I recently went to a training with the High Schools That Work team from my school. High Schools That work is a school improvement initiative out of the Southern Regional Education Board and therefore not very well known out here on the West Coast. The HSTW initiative is set around ten key practices. The more I have been operating outside my own classroom walls and in the world of professional development the more I am convinced that there are some proven methods for good teaching and strong learning, how to do it, and what the results will be. We just keep re-packaging it and saying it differently. This is one of those packages, but it’s a really great package. The ten key practices are sound, proven practices that are long lasting and work. On this occasion we were talking about engagement frameworks and I was thinking about how these frameworks could help us to reach two of the ten key practices in particular. The first was high expectations which HSTW defines as working to ” motivate more students to meet higher standards by integrating high expectations into classroom practices and providing frequent feedback”. I was also thinking about the practice of having a culture of continuous improvement or, in other words, using”data continually to improve school culture, organization, management, curriculum and instruction to advance student learning”.
The reason these two practices were on my mind was because we were learning about an engagement strategy called iterative cycles and formative assessments. (The attached pdf about the frameworks were made and used at the training by Billie Donegan.) Basically an iterative cycle is a unit or plan of study where the teacher stops and offers feedback and assessment many times before the culmination of the unit or topic. It occurred to me that both of these key practices have to do with data and feedback. Our facilitator, Billie Donegan, is an educational consultant, teacher coach, and author. She phrased the use of culminative data in a way that stood out to me. The strength in this engagement framework is that it offers real-time feedback to students and teachers so that adjustments can be made mid-stream and feedback and assessment will be meaningful for students and impact the outcome of their overall learning. What Billie said that really made sense to me was that cumulative data is “dead” data. If we only collect data when we are done with a skill or concept, unit or even school year, it’s dead. She called it an autopsy report. For some reason I was suddenly struck with a clear understanding of how useless that kind of data is for the student, just like an autopsy report is pretty useless for the deceased. We can use the data. As researchers we can do something else with the patients still alive, we can plan for the students we will have next year, but for those who it is over for, it truly is too late. By solving this dead data problem we would be explicitly meeting two of the ten key practices; high expectations, and culture of continuous improvement as well as including our students in their growth. We are providing what I have decided to call live feedback. As much as dead data is not useful for students live feedback is essential to the students survival.
I also began to realize that the Common Core State Standards and Literacy Design Collaborative have helped me to provide live feedback. I use the Literacy Design Collaborative framework in my classroom. It is a framework for assessment using writing tasks designed to meet the CCSS. The framework itself isn’t what solves the dead data problem. The key to this particular issue is the rubric. I use the same rubric for six of my assessments and many more mini-tasks and formative assessments in my social studies classroom. This means the kids are constantly getting feedback on the same skills and standards throughout the entire school year. I can see how this could work using any CCSS grading. I can move on in my units and because the assessments are evaluated on the same skills feedback from the last unit is not dead to my students. They can all set goals based on what they did last time and then they can show growth. The data is never dead when it is feedback and not statistical nonsense and therefore I can have high expectations for all my students and insist they all meet them. This live feedback stays pertinent and useful and we are all on a path of continuous improvement for teachers AND students. That’s how it becomes a true culture for our entire school. The CCSS when adopted across the curriculum and throughout the grade bands will help make feedback in whatever form it takes, even if it looks like data, applicable and alive, even from year to year for the students and teachers. When other teachers in my building are using the same rubrics based on CCSS and LDC then it really becomes alive. For each student that feedback grows exponentially. Students are able to say, I scored poorly on my science assessment in the reading/research category, I should ask for extra help with that category when I begin my LDC assessment in art. This new realization has really inspired me to make sure I am offering and using live feedback instead of the statistical nonsense of dead data as much as possible. I believe even more now that the more teachers can align ourselves with the standards and use quality feedback to hold students to high expectations, and create a culture of continuous improvement the less we will hear the ECG machine flatline when we look at our students results.