Changing Lenses

I remember quite clearly experiencing an “aha” moment many years ago when I was sitting in the audience at a teaching symposium and the keynote speaker said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “Just imagine what would happen to teaching if the focus changed from what is taught to what is learned?”

As I think back to that time, I can’t help but categorize it as truly a transformative moment in my teaching career. Just after the simposium, I couldn’t get my hands on enough books and articles that focused on learning over teaching. You see up to that point, my entire focus was on delivering instruction and then giving only summative assessments to my students. I would then grade the assessments and move right onto the next unit. That was how I learned and also how I was taught to teach.

However, as I learned more and more about “data-driven instruction”, my pedagogical lense changed. I began to focus more of my planning on creating formative assessments and using the results to inform my instruction. You might be wondering what exactly are formative and summative assessments? I think the best way to describe them is by looking at this marvelously, simple quote:

“When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative; when the guests taste the soup, that’s summative.”
-Robert Stake

Formative assessments are typically shorter in length and administered all throughout a unit of study. They help teachers monitor student learning and gather evidence of student learning so they can adjust lessons and target areas of instruction. Summative assessments are given after learning and are evaluative in nature. Essentially, formative assessments guide learning, summative assessments certify learning.

Data-driven instruction has become a popular buzzword in education these days. When teachers and schools make the shift, they observe noticable differences in achievement. However, it’s important to note that there exists a fair amount of ambiguity for parents surrounding the way in which formative assessments are used to inform instruction.

Here at Renbrook, lower school teachers are well versed in the use of formative assessments and data-driven instruction/learning. They plan lessons that guide learning and often differentiate for the varying levels in their classes. An example can be seen when looking at reading instruction and learning. LS teachers use the DRA (Developmental Reading Assessment) a formative reading assessment to assess reading levels for fluency and comprehension. The results provide valuable information to teachers all throughout the school year so they can place students in properly leveled books (necessary in order to develop vocabulary and increase reading skills), create flexible groups for guided reading instruction, and gather data to inform direct instruction in student/teacher conferences. Additionally, teachers use the following formative assessments to inform reading instruction: anecdotal records, exit slips, white boards, hand signals, 3 Things, Stop & Go, etc.

In math, LS teachers use the formative assessment, NWEA (Measures of Academic Progress)’s MAP Growth. The assessment is designed to adapt to each student’s current math achievement level. Once the assessment has been completed, a report is generated by the teacher and used to differentiate instruction and create skill-based workgroups. In addition, LS teachers use chapter pre-tests, Quick Checks, Fingers on Chest, Learning Logs, Three-Minute Pause, exit slips, Which Homework to Do, and the Mid-Year Assessment to inform their math instruction.

Data-driven instruction is composed of basically three components: assessment
(provides meaningful data), analysis (an examination of results to identify the causes of both strengths and shortcomings), and action (the planning of instruction for students based on assessment results). As the Head of Lower School at Renbrook, it is imperative that I am effective as a teacher coach and trainer. I must find a way to help every teacher understand data-driven instruction not only in theory, but also in practice. In my career, I’ve come to learn that effective professional development for teachers involves carefully structured sessions where they do the work of learning and I am merely a facilitator. When that happens teachers become truly invested- exactly what we try to do with our lower school students. In the case of data-driven instruction, I help teachers develop the skills to go beyond “what” is happening when analyzing student data to identifying “why” something happening. When a teacher can analyze data by identifying, understanding, and taking action in response to the question of “why” then they can properly design and deliver effective lessons for their students that help them learn and grow.

So now, it’s no longer a question,  “What would happen if…” but rather a statement I have with every teacher that works in my division, “Look what happens to learning and achievement when you change your lense from what is taught to what is learned.” One might call this a crusade…
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