22 April 2017

Magic in the Middle

Long ago and far away, when I was doing some work about science notebooks in elementary classrooms, there was always a reminder that the prompts used in primary grades (especially kindergarten and first) had to be very targeted and high quality. Yes, this should be true for all grades, but for little ones, there is only so much attention they have for completing a writing task. You have to be extra intentional about making the most of those opportunities.

I've been reminded of this recently while reading through some research and other resources on student-involved data use (SIDU). "SIDU is a process in which teachers facilitate student use of their own data to set goals, monitor progress toward those goals and engage in reflection to inform learning" (Jimerson, 2016). It typically includes data binders for students, data walls, data chats, or some other quasi-public display of data.

The concept of having students track their own data isn't new---and it isn't a bad idea. Transforming the raw numbers of grades into something more visual supports the creation of meaning. But my big question goes back to the idea at the beginning of this post: With limited resources in time and attention (for any grade level), is having students draw their own charts the best place to spend those?

Let's say I have 15 minutes a week to devote to SIDU in my classroom. Unless my goal is to teach students how to communicate effectively using charts and work on their data viz techniques, I don't think having kids make charts is going to make much of a difference in their learning. I do think that providing the charts with a couple of targeted questions and asking students to reflect on those could be where the magic happens. I also think that teacher time is valuable. Just like figuring out the focus area for a young writer, determining which pieces of data are most powerful to share is a critical step.

As I learn more about SIDU, I wonder if the definitions I see throughout the research are too rigid. How do readers workshop or writers workshop connect? What about social-emotional learning, "soft" skills, or other non-academic goals? Is there a place for those as SIDU? Qualitative data, too? If so, what does this look like?

Or, even more importantly, how do we help students identify their own problems of practice, then plan and monitor changes?

I'd like to support some action research around this in my district next year. I'm not sure what it would look like just yet, especially since nearly all of the examples I'm reading about involve kids making their own charts. I'm not opposed to a project with that, but I'd like to find the sweet spot in all of this...the "high-leverage" place where the magic happens for students creating their own meaning out of the information we have about them.

Have you tried this in your own classroom or school? What did you learn?

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