Not enough time to be data-driven

I do a lot of work with schools on data-driven accountability issues. Before you immediately decide that I'm just another data huckster, I'll point out now that my work with schools focuses on good ongoing, formative assessment for student progress monitoring purposes rather than on the stupid yearly summative autopsy data that most schools are spending WAY too much time on. Intelligent use of progress monitoring data related to key academic and other educational goals has been shown time and time again, in both high-quality research studies and in tens of thousands of schools and classrooms across the country, to have significant impacts on student learning outcomes. The most common complaint that I hear from teachers, however, is that they're already pressed - they don't have time to add another thing to their plate. Balderdash. Here are a few things that teachers can get rid of that will free up some valuable time.

Teachers work extremely hard. They're some of the most caring, dedicated people I know. But, like most of us, they often don't use the time that they have very effectively (or others don't use their time very intelligently). If we truly care about student learning, we should be taking a critical look at teachers' precious time and try to eliminate many of our low-yield practices.

  • How about coloring? As Mike Schmoker points out so eloquently, students in elementary schools spend a LOT of time coloring. Couldn't teachers do a little less of this and spend some of that time doing quick, timely, useful assessments of student learning and/or individualized instruction for struggling students?
  • Cursive writing, anyone? Does anyone think this will be a needed skill in the digital future? How much time and energy do teachers and students still spend on this?
  • One-shot, single day staff development sessions are almost always completely useless if our desired goal is to facilitate changes in teacher practice. What is remarkable is the persistence of this practice despite everything that we know about adult learners and effective professional development. Couldn't we use this time for teachers to collaboratively examine student learning progress instead?
  • As Alfie Kohn reminds us, and despite decades of researchers trying, there is no evidence to support that homework in the elementary grades has any positive benefit whatsoever on student achievement, study skills, greater responsibility by students, etc. Teachers and students spend a lot of time processing homework - time that could be better spent elsewhere.
  • Watching entire movies in class instead of short video clips. Enough said.
  • You get my drift. The list probably could on for a while - each of you can think of other things that teachers could eliminate or do differently to free up valuable time for high-leverage instructional strategies (add them below as a comment!). So what could teachers do instead with the time they gain? Here are a few things:

    • Collaboratively design short assessments that would allow them to monitor student progress on key learning goals
    • Collectively examine the data that they receive from these assessments and formulate instructional modifications for learners that are still struggling
    • Participate in ongoing, long-term learning groups that help them gain new skills (or new technologies!) for addressing the needs of struggling learners
    • In other words, they could do things that we know to have better instructional payoff than some of what teachers are doing now. Plus, there's the very sobering list from Mike Schmoker's newest book, Results Now, that reminds us that teachers often don't do things they already know have high payoffs instructionally (from a study that did thousands of classroom observations):

      • Classrooms in which there was evidence of a clear learning objective: 4 percent
      • Classrooms in which high-yield strategies were being used: 0.2 percent
      • Classrooms in which there was evidence of higher-order thinking: 3 percent
      • Classrooms in which students were either writing or using rubrics: 0 percent
      • Classrooms in which fewer than one-half of students were paying attention: 85 percent
      • Classrooms in which students were using worksheets (a bad sign): 52 percent
      • Classrooms in which noninstructional activities were occurring: 35 percent
      • As Schmoker notes, "such statistics point to how even fairly obvious actions could have an immediate and enormous impact on students and their levels of learning" (p. 18).

        The phrase "work smarter not harder" is trite and often is used in a condescending manner. Many times, unfortunately, it also happens to be true.

        This post is also available at the TechLearning blog.

        LinkedIn meets Tinder in this mindful networking app

        Swipe right to make the connections that could change your career.

        Getty Images
        Swipe right. Match. Meet over coffee or set up a call.

        No, we aren't talking about Tinder. Introducing Shapr, a free app that helps people with synergistic professional goals and skill sets easily meet and collaborate.

        Keep reading Show less

        4 reasons Martin Luther King, Jr. fought for universal basic income

        In his final years, Martin Luther King, Jr. become increasingly focused on the problem of poverty in America.

        (Photo by J. Wilds/Keystone/Getty Images)
        Politics & Current Affairs
        • Despite being widely known for his leadership role in the American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr. also played a central role in organizing the Poor People's Campaign of 1968.
        • The campaign was one of the first to demand a guaranteed income for all poor families in America.
        • Today, the idea of a universal basic income is increasingly popular, and King's arguments in support of the policy still make a good case some 50 years later.
        Keep reading Show less

        A world map of Virgin Mary apparitions

        She met mere mortals with and without the Vatican's approval.

        Strange Maps
        • For centuries, the Virgin Mary has appeared to the faithful, requesting devotion and promising comfort.
        • These maps show the geography of Marian apparitions – the handful approved by the Vatican, and many others.
        • Historically, Europe is where most apparitions have been reported, but the U.S. is pretty fertile ground too.
        Keep reading Show less

        Why I wear my life on my skin

        For Damien Echols, tattoos are part of his existential armor.

        • In prison Damien Echols was known by his number SK931, not his name, and had his hair sheared off. Stripped of his identity, the only thing he had left was his skin.
        • This is why he began tattooing things that are meaningful to him — to carry a "suit of armor" made up the images of the people and objects that have significance to him, from his friends to talismans.
        • Echols believes that all places are imbued with divinity: "If you interact with New York City as if there's an intelligence behind... then it will behave towards you the same way."
        Keep reading Show less