One year while providing teaching training courses at a high school in the Bronx, a first-year history teacher had a realization that would transform the way she viewed education. She asked a question that many teachers are curious about: how do you determine what proportion of different question types a lessons should include? For example, she wanted to know how many application tasks versus comprehension tasks to include. We spent 20 minutes (or more) discussing all of the considerations to factor in, but in the end she still didn’t feel ready to make a decision. So, we decided that she was simply going to create her lessons, watch the data come in through LessonWriter, and then use the results as an opportunity for reflection and adjustment.
When I went back to the school a couple of months later, this teacher was ready to talk to me, and she really had the whole story! In the beginning, she worked hard to design lessons she thought would really get her students to dig deeper. But the results were disappointing. Stronger students were only scratching the surface of the work, and some of her struggling students almost always skipped the tasks she had hoped would engage them.
When she analyzed her LessonWriter data, she realized she had a lot of knowledge-based questions and a lot of higher-order questions. The in-between wasn’t there. There wasn’t enough “scaffolding” to get her students from the simpler, knowledge-based questions up to the more challenging tasks she was asking them to try. That was a really powerful moment for her. Even though her thought-provoking questions were carefully crafted, and her knowledge-based testing was great, she needed to include questions that helped guide her students from one to the other—and she would maybe have never known that without looking at those numbers.
This was an inspiring moment for me as well because it supported a theory I’d had for a while: data on a teacher’s instruction is incredibly important for educators at all levels. It’s what’s missing in all data when it comes to teaching. A lot of information we collect comes from diagnostic tests, internal assessments, and state-wide tests. The numbers sometimes represent only five to 10 days of a student’s experience. The grade book is supposed to track the other 175 days, but again, that really only shows outcome, rather than process. So, when we gather data on the instructional practices of a teacher, we can then marry that information with the student outcomes, and create a more complete picture of what is needed for improvement.
Whether you track data on your own, you can try using LessonWriter as a tool to create your lessons and provide feedback. Or, if you’ve never really thought about what data could tell you, make sure to analyze not only information about your students, but also about yourself. We can finally think powerfully about how we’re doing in our classes, and how this impacts the students we work with. This will make for better students, better teachers, and better education.