For the past two weeks, I have been sharing reflections on the power of data collection in various forms. When I started teaching in small groups, rather than in a full-class instruction mode, I realized I needed a quick-and-dirty method of data collection. To that end, I print copies of student lists from our Student Information System, then put dates and topics on them. Once they are set up like that, my information gathering becomes as simple as checkmarks.
I have used these checklists more than once this year to provide some perspective to parents and students, as well as to check myself before I make statements. For example, I have had students say that they wish I did more sample problems. Great feedback….but then I find that the student in question only attends small group instruction when required. The rest of the time, the student spends on her/her own, even when she/he has the option to attend time in group to–drum roll–work on more sample problems. As I say to students in this situation, you can give me that feedback, but it’s not legitimate feedback if you haven’t maxed out the available \resources yet.
I had the same conversation with a student who said that she wanted me to “spend more time with” her. Okay, but, as I said to her, I’m not the person who chooses to go directly to the paraprofessional in the classroom with any question. I am not the person who never chooses to come to an optional work session or to write a question on the board for a session. I am not the person who chooses to sit at her seat and socialize rather than attend first small group, thereby missing the opportunity to have access to the instruction immediately at the start of class. With Universal Design for Learning (UDL), we have to find the time to reflect with students on their choices and the efficacy and results of the choices so students can make those connections.
Mastery-oriented feedback is really hard to give, but, when framed as data rather than a teacher’s opinion or gut sense, it’s harder to turn it into “you don’t like me.” It’s okay to have a student say “I’m not comfortable because ____,” since that opens up a conversation about how to have student and teacher make changes, but a teacher cannot be responsible for meeting a request to “spend time with me” when the student literally chooses to be elsewhere daily.
I also like to use data to attempt to help students understand the implications of their choices. A few weeks ago, I had to work very hard to keep a straight face during some re-teaching on a Skill Assessment (quiz) on circles. The students who had come to optional small group instruction earlier in the week did quite well on the assessment, needing only some pointers or clarification to prepare for the retake. They quickly cleared out as we moved through the four questions on the Skill Assessment, leaving me with a group of five boys who had to remain for reteaching on every problem.
These five boys never attend an optional small group session. If not required to attend, they sit in their corner, working on self-assigned and self-assessed work. Or maybe socializing.
While building independence is important, I also pointed out to the boys that I saw a connection between their repeated decision to NOT take advantage of a resource (access to the teacher in small group instruction) and their performance on this assessment. I will continue to provide that feedback to them, although I suspect they may not be able to “hear” the connection this year. (Sometimes, it takes until the 9th grade algebra experience in 8th grade or in high school before a subset of students finally makes the connection between their choices and the results.) I always hope that helping students see that connection will lead to changes on the part of the students in their choices that will have positive results, that it will be empowering, our end goal on the UDL Progression Rubric.