Sunday, November 23, 2014

Data vs Professional Instincts

Have you seen this picture floating around the Internet and other social media?


I have and for me, it brings up so many emotions. I mean, emotions that are all over the board.  I'm thinking back to 16 years ago, when I first started teaching.  We weren't nearly as obsessed with data as we are today.  Not even close.  There were so many times that we solely went with our gut.  Does that sound horrible?

I'm willing to admit, back then we {speaking for myself} had very little data and that's not good either.  We knew our kids were growing, we had artifacts {repeated tasks, writing samples, portfolios} to prove it.  I know data has its place but your instincts do too. Growth does not have to be identified on a data wall or in a database to obtain legitimacy.  Back then, you knew your students were growing based on a gut instinct? Yup. Sometimes.

I've been trying to find words for why that's not a horrible thing.  I think if you are a newer teacher your jaw might have dropped.  You might have tsk tsk'd me and thought, thank goodness I wasn't a teacher "back then".  Sometimes, there just aren't words to tell how and why you know - you just do, and it's better than any other way of knowing.  

Okay, let me put it this way.  Have you ever been at a conference or you're reading some sort of professional book and you learn a new professional word?  Take "scaffolding" for example.  I'll never forget when I first heard that word used in the educational setting.  I went "oh, I do that - what teacher doesn't?"  I just didn't know there was a word for it and now that I do, I'm still the same great teacher I was before I learned the educational jargon.  

The same can be said for knowing your students.  At least that's how I feel. I'm thinking of the days of yonder when I would put books in my students' hands, listen to them read and just know what type of miscues they were making {even thought I didn't even know the word "miscue" existed - I called them mistakes}.  I SAW with my own eyes that they were using the pictures for clues, I HEARD that they were cuing into the first letter of each word rather than stretching through the entire word and I noticed that they weren't reading for meaning "I walked my duck on a leash" - yup, no meaning there. I adjusted my instruction according to my students IMMEDIATE needs.  I took notes and most importantly I KEPT TEACHING.

Today, we do the same thing - but we don't always trust it - because it isn't coming in the form of a formal assessment. So what do we do?  We stop the presses.  Our classroom instruction comes to an abrupt halt.  And we assess.  One of those assessments for us is Fountas and Pinnell {a valid assessment and useful tool; don't get me wrong} and what do we end up finding out?  Yup, what our gut was telling us, what our professional instincts affirmed, that's what we are seeing on that assessment that took 20 minutes to administer. 

26 students.  20 instructional minutes lost per 26 students = 520 minutes.  520 minutes 4 to 5 times a year = 2,080 minutes per year.  2, 080 minutes per year = 35 hours.  That's a FULL school week. That's a lot of teaching....lost.  And that's only ONE of the many assessments we administer in our classrooms.

I know that many of us do not have a choice in the matter.  It's expected of us.  Administer the assessment so that we can decide whether or not you're worthy of teaching at our school.  I'm so sorry if that is your life.  I'm sorry that "those people" in your schools are putting as much value on the assessment as they are on the teaching.

Thankfully, I feel like my situation allows for me to balance both - at least for the time being; and I'm going to bask in that.  I'm able to assess at the beginning of the year and at the end.  In the middle I do whatever I feel best allows for me to understand where my students are performing.

Sadly, I'm noticing a new trend.  Teachers are no longer trusting their own professional instincts. To see my colleagues fall "victim" to testing and data collection is disheartening to me. I've seen so many of my friends paralyzed as professionals - they have forgotten that teaching is as much {if not more} an art as it is a science. I'm keenly aware that many districts are not like mine - who only require us to assess twice a year.  Yet, in spite of this understanding of professionalism, many are "stopping the show" to do more assessing.  I'm baffled.  I've thought so hard about why this might be.

All I can come up with is that they've forgotten that formative assessments, anecdotal notes and their own professional instincts are just as good, IF NOT BETTER, than the data they collect when doing a formal/summative assessment. It makes my stomach hurt to see instruction coming to a stand-still time and time again to perform senseless assessments. Data is necessary, I realize this.  It allows for us to dial down on skills and really pinpoint growth - but it's not the end-all-be-all.

I want my colleagues to dig deep into their memories and remember the days that they trusted their observational skills and their teacher gut and if you came into teaching at a time where you wouldn't know any different...you can trust your inner-teacher too.  You've got one - I'm pretty sure you were born with it.  Don't let data drive what you do each day in your classroom; let what you see and don't see do that.  You've got it in you. No formal assessment can take the place of your professional instincts...





11 comments:

  1. So well said... I couldn't agree more! It's even worse when your district "dumbs down" assessments- then what is the point!

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    1. What a misuse of time and invalidates the purpose for collecting the data in the first place. I know we need it to a certain degree but at least make sure it's useful and meaningful!

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  2. Great points. Data is consuming us to the point where I worry constantly about the state of education. I am sick of data, data meetings, data walls, data utilization etc. My kids are not mere numbers to be gawked at and mulled over to determine if I am an "effective" teacher or not. It's even down to the Pre-K level now. It's sickening!

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    1. When it reaches the point of consuming you - where it's the forefront of most professional conversations - that's when it's time to take stock...not you, but those imposing this on you!

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  3. I appreciate your honest and thoughtful comments. They completely jive with my own. I'm reminded of a favorite quote from Lucy Calkins : "In the name of education teachers are told that after we plant little fragile seedlings, we are to uproot them every few hours to measure whether their roots have grown."

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  4. Thank you so much for posting this! Data can be effective depending on the student, but there are so many instances where the data does nothing but further confirm the instincts that I have had all along. We spend so much time with these kids that I feel I do not need to hammer them with progress monitoring every few weeks. I love the Calkins quote Tammy posted!

    Paige
    Paiges of Learning

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  5. Paige...life is all about balance, isn't it? I wish those insisting on this over abundance of data collection would embrace that notion! Teach on!

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  6. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and concerns! As an RtI teacher, it is such a struggle to balance the need for data with the needs of kids. I also loved the quote that Tammy shared!

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    1. Thanks for chiming in - I really do know that data has it's place in this world of ours. I'm afraid that in its overabundance we are underestimating the value of our instincts. Balance sure is hard to find these days!

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  7. I completely agree with you and I am a 3rd year teacher!! I actually moved to a different district this year because I wasnt able to teach to what I felt that my kids needed , I had to teach only by the data :-( Yes data has its place, as you said but.....
    Karen
    tommysmom0206@yahoo.com

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