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Two Women Talking

Professional Development and the Data-Driven Classroom

  • April 26, 2016|
  • 2 years ago

by Sam Morris

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Global Education Solutions Architect

This is the second article in a multipart series that will explore data in the classroom.

Each year approximately $18 billion and 68 hours of the average teacher’s time are invested in professional development in the United States. According to PLATO Learning, as many as 32 of those hours are spent on “digital literacy” or technology-related topics. While this is a significant proportion, one complicating factor diminishes these efforts: professional development is aimed at training teachers how to just use the technology tools. Too often, understanding how to best select, organize, and leverage data from these tools is overlooked.

Without a solid understanding of how multiple classroom technologies and the data they produce can be leveraged in a concerted way, educators and administrators risk missing many of the most important benefits, in particular how these tools and their insights can help schools and districts achieve broader goals.

When schools deploy or encourage the use of new digital tools, such as social platforms, apps, and multimedia resources, without fully identifying the full scope of benefits beyond simply improved “student engagement,” this tactic can cause teachers to lose sight of the real benefits of technology in the classroom and simply use the tools for replacing or enhancing an existing teaching/learning modality. Thus, there is a missed opportunity for truly transformative use.

So, how can professional development support the use of these new tools to address the bigger picture?

Big Data, Big Picture
Big data, which involves analyzing large data sets for patterns, trends, and associations, is often overlooked in discussions about education. It is assumed that big data is meant for big industries such as retail, finance, or health care. Or as we see too often in education, big data analytics is reserved for high-stakes testing alone. However, there are few professions better positioned to make an impact by leveraging big data than teaching.

Technology can pack a bigger punch in classrooms than simply to facilitate note taking or group projects. Analytics in education can reveal important trends from the classroom level to the national level. These trends can indicate which areas of instruction to feature for improved student outcomes or how pilot programs perform against existing methods. Leveraging data can even help ascertain what professional development initiatives and resources should implemented to support broader impact on learning outcomes.

A Sample Size of One
Even a sample size of one can lead to a big impact. Microdata are an invaluable springboard for real-time content customization and individualized learning. By tracking and assessing student understanding, teachers have a new level of insight into their students’ learning. This understanding allows teachers to address individual student needs and provide appropriate learning opportunities as necessary.

Catlin Tucker, an author and English teacher in California, said: “I’ve discovered a range of tools I can use to gauge where my students are on the road to mastering specific skills. This information makes it easier to design learning experiences that will challenge them. As the year progresses, I can steadily increase the difficulty of the texts they read to ensure that what they’re reading will not cause frustration or confusion but will support the continued development of their reading skills.”

How to Connect the Data Dots
So, how do teachers gather and leverage the different types of data generated by today’s many technology tools? One promising approach to this elusive mission is defining “clear and distinct goals to be achieved by digital tools within each phase of data-driven instruction.”

The process, featured in the “Making Data Work for Teachers and Students” report from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is called Assess, Analyze, and Pivot. The study details nine opportunities to improve digital tools and identify clear and distinct goals for data-driven instruction: four under Assess, four under Analyze, and four under Pivot. When combined with education on both big and small data, Assess, Analyze and Pivot can lead teachers to a better understanding of how to tap into the benefits of a data-driven classroom. Here are what each step involves:

Assess. This includes simplifying data management, viewing students holistically, assessing student agency, and empowering students with data. Here teachers streamline their data collection, combine it with knowledge of the student as a whole and his or her agency outside of the classroom, and finally share this data with the student. This is important because it allows students and teachers to map individual learning goals.

Analyze. The second step includes analyzing at the speed of teaching, detailing performance against standards, revealing progress instead of snapshots, and making normative data practical. Here teachers focus on receiving feedback on students’ work in real time in order to see which areas require more attention and then being able to track the improvement and growth over time. This is useful because it helps teachers and students understand their learning trajectory and pace for the school year.

Pivot. This final step allows teachers to adapt to student level. Here teachers can attend to struggling students while enabling more advanced students to challenge themselves with more difficult materials.

Ultimately, in order to take full advantage of the benefits that big and small data can supply for teachers and students, teachers need training on gathering and leveraging the insights. The opportunities presented by the wide array of classroom technology options require not only tailored professional development at the individual level, but also a broad bird’s-eye view of how these resources can be integrated to yield invaluable data. The Assess, Analyze, and Pivot approach is an example of the type of methods that teachers need to know in order to thoughtfully incorporate technology into the classroom.

1. “A Case Study of a TPACK-Based Approach to Teacher Professional Development: Teaching Science With Blogs” Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education. 2015.
2. “Three Ways to Put Assessment Data to Work in the Classroom” NWEA The Education Blog. January 19, 2016.
3. “Teachers Know Best: Making Data Work for Teachers and Students” Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. 2015.
4. “Data-Driven Instruction in the K12 Virtual Learning Environment” K12. September 2015.
5. “Bridging the Digital Divide in Education Through Professional Development” TeacherMatch. August 5, 2015.
6. “The Growing Importance of Technology Professional Development for Teachers” TeacherMatch. January 11, 2016.
7. “Targeting the Teaching Skills that Matter Most” TeacherMatch. May 29, 2015.
8. “The Techy Teacher / Using Data to Personalize Learning” Doing Data Right. November 2015.