As part of #EdBookNZ, I’ve been asked by @vanschaijik (Sonya van Schaijik) to do a guest blog on data-driven pedagogy. As an English teacher, at first, I thought she was joking. However, after a decent period of contemplation, I started to realise just how effective pedagogy-in-play can be when it is data-driven. In reality, I believe we often use data-driven pedagogy more often than not and certainly more often than maybe we realise.
In thinking of my practice, I do in reality use data a lot of data to guide the learning in my Year 11 English class, both of the qualitative and quantitative variety. Increasingly, the data I find most beneficial is student-provided, often just-in-time or just-past-time. Increasingly the use of options such as Google Forms and Padlet enables me to get immediate feedback and feedforward from my students when it matters most...now! Furthermore, my students feel that their data, responses put forward are more highly valued when they are recorded as artefacts for future and often further reference. Data now can be created in-class and where need be, change the pedagogy-in-play in the moment to student and teacher benefit. The use of immediate data in this context can also allow for legitimate bonafide and evidenced-based allowances for student agency, collaboration and self-regulation.
In my opinion, today’s best data for classroom purposes is of the formative over the summative kind. Often the production of appropriate summative data involves too much time-lag and often only becomes into existence way beyond the time of need. I know by looking at attendance and student usage of Google Docs etc. immediately how engaged my students truly are and on what. The in-time data also allows me to ensure that where possible, student preference is catered for and resourcing can be directed to where it is most needed.
In 2016, we have potential access to more learning data than ever before, thus raising the possibility of “paralysis by analysis”. I prefer to think along the lines of Nike and “just do it.” Teachers can have a tendency to check, check and then recheck data before using it as a stimulus for action. The obvious danger here is that teachers end up doing the right thing for the right students but at the wrong time. The need for evidenced-based action alongside the need for prompt action does raise a significant potential conflict not only between the head and the heart but also between administrators and teachers. A balance point needs to be found between action that quickly responds to students’ learning needs while simultaneously of sound evidential backing. It is essential teachers have the empowerment and confidence to take risks, but they, however, must be risks qualified to some extent by valid data.
As Haberman (2001) notes, data-driven pedagogy also enables teachers to be acutely aware of what they can influence regarding teaching and learning and what is beyond their control. Every teacher knows that what happens to students for the two-thirds of the day they are not in school has a huge impact on what is achievable in school time. This data is not about pre-establishing a set of excuses for any aspect of poor or lower academic achievement. What it does mean is that to be forewarned is to be forearmed. If teachers are fully aware of what students are entering the classroom with, they can be highly responsive in terms of individualised learning and academic pathways. It also enables teachers to as much as possible match the student learning with the student life outside of school. Ladson-Billings (1995) concurs adding that sound and sustainable culturally responsive pedagogy is only really possible when we have clear, legitimate and triangulated data for each and every student.
Although the edtech transformation of schools has enabled teachers and students to obtain crystal-clear and timely data, the reality is that this information was always accessible in less-tech days. For many years, the best data I have ever received to inform my pedagogy-in-play has come from asking my students three questions:
What should we keep doing in this class?
What should we stop doing?
What should we start doing?
Today I use anonymous Google Forms to obtain this most desired data from the ones that really count in the classroom; my students. Often I do not necessarily like what the data is telling me, but it is however what I need to know. In my experience, the more students are encouraged to provide data about their learning, the more honest and engaged they become. This is even more so when they not only see that they are being heard but that changes in their learning space reflect their expressed educational needs.
Fundamentally it is now non-negotiable for teachers to be effective interpreters and applicators of educational data for pedagogical purposes. Without such an existence, teachers run the risk of misusing time, resources and student faith. We do not necessarily need to even generate the data ourselves anymore. It is now, however, a necessary need for us to think, reflect and where applicable, modify the learning via the data for student benefit. If you’re stuck with where to start, ask your students. They’ll give you data on the learning and do so rather directly. Just ask.
Ladson-Billings, Gloria. "Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy."American educational research journal 32.3 (1995): 465-491.
Cuban, Larry, Heather Kirkpatrick, and Craig Peck. "High access and low use of technologies in high school classrooms: Explaining an apparent paradox."American educational research journal 38.4 (2001): 813-834.
Haberman, Martin. "The pedagogy of poverty versus good teaching." Phi Delta Kappan 73.4 (1991): 290-294.