Teachers struggle to find time to use data, study says

Most teachers rely on data to personalize learning and understand student performance–and parents overwhelmingly support its use, according to a poll from the Data Quality Campaign.

The poll, which is DQC’s third parent poll and first teacher poll, finds that 95 percent of teachers use academic and nonacademic data, such as attendance and classroom behavior, to understand student performance. Eighty-nine percent say they depend on data to help them personalize learning for students’ unique needs.

More than 8 in 10 teachers say they value the different ways data can help them become more effective teachers, such as using it to identify learning goals, knowing what concepts students learn, and planning and enhancing instruction reflective of the results.

Though “data” is an often misunderstood word that can send parents into a frenzy over privacy concerns, more parents know how essential it is–93 percent of parents in the poll say they value data and realize they need it to understand their child’s academic progress and support learning.

Parents–especially younger parents–also want more information around their child’s social and emotional learning to ensure they’re developing skills such as empathy and collaboration.

Social and emotional learning is increasingly important with teachers, too–96 percent teachers say they value data on students’ social emotional learning as an important measure of their development and growth.

Eighty-six percent of teachers say their colleagues are somewhat or very open to using data to inform teaching.

Teachers say they use data in a number of ways:

  • To communicate with parents about a child’s progress in school (74 percent)
  • To reflect on and improve teaching practice (67 percent)
  • To communicate with students about their strengths and learning needs (62 percent)
  • To collaborate with teachers to support student learning (61 percent)
  • To identify students who are ready for more advanced coursework (55 percent)

“Data is a key conversation starter for parents and teachers to collaborate and reinforce each other’s work to support students, but this can only happen if we ensure they have the time and support they need to use it effectively,” says Jennifer Bell-Ellwanger, president and CEO of the Data Quality Campaign (DQC). “States can and should continue their efforts to create a culture of data use that puts students at the center.”

While the desire for more data is clear, teachers say time is their biggest obstacle, and it prevents them from using it to support student learning–57 percent say there isn’t enough time during the school day to access and use it.

Thirty-four percent of teachers say they feel there is too much data for them to use it effectively, and 26 percent say it is not accessible in a timely manner.

State report cards are good tools to reference to see if states are meeting performance goals, but more than 42 percent of polled parents say they have not looked at a school or district report card in the past year. Of those parents, 40 percent were unaware these report cards exist.


5 ways to optimize learning spaces for student success

As we address the challenges of a highly competitive world, we must enable students to learn and generate new ideas by moving away from the “old school” classroom. The good news is that architects and interior solutions providers are embracing ways help transform our schools.

Here are five important aspects to consider.

1. Collaboration is now a given
At its most basic, collaboration is shared communication. It’s talking in small groups. It’s brainstorming ideas together. But in a traditional classroom setup, our students sit in forward-facing rows waiting to receive instructions and then do heads-down tasks.

Teachers no longer need to lose students’ attention or precious classroom time in transitioning set-ups for collaborative work. Options like adjustable-height tables and mobile desks that can be quickly reconfigured for the task or project at hand have solved those problems.

And keep in mind that collaboration is being heartily embraced in the workplace, so we must teach our children how to operate in that kind of environment early on. How to work in small pods. When to talk and when not to. How to receive feedback and turn it into a collaborative idea or solution.


Here’s a great way to get to know your students

I am always looking for new ways to get to know my students. Over the past two decades, I have attempted dozens of different types of icebreakers in my classes; some were successful and others were a total failure.

When I started teaching in smaller towns, I noticed that many high school and middle school teachers skipped icebreakers because they assumed the students already knew each other. I would argue that it’s always a good time to do an icebreaker with your students.

Here are some of the best times to do icebreakers:

  • At the beginning of the year to introduce yourself and any students who are new to the district. (Even if the students have been together since kindergarten, do they really know everything there is to know about each other?)
  • A few weeks into the school year to help the students feel more comfortable working in groups
  • After school vacation weeks for a smooth transition back
  • Any time there is a change in classroom dynamics (introducing a new student, a student teacher, or even when a student moves out of the district)

4 examples of engaging vision-impaired students in STEM

STEM learning is a cornerstone of education in today’s K-12 schools, but STEM classrooms often aren’t all that inspiring to students who are blind or have low vision.

So much of science is based on sight and observations, and when students who have vision challenges are forced to stand off to the side and listen to classmates’ observations about experiments or data, they lose some of the excitement that goes along with scientific discovery.

But students who are blind or have low vision don’t have to miss out on STEM’s engaging aspects. Science companies are creating tools that accommodate different needs, and some groups have created science experienced geared toward students with vision challenges.

Here are a few different ways simple modifications or accessibility modifications are making STEM more inclusive in classrooms.

1. The University of Arizona Sky School connects K-12 students with authentic science experiences. Through UA’s Project POEM, funded by the National Science Foundation, visually impaired middle and high school students are able to have engaging STEM experiences and explore STEM career possibilities. 


How controversial topics inspire deeper learning

As a former social studies educator and current learning specialist, my idea of nirvana is to help grow students who can examine issues from multiple perspectives. Getting them to practice that, however, can be a harrowing experience, particularly when the issues up for discussion are controversial. At Horry County (SC) Schools, we have a diverse student population that is approximately two-thirds white, 20 percent black, and 10 percent Hispanic, and yet we have found a process that combines cooperative learning with a technological tool to help to deepen thinking about topics as sensitive as racism and segregation—and get students looking at issues through multiple perspectives.

Eight years ago, our district began training teachers in cooperative learning as a strategy to maximize student engagement. At the center of cooperative learning is a framework developed by Spencer Kagan called PIES. PIES stands for:

  • Positive interdependence: everyone in the group depends on each other for a positive outcome
  • Individual accountability: each student is accountable and cannot hide from the learning
  • Equal participation: everyone must participate somewhat close to equally
  • Simultaneous interaction: the number of students interacting at any one moment in time is increased

Cooperative learning training also embeds methods to develop social skills. Part of what we are teaching kids is to be kind to each other, to be empathetic, and to employ positive social behaviors and language.

Our teachers love the training. When we conduct professional development (PD), we rarely have a teacher who doesn’t give the trainer the highest marks. There are even some who say, “This really saved my career, because I was burned out.”

Group work vs. cooperative learning
When I was still in the classroom, I called lots of activities “group work,” but some students hid from the learning while others carried the group, and that is not true of cooperative learning.

One of the tools we have found to ensure we are practicing cooperative learning is Verso. It’s a structured online discussion platform that fosters positive interdependence while encouraging students to grow in their own thinking because they can read and respond to the thinking of others anonymously. The platform provides individual accountability because everyone is asked to frame a response to a provocation. Not allowing students to see others’ responses before they contribute assures equal participation along with simultaneous interaction. In short, the platform has PIES.

In the years since we adopted cooperative learning, I’ve never seen students who don’t want to read what their peers say, and the anonymous nature of comments in the platform helps to facilitate that eagerness by making students feel safe enough to say what they really think.


7 apps that could cause harm to our students

No one can dispute the importance of technology in today’s homes and classrooms. Seeing a child with a mobile device is nothing new, and many parents conversations today focus on when, and not if, to give a child a smartphone.

But with technology comes responsibility, and many ed-tech stakeholders know how important it is to teach students not just about digital citizenship, but of being aware of their digital footprint and staying responsible and safe online.

Anonymous messaging apps, random video chats, and apps that lock or hide other apps–they’re all a cause for concern.

In recent years, headlines have been filled with reports of children who have been stalked by peers, who have had inappropriate contact with strangers, or who have been relentlessly bullied–some to the point that they take their own lives.

Despite parents’ and educators’ best efforts, children don’t always have great judgment. We’ve compiled a list of apps adults might want to keep on their radar. These apps are representative of other apps that work the same, so it’s important to be aware of potentially harmful apps that might circulate through schools and groups of friends. And remember–apps can change their names or icons, and one harmful app can be replaced by another of the same genre. Vigilance and education are key.


Survey: Teens have doubled their social media use

Teenagers’ social media use has doubled in recent years, from 34 percent who reported using social media multiple times a day in 2012 to 70 percent reporting the same today, according to research from Common Sense.

Sixteen percent of surveyed teenagers say they use social media almost constantly, and 38 percent say they use it multiple times an hour.

In responses that will surprise no adults who have attempted to converse with teenagers, most teens say they prefer to text instead of talking face-to-face–35 percent of teens say texting is their preferred way to communicate with friends, followed by in-person communication (32 percent).

In 2012, that dynamic was markedly different–49 percent of teens said they preferred in-person communications, compared to 33 percent who preferred texting friends.


The New Librarian: Implementing a district-wide Library Learning Commons initiative

A few years ago, while working as a teacher librarian at Templeton Elementary School in Oregon, I had the opportunity to redesign the school’s library website to include digital resources for the students to use as part of a shift to 1:1 iPad learning.

Three years later, I’m replicating this model for the entire district, building a Library Learning Commons where all students have digital access to curated, shared resources in conjunction with full-scale 1:1 learning. The result of our Library Learning Commons initiative will include a seamless integration of shared digital resources that are pre-approved and pushed out every iPad, making it easy for students to read, research, collaborate, and own their learning experience.

As a district librarian media specialist, I work with more than 13,000 K-12 students, and building a digital library that can meet the needs of this many learners can seem intimidating. On top of that, I have to ensure that content is age-appropriate, platforms are vetted, and that the resources are able to be used in inclusive classrooms. I also have to make sure that my students are responding well to any new edtech product, and that the tools I curate are authentically enhancing learning.

Throughout this process, there are several platforms that have been able to meet multiple needs, most notably Epic!, a digital-media platform that provides K-6 students with unlimited access to more than 25,000 high-quality and curated books and video content through partnerships with trusted content partners like Encyclopedia Britannica, HarperCollins, and National Geographic.

While each district’s needs and access to technology can vary, here are four main steps I recommend for effectively implementing a district-wide Library Learning Commons project.

1. Identify the content needs of the district.
Weed out outdated titles and update your district’s Library Learning Commons website with electronic resources and reference materials that cover the topic areas your teachers identify. Survey your teachers to see which research projects they assign throughout the year and familiarize yourself with your school’s curriculum. Include resources that align with these topics and with district wide initiatives such as STEM instruction.

Epic! has been incredibly valuable for this purpose because of its variety of age-appropriate content including, picture books, chapter books, graphic novels, non-fiction titles covering thousands of topics, “read to me” books, learning videos, quizzes, and more.


Defining high-quality project-based learning

A growing number of educators around the world believe that project-based learning (PBL) is an important instructional approach that allows students to master academic skills and content knowledge, develop skills necessary for future success, and build the personal agency needed to tackle life’s and the world’s challenges.

Many districts are either already using PBL or are on the verge of using this approach in classrooms. Educators can find a wealth of resources on how to plan for and get started with PBL, but until recently, there were far fewer resources on what the outcome of high-quality student experiences ought to look like. As we move toward more student-centered approaches, we needed a framework that is just that—centered on the students.

Therefore, a new Framework for High-Quality Project-Based Learning (HQPBL) was developed to help teachers better prepare young people to contribute in the innovation economy. The Framework was developed by more than 100 educators from around the world who already use PBL.

HQPBL student success stories
Students who are already having high-quality PBL experiences highlight what is possible and how we can better improve our own instructional practices.

Albemarle County (VA) Public Schools (ACPS)
Most projects in ACPS are tied to the local area, a region of the country rich with history and culture, and invite students to explore their own community. From elementary students investigating attractions and writing to the Mayor to high school students considering what makes memorials important to society, there is no lack of authenticity and collaboration. Students work on projects tied to a real cause or community issue, and they also solicit community feedback, advice, and expertise to improve their public products. Throughout all of the HQPBL experiences in ACPS, there is real attention to helping students learn how to manage their work on their own, reflect on what they have learned, and keep track of their own progress.


5 key priorities for today’s superintendents

Today’s superintendents are faced with a plethora of challenges, chief among them how to foster engaged citizenship among students and how to support students who are academically underprepared or battling poverty.

The vast majority of superintendents surveyed in Gallup’s 2018 Survey of K-12 School District Superintendents say they are excited about the future of their school district (86 percent), while just around half that (42 percent) say they are excited about the future of U.S. education overall.

The survey shows double-digit increases in the percentage of superintendents who say better preparing students for higher education, strengthening academic rigor, and combating the effects of poverty on student learning will be challenges for their district.

1. Engaged citizenship

The biggest change from last year’s survey is a spike in district leaders who agree that preparing students for engaged citizenship will be a challenge–74 percent this year, compared to 50 percent last year.

“To some degree, this may be an acknowledgment of the increasingly contentious and polarized political environment in the U.S.,” according to the report. “It could also be a reaction to the prominent student activism on gun violence that occurred after the Parkland, Florida, school shooting earlier this year.”