Monday, October 01, 2012

Dat-A Sure-A is a Interesting-A

Note:  My extremely witty, play on words title will only be understood if you say the word "data" correctly for this situation.  Meaning you say it dat-a, and not the other popular pronunciation date-a.  And then, you need to say the title with your best Italian accent.  Otherwise, the title will completely fly over the top of your head, and my comedic genius will be wasted.

And just so you know, I can't believe that I'm going to write a blog post about how much data interests me.  Has my topic pool runneth so dry that I have to subject myself to spilling a dirty, dark secret that I'm really a big nerd who loves creating charts, analyzing them, and coming up with new ways to track data?  Lord, help me!

But, alas, it's true.  I really am a big nerd and have recently found out that I'm extremely interested in finding new ways to collect data to track my students' progress with the content I'm teaching. 

This weekend has probably been one of the most productive weekends I've ever had.  I was able to accomplish three.. yes, I said THREE new projects that I want to use in my classroom.  They've been ideas up to now, dancing around in my head waiting to be set free. 

On Friday, I spent an entire day in professional development that was focused on using data.  We watched a video about how important it was to use data to guide instruction, and then spent several hours setting up a computer program that will help assess certain skills.  While several of my counterparts were far from thrilled about it, I was secretly having an inner party about creating folders, and selecting skills that will be assessed.  And once the day was over, my head was in data mode and I was rearing to find even more ways to use data to drive my instruction.  Ssshhh, don't tell the people I work with...they may want to poke my eyes out with blunt pencils after reading that.

Not just that, but I was also able to make - thanks to Peanut helping out - tools that my students can use to aid them in keeping themselves organized, being self sufficient, and building their skills in the process.  Go me!

I'll save you all the dry, not so interesting details, but I managed to create a few spreadsheets and charts on my iPad that I can use to monitor and track the growth my students have with skills moving forward.  I'll be able to show pre-assessment results compared to post-assessment results.  I will also be able to create groups and pinpoint the skills that need additional teaching based on the needs of each student.  How awesome is that?  And don't answer that question unless you are a complete data nerd like I am, please.

Another of my big projects I was able to bring to life was individual lapbooks for each of my students.  Instead of coming up with stations for the students to work in, I created a month's worth of activities that I put in to folders for each of my students.  I really like small group work and stations, but the problem is my kiddos are never quite on the same page about being able to work in groups.  Some get pulled out for services, some have homework to work on while others don't, it's just hard to try and create stations that not all of the students will be able to use.  So, I decided to create individual stations.  Genius, right?

Each student will have a folder and a calendar.  There is a different activity for each day, and all of the things they need are right in the folder.  There are some worksheets, there are some creatables, there is an equal mixture of math, reading, and language arts skills that need additional practice.  The students are able to pick whatever activity they want to work on each day, and then color in the box with that activity once it's completed.  They then keep their completed work in the folder for me to check a couple times a week.  And, the best part is, I can change the calendar each month to reflect the skills learned the previous month and throw in some of the skills from each month before it - so they are continually practicing skills. 

This first month, the students all have the same activities to work on.  But, with the help of my friend Data, I'll now be able to assess the skills in the packet for each student and see which skills they've mastered and which skills need additional practice - and customize the learning plans for each student.  Is it going to be a lot of work?  Of course, but only once a month. 

Up to this point, I'll admit that I've been running around without the right frame of mind.  I'm teaching the skills I'm supposed to be teaching - but have no clear cut sense on whether or not my kiddos are "getting it". There's just so much to teach and so little time, that it's really hard to stop and decide whether I should stay on the skill or keep trudging along and hoping that if they didn't get something, they'll pick it up eventually.  I just can't rely on that method anymore.  All of my kids are on different levels and will be all year.  They won't all magically pick up what they need to learn as time goes on - and end up all on the same page.  I understand and accept this.  But, that's no reason to leave kids behind wondering what on earth I'm talking about while  I focus on those that get everything that comes out of my mouth.  In the same respect, I can't repeat skills over and over while the kids that are ready to move on are banging their heads on their desks with boredom.  I have to teach to 20 individual students.  Twenty individual levels.  A tough feat, but one I think I can do... or at least give my best shot.

I know that at the end of the day, my progress will be measured by the state test.  How my kids do on that test will reflect on me.  And I'll admit that I don't like that one bit.  It's not fair, but whining won't get me anywhere.  I'm not naive enough to believe that I can get all of my kids to score advanced on that test... maybe not even proficient.  But, if I can show growth for each student, show that they've improved immensely since last year - well, I'll definitely be happy about that. 

And the only way I'm going to get there is by relying on my data.

And I just wrote a blog post about data.  A blog post that probably put several people to sleep.  It sounded so much better in my head... but then, my head can be a pretty weird place to be.  Oh well, it is what is.  Time to go get in to fresh PJs for today's spirit day.  Pajama Day!  Woo-Hoo!


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