tech University.