Thursday, January 29, 2015

Love, Learning, and Data

One of my favorite moments of my school day is getting to sit down with my kindergarten intervention group working on understanding the concepts of print. We get to dive into books with excitement, and write our own books to help understand how print works. I love it because although my goal is to teach them that words on the page contain a message, what I am really doing is teaching them to love reading. At least I hope so.

Yet when I came across this article earlier in the week from the Washington Post my heart stopped. It articulates my greatest fear for my own daughter, and gives more insight into why I am so hesitant to choose a preschool for her. The article shares an email from a mother about what kindergarten has done to her son. He no longer loves learning, instead hates school, and focuses on his reading level instead of reading for enjoyment. 

Fellow Educators, what have we done?

At the very heart of this is the struggle education is facing today. We are working furiously to close the achievement gap, provide high quality instruction, and produce results. To measure this we take data. A lot of it. Data in itself is not a bad thing. I love data. I love how it shows me what my students know and what they need to know. It shows growth, plateaus, and what I need to focus on as a teacher. It can take my objectivity out of it and help me to see my students with a new lens. Of course, we also have to take data for what it is- a moment in time. In special education we write our IEP goals to be measured "on four out of five occasions measured quarterly", showing we know there are bad days. If a student can do it four out of five times we can be confident in his abilities even if he is inconsistent one day.

It's how we react to the data that is essential. 

Are we using the data to change the quality our instruction, or simply providing more of the same instruction we were doing before? Are we trying to drill knowledge into the students simply to raise the results of the data, or are we allowing the data to serve as a dipstick for the greater picture? Are we remembering that the data reflects one piece of a learner, or are we only focusing on the numbers?

I struggle with this question daily. One of the students in my intervention group is not making much progress. She's young, new to the school setting, and overly excited. Still, she has difficulty pointing to each word as she reads. Should I be taking a more direct approach with her? Should I stop the more fun activities and focus on getting her to correctly answer the questions she'll be asked on her next assessment? Doing so would improve how she answers one question on an assessment and in turn raise the data, but probably would not do much for her overall progress. 

We need schools that allow teachers to use data for what it is intended- to see the big picture through a piece of the little picture. We cannot be killing a love of learning simply to raise test scores. It is possible to improve a student's achievement while simultaneously fostering a love of learning. In fact, I would argue that's what we've all been hired to do.

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