Uncovering Student Stories

Data + Team = PLC

When you hear the words “Data Teams”, what comes to mind?  As teachers, many of us have a negative connotation because we think it is a negative reflection about our teaching and practices.  This can leave us unmotivated to actively participate in data teams and dreading the meetings.  Mindsets about data teams are changing as data teams evolve and shift to focus on how data should help us discover strategies and behaviors students need to grow as readers, writers, and flexible math thinkers.   

Actually, data teams are a time for educators to communicate and collaborate in authentic and meaningful ways on best practices. Data Teams provide an opportunity to uncover the stories of our learners and the time to dig deeper by using multiple data points.  With our goals in mind, we can use students’ strengths to bridge the gaps in their learning.  Data teams give professionals the time to think about how to use the framework to support diverse learners and reflect on instruction. Data teams are a professional learning community within the school to support, motivate and push each other’s thinking.  

Opportunities for collaborative discussion help us develop a set of common beliefs focused on learning so that we’re more open and willing to see the purposeful and intentional moves made within effective data teams. Not only do we need to embrace our beliefs but we need to understand the theory behind those beliefs. In the book titled Assessment in Perspective: Focusing on the Reader Behind the Numbers authors Clare Landrigan and Tammy Mulligan share their beliefs on teaching and learning:

  1. Assessment is more than a number.  “Assessment should not be about defining a reader but about piecing together information to help us design classroom experiences so we can observe our readers learning and understand what each one needs.” (Landrigan & Mulligan 9)
  1. Assessment and instruction are inseparable. If, as teachers, we want our instruction to be purposeful and intentional then it needs to stay grounded in assessment.  Assessment allows us to meet the different needs of our learners. When we instruct, we observe and watch the students respond as readers, writers, and math thinkers and adjust our instruction along the way.  This is called responsive teaching.

Here are some powerful quotes from the book that hit home how assessment and instruction are inseparable:

  • “Assessment is today’s means to modify tomorrow’s instruction.” (From Carol Ann Tomlinson, Landrigan & Mulligan 10)
  • “Assessment is the thinking teacher’s mind work.  The intelligence that guides our every moment as a teacher” (85).  It is through this “mind work” — collecting data, asking questions, digging deeper, talking with colleagues, and putting the pieces of the information together — that we can truly understand our readers and find their stories.” (Landrigan & Mulligan 2)  
  • “Teachers have power over formative assessments — the assessments that matter the most to learning.  When formative assessments are given along the way, they help teachers know what students need and also give students ideas on how to improve.  They feed teachers and, more important, feed students so they can grow.” (Landrigan & Mulligan 72)
  • “We need to know our goals and the essential concepts within those goals in order to know how we are assessing our students.  Asking questions around the objectives we are teaching provides immediate feedback on what students know and what they need to learn next.” (Landrigan & Mulligan 77) 
  1. All students can learn and teachers instruction can meet high standards and still be  developmentally appropriate for all learners.Kids are not developmentally different from how they were at the beginning of our career in this profession, but what we are asking of kids is very different.  The question for us is how to prepare our students to live in the 21st century while still teaching in a way that is developmentally appropriate.  For us, assessment is the answer to that question.”  (Landrigan & Mulligan 12)

As our Personal Learning Communities continue to grow and change we need to remember how children learn and keep that as a constant focus while using assessment as our window into what each learner needs.  (Landrigan & Mulligan 15)  Behind the Data Wall there is a story linked to each child that a teacher needs to share and discover during Data Teams.

What Is a Data Team?

Tonya Buelow & Nicolette LandonTonya Buelow is currently an instructional coach at Darby Creek Elementary.  She has been teaching for 22 years.  Her passions include literacy, math, learning new things, and spending time with her family on a beach.  She also enjoys watching her children play softball and volleyball.
Nicolette Landon is currently an instructional coach at Ridgewood Elementary.  She has been teaching for 13 years.  Her passions include literacy, math, learning new things, and spending time with her family and friends.