Here’s how we made data usable for our teachers

In today’s digital classroom, teachers have access to more data than ever. With a few clicks, we can view detailed reports on student test scores, formative assessments, progress reports from self-paced software, attendance, and so much more. At times, the amount of data can feel overwhelming, especially when each data point only exists as an isolated channel, unrelated to the next.

I am not saying that multiple data measures are a bad thing; in fact, they can help us to differentiate instruction, personalize learning, and really meet each of our students where they are academically. As administrators, it is critical that we help our teachers collect the most meaningful data points by giving them the tools they need to quickly interpret figures to make informed decisions in their classroom.

In my district, Moreno Valley Unified School District (MVUSD) in California, our data showed that our students were really struggling in math. Our state test scores were low and, with the changing rigor of Common Core, parents were coming to me concerned that they were not able to help their child with assignments. I knew we had to do something outside the box—and quickly—to catch our struggling students and prevent them from falling further behind.

Step 1: Finding the right data
We knew that MVUSD’s math scores were low on the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP). For our students that were not meeting proficiency, the score alone did not show a clear picture of the specific skills they needed to master to catch back up to grade level. Our teachers needed a tool to pinpoint skill gaps for individual students so we could be more targeted in our interventions.

After much research, it was clear that we would benefit from administering benchmark assessments. Unlike traditional summative assessments like the CAASPP that simply determine content mastery, a good interim assessment allows educators to get a snapshot of what an individual student knows, is able to do, and is ready to learn next.

While there are many assessment options, we chose NWEA MAP Growth because it had the most research behind it. Our students take a computer-adaptive assessment a few times each year that adjusts to each student’s responses. Teachers get detailed reports that identify individual student needs and show projected proficiency through the school year and over multiple years. Administrators get higher-level reports that make it simple to do a temper-check several times throughout the year (instead of just at the end of the school year) and measure longitudinal growth.


8 classroom grants for STEM and literacy

School leaders consistently identify high costs and shrinking budgets as a top barrier to implementing new technology tools and programs.

Budget challenges won’t improve right away, but school districts can boost their available funds with grants that are targeted to different areas of need.

Want to support innovative educactors and focus on STEM development? Do you need to target reading and literacy for younger students? Or maybe you want to extend opportunities for conservation.

Look no further. We’ve got grant opportunities to meet different levels of funding needs.

1. The 2018 Innovative Educator Prize: The Foundation for Blended and Online Learning has opened the application window for the 2018 Innovative Educator Prize. The program identifies and supports school and classroom leaders developing practices or programs to overcome achievement gaps, drive engagement, and personalize learning for their students. One-time grants of up to $10,000 will be awarded to winning proposals. Awarded projects will be documented and their results and experience will be shared with education leaders working to scale new opportunities for schools and students. Deadline: May 31, 2018


Putting the SEL into PBL

In project-based learning (PBL), teachers present students with a real-world problem and challenge them to solve the problem through research and inquiry, often collaborating with each another and producing a final product that encompasses everything they have learned. The project relates back to the standards and learning objectives teachers are covering, but in a more tangible way. Often, PBL will naturally integrate objectives from a variety of subjects within the same project.

The Buck Institute for Education outlines seven essential components for project-based learning:

  1. a strong student activator
  2. a driving question
  3. opportunities for student voice and choice
  4. 21st-century skills
  5. time for inquiry and innovation
  6. feedback and revision
  7. a publicly presented final product.

Learn more about these seven essentials here.

The benefits of PBL

PBL not only makes instruction more meaningful for students; it helps them develop the skills they will need to be successful in their post-secondary lives and careers. Here are four benefits of PBL:

1. Opportunities for differentiation
One of the seven essential elements is student voice and choice, which naturally leads to more differentiation. Students can choose the topic they want to focus on within the main driving questions, which resources they want to use, and which type of product/output they’d like to develop. Additionally, they will spend much of their time doing independent research or group inquiry. This setup gives the teacher the time and space to meet with individual students and small groups to provide more specialized instruction.


It’s time to develop an anti-cyberbullying policy; here’s how

As technology continues to permeate our lives inside and outside the classroom, educators, administrators, and students should work together to prevent the development of a cyberbullying culture. Research indicates that cyberbullying is detrimental to students and, in some cases, has been proven to be the cause of self-harm and suicide. Educators and parents need to find ways to actively engage our students and make sure they feel safe in their school community.

The current cyberbullying research indicates that cyberbullying is a huge concern for schools—even more so than traditional bullying. Anti-cyberbullying strategies must be consistent and implemented in a school-wide policy that is clearly and efficiently communicated to all stakeholders (parents, students, teachers, administrators, etc.).

The research also shows that strategies are more effective when students play an active role in determining policy. Students should be engaged in leadership training to help them articulate their feelings about this issue and learn how to engage key stakeholders on the importance of student-related challenges.

Much like the evolution of the online and social media worlds, the world of anti-cyberbullying legislation has evolved very quickly in the past few years. Since the mid-2000s, many school districts and states have moved forward with legislation to protect students from harmful online activities. Ultimately, the courts have stipulated that legal emphasis must be placed on not only where the cyberbullying incident takes place but also on “the technology used to carry out the cyberbullying—that is, school-owned equipment or personal resources.” Because of these stipulations, legal ramifications of cyberbullying can be difficult to ascertain and not necessarily helpful in solving the problems that appear in our classrooms.


Do you make these common classroom-management mistakes?

The dunce cap, a ruler on the knuckles, kneeling on rice: Modern teachers wouldn’t think of using these methods to correct students’ behavior. But for all the progress that schools have made in understanding and implementing effective discipline, teachers can still fall into bad habits that sabotage their own efforts to stay in command. In his recent edWebinar “Classroom Management Mistakes That Undermine Your Authority,” Shannon Holden, assistant principal at Republic Middle School in Missouri, explained the importance of establishing the teacher’s control from the first day of school and the common mistakes educators make when trying to maintain a productive educational environment.

1. Not having a seating chart on day one: This is the teacher’s opportunity to exercise authority from the beginning while also learning students’ names and the dynamics of the room.

2. Not having a discipline plan on day one: Similarly, teachers need to immediately show students that misbehavior won’t be tolerated and how poor choices will be treated. Except for severe cases that require a heightened response, all cases should follow the same hierarchy. For instance, a first offense might be a verbal warning, while a second offense would be a student-teacher conference. Every discipline plan should have a severe behavior clause for extenuating circumstances.

3. Listing unacceptable consequences: Discipline should be commensurate with the behavior and should not belittle or ridicule the student.

4. Getting creative with consequences: When teachers stray outside of typical discipline, one parent can easily protest and discredit the teacher. Teachers need to have the parents on their side, so the measures need to be something parents can understand and support.


7 tips to better define personalized learning

Personalized learning is a pretty well-known term, but educators have different definitions for personalized learning, making for a sometimes-confusing approach to its implementation.

Now, a new report seeks to apply a common definition to personalized learning and outline best practices for educators to advocate for the practice in their districts.

The report comes from Education Elements and the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and it defines personalized learning as “tailoring learning for each student’s strengths, needs, and interests—including enabling student voice and choice in what, how, when, and where they learn—to provide flexibility and supports to ensure mastery of the highest standards possible.”

According to the report, the four core elements of personalized learning include:

  • Flexible content and tools: Instructional materials allow for differentiated path, pace, and performance tasks
  • Targeted instruction: Instruction aligns to specific student needs and learning goals
  • Student reflection and ownership: Ongoing student reflection promotes ownership of learning
  • Data driven decisions: Frequent data collection informs instructional decisions and groupings

8 informal assessments to pinpoint what your students need

The great thing about informal assessments is they help us gauge students’ understanding during the learning process instead of after. Informal assessment also changes teachers’ relationship to student learning.

Through informal assessment, a teacher becomes a guide throughout the learning process, rather than the judge of the student’s final product. While committing to formative—or informal—assessment school-wide can be a game-changer for your learners, it’s also important to understand that regularly checking in with student learning can dramatically improve outcomes.

Teachers are already stretched when it comes to classroom management and covering all the required content. To make it easier for them, look for informal assessment practices that fit into the life of the classroom and result in data that’s easy for teachers to track and follow through on.

Here are eight everyday informal assessment practices to get you started.

1. Exit slips
Get kids in the habit of knowing they will be expected to fill out exit slips that follow the same format every time. This helps students know what they need to be thinking about as they are learning. Here are sample questions you can ask:

  • 3 things I learned today
  • 2 things I found interesting
  • 1 question I still have

2. Kahoot!
Kahoot! is a platform where teachers create quizzes, discussions, and surveys. Kahoot! is displayed via a TV or projector, and students enter the game pin to play from their mobile phone or other device. One of the best features is that it collates data for teachers in a downloadable spreadsheet, where they can see if students are struggling with anything in particular.

3. Backchannel chat
A backchannel is a digital conversation that happens at the same time as a face-to-face activity, where students can share their thinking about the topic or assignment. This app gives students and teachers a place to store back-channel conversation information that can be used to see how students feel about their learning. This kind of formative assessment gives teachers insight into which students might be thinking, “I’m not sure I understand this” or “What does this have to do with what we are learning?”


3 ways our district avoids data overload

Schools give many tests throughout the year to identify students’ skills and gaps in their learning, including universal screening, diagnostic, formative, interim, and summative assessments. These tests generate a huge amount of data meant to guide instruction—but all of this information can be overwhelming if teachers don’t have an easy way to process it.

There is such a thing as having too much data. If teachers have to sort through an abundance of data to figure out what their students need, and if they don’t know which data points they should focus on to achieve the greatest impact on learning, then they won’t use data to inform their instruction—and the money invested in data analysis and reporting tools will have been largely wasted.

That used to be our experience in California’s Buena Park School District, which serves nearly 5,000 students in grades K-8. We had a great data tool, but teachers weren’t using it. After making a few simple changes, however, we saw our teachers’ use of data begin to skyrocket.

Here are three key takeaways from our experience.

1. Collect student data in one simple place.
Our district uses Illuminate Data and Assessment (DnA) to help teachers make better decisions that lead to student achievement gains. With this software, we’re able to collect student data from many different sources and assessments and present it through a single dashboard. Teachers don’t have to go hunting for information in separate software systems. Everything they need to inform their instruction is in one place, saving valuable time.

2. Make the information easy to read and understand.
Our data system allows users to view more than 20 standard reports, and we can create custom reports as well. Each report is intended to drive conversation—not just present information. For instance, the reports contain simple graphs and charts as well as a brief written summary that explains what the report shows and the questions it answers. Teachers aren’t data scientists, and we’ve found that our teachers appreciate having these concise summaries to help them digest the information.


The New Librarian: How I use tech to build relationships

My role as a librarian at George Washington Carver Elementary in Maryland, a Title I school, started five years ago. I have watched the title “librarian” and the meaning of the word “library” change entirely over the past few years, with the role of teacher librarian melding into something that simply cannot be replaced in a learning environment. For me, it’s important to provide students with the opportunity to practice problem-solving skills to develop the self-confidence they need for a bright future.

I can’t make that happen without the help of others. With our eyes always set on the future, the library staff and I have created a learning commons that continues to evolve. To make sure we’re prepared for what lies ahead, we keep a close eye on our space and students by doing the following:

● Providing consistent structure and hands-on, engaging expectations for students each year
● Collaborating with instructional specialists and team members
● Building our makerspace and computer science program
● Writing grants to raise money to continuously upgrade the library
● Serving as curators of quality technology and other resources

When I went to library school, I never thought about the library as the place to grow relationships, harbor creativity, and inspire empathy and critical-thinking skills. I looked at it as a way to put great books in students’ hands and help teachers out when they needed it. People may not realize that libraries can facilitate global connections. There is power in libraries, and here are a few of my best practices to help make yours powerful, too.

1. Success in my library is based on relationships.
Take the time to implement the tools that work for students and get rid of the ones that don’t. Use technology to create an environment that engages students in a purposeful manner. Our makerspace and creative problem-solving programs have increased our students’ communication skills and self confidence.


5 TED-Ed Lessons to help you teach critical-thinking skills

We all know that critical thinking is a very important skill, but how do you teach students to go beyond the obvious response and use reason?

In a new study from MindEdge Learning, more than half of the college students and recent graduates said they were very confident in their critical-thinking skills; however, 52 percent of them could not pass a basic, nine-question test of their digital literacy and critical-thinking skills. Perhaps more troubling, the amount of respondents who answered eight or nine questions correctly dropped from 24 percent last year to 19 percent this year.

For teachers looking for new ways to improve critical-thinking skills, here are the five most-popular TED-Ed Lessons on the topic.

1. 5 tips to improve your critical thinking
Every day, a sea of decisions stretches before us, and it’s impossible to make a perfect choice every time. But there are many ways to improve our chances—and one particularly effective technique is critical thinking. Samantha Agoos describes a five-step process that may help you with any number of problems.