Declutter your data to find real student learning stories
Part one of three posts introduces the idea that for K-12 schools to be successful in using data to grow learning they need to declutter their thinking, and data. Giving teachers a clear line of vision into each student’s learning story is the Kondo goal. Posts 2 and 3 will discuss how to get a Kondo mindset working at your school to progressively build a beautifully organised learning support space.
Marie Kondo’s decluttering philosophy has people everywhere re-thinking how simplicity trumps clutter and stress. This simple idea of people being in control of all of their ‘stuff’ moves to the top of everyone’s to do list as soon as they read Marie’s book or watch her TV series. Decluttering applies to our book collections, Facebook friends, and even our family members. The same simple principle applies to K-12 schools and the data they collect in cluttered, stress-driven systems.
In a nutshell: Schools should decide on and organise the learning data that brings joy to teachers’ lives every day, and release what doesn’t. If there is no alignment to teaching and learning, there is no joy in data for teachers. Don’t clutter an already busy life.
The popularity of Kondo’s approach proves how good it feels to eliminate excess in our lives and get back to what matters. If Marie Kondo came to your school to help, what would your goal be? I would suggest a great ‘Kondo’ goal challenge; to have a learning story for every student, in a single accessible and uncluttered space! The one place Kondo hasn’t tackled, however, might be the most cluttered of all: our minds. Let’s get some clear thinking around how we could approach our first goal.
Step 1 . What level of visibility into a single student learning story would delight teachers right now?
Step 1 is not a trick question. I asked a Learning Director at a large school how many data sources the school collected or had access to, somewhere. In about 20 seconds flat, we had a list.
NAPLAN – for 10 years (across four domains), PAT Early Years, PAT-M, PAT-R, PAT Spelling and Vocab and Science for many years and cohorts, E-WRITE, MYAT, ALLWELL M, R, C, Flourishing, Education Perfect, Mathspace, Mathletics, Maths Online, Probe, PM Benchmark, Soundwaves, Edumate, Observations, Snapshot, Valid Science, PISA and Canvas.
Like every school, there is always lots of data and with that data comes cluttered thinking around what could and should be done with it. All of these data sources can’t have the same importance to a teacher at once. The sheer process of streamlining can unleash a barrage of decisions that don’t really add value to achieving your goal: Should we include all of our data not just some? Why not build a data warehouse? If we have that, we really need this as well! Can we have charts and dashboards across all data? Before you give yourself a chance to declutter, your mind is again full of clutter.
If you focus your thinking around what data makes the biggest immediate impact to teachers, what would that be? In our experience with many schools, we can highlight what we get asked, in the order we get asked. The ultimate goal is always to build a single student view that delivers clarity and relevance to every teacher, reducing their mental clutter of worrying about what they don’t know. Some teachers suffer from real FOMO stress.
- Diagnostic data. There is a lot of good data available from multiple sources. It’s accurate, complete and accessible. This data usually resides in the same closet space, a shared drive full of excel spreadsheets. The clutter, however, is in the data itself. It is hard to shape into a single learning story from multiple formats and scales. NAPLAN, PAT, ALLWELL and PISA offer the most accurate insights in many formats. Decluttering is a simple process when you know how.
- Pastoral data has a high priority for visibility and clarity. This data lives in systems that are often inconsistent in detail and context. Pastoral data comes from legacy SIS attendance, extra curricula and behavioural data, surveys and specialised assessments each providing different angles of view across each student’s plane. Importantly, this data is not prescriptive. Pastoral data ignites the cognitive experience of teachers with a backdrop of insights into potential barriers and opportunities. Again, a clear alignment to each student keeps this relevant and simple.
- Report data. Yes, the classic academic reporting data built twice a year, usually, is still the big apple that seldom falls far from the tree. The importance of this data is truly realised when it can be easily compared to diagnostic and pastoral data. It’s the process of alignment of these sources that brings the most joy.
- Reliable data from other systems. This is typically where clutter and fragmented information re-enters the mix often through multiple Gradebooks. LMS data, formative and specialised application data is usually fragmented and, yes, cluttered with all sorts of ‘stuff’’. The challenge with this data is to work out what part of teacher joy it contributes to, if at all?
Schools suffer at the hands of clutter so much so that SAU (Schooling as usual) is all teachers can do with the information they have. What would happen if Marie Kondo came to talk to you about the clutter in your data closets? Would she focus on decluttering the data closet or the real clutter that may be holding us all back; what we think teachers need to live joyously and FOMO free?
In Part 2 of this series we will talk about how to organise your important data, taking what you need and delighting teachers with simple uncluttered access. What joy!
Mark Stanley is CEO and Founder of Literatu.
Get Insights before you Read?
As a former English teacher, I’ve spent many hours over many weekends putting feedback on students’ writings. As time-consuming as this was, I knew it was important. Among the best things that came from the experience of reading a class set of texts was the shortlist of notes I jotted down when I noticed some common issues or skill gaps. These could range from the correct use of semi-colons to strategies for using transitions between paragraphs or the more subtle arts of drawing inferences from quotations rather than just repeating their main ideas.
As bleary-eyed as I might be, I returned to school enthusiastically, knowing that I had specific ways to help students improve their writing. I never dreamt that someday I would be able to get such insights and examples without reading a single papers. But with Scribo, you can! Let me explain…
Insights and Work Samples > Possibilities for Targeted Teaching
As soon as students have submitted their digital texts (from any sources such as their hard drive, Google Docs, Word or even PDFs), you click on the report button. This sets Scribo into action and it applies over 30 analytics and AI routines across every word, sentence ad paragraph for each text. Imagine how low it would take you to do such a thing. Scribo typically does it in 3-4 minutes for the whole class. There are literally dozens of insights and text samples teachers can use, but here are my favourites so far:
- Quickly see how “on-topic” students are. If many students haven’t addressed the topic deeply or broadly enough, you can have a quick brainstorming session on how to address more aspects of the topic.
- Sometimes the number of paragraphs is significant, one click sorts the class list by paragraph count. A quick look at those with too many or too few paragraphs provides a teachable moment with anonymous sample texts.
- Explore the range of vocabulary used by students and see some of the “fancier” words in the very context of the sentences in which they were used. This is a great assist when students are turning to the Thesaurus and might need help refining their understanding and usage of the words.
- Cohesive words are what Scribo calls conjunctions, connectives and transitions. A very handy “Cohesive Explorer” divides a list of hundreds of cohesives into common and advanced groupings. Common cohesives are the basic connectives, whereas Advanced cohesives connote such advanced ideas as concessions, clarifications and inferencing. Once students have learned the basic structure of body paragraphs in informative or persuasive essays, using the Cohesive Explorer really empowers them to show their more sophisticated thinking by prompting them with possible alternatives.
If you haven’t tried Scribo yet, get in touch. We have a great sandbox site where you can try out all of Scribo’s features with a range of pre-loaded texts.
Our Real Goal
To begin with the obvious and inarguable: we want students to keep getting better at writing. Because our job is to help students to keep getting better at all aspects of their education. If we accept the premise that our goal is to improve student writing, why not explore new approaches that can reduce the burden while increasing effectiveness?
Let Software Do…
My mantra, as a devout English teacher, writer and long-time Ed Tech entity is simple and clear: “Let software do what software can so teachers do what only teachers can.” Can software analyse student writing as well as a trained teacher in writing? Of course not. But everyday we all rely on things that software can do, such as spellcheck our work and facilitate editing. Such functionality is second nature to us. It is also about 30 years old. As quickly as technology has changed in that time, especially in regard to crunching data into profiles, noticing patterns, and comparing disparate bits of data, can’t we imagine that the science of text analysis has evolved? It has. In little steps. Little, because communicating and language are among the most complex things we humans do.
The argument against machine reading of students’ writing is that no computational reading of a text can critique, let alone notice, such things as irony and poetic intent. Nor can it reward a particularly well-turned phrase. When we humans engage in our “labour of love”, scribbling detailed feedback on students’ papers, we are often looking for just such things. Unfortunately, we inevitably confront repetitious and limited word choice, poorly structured sentences and paragraphs that lack integrity. Things that we would hope students addressed in earlier drafts of their work. Drafts?
What Software can, so…
Interestingly, it was also 30 years ago that the Writing Process captured the interests of university researchers, writers and teachers. We noted that “expert writers” did things that “novices” did not, such as pre-writing, drafting, getting feedback, revising and editing for publication. We recognised truth in the statement that “good writing is re-writing.” Fast-forward to our present and this wisdom seems to have been squashed by the daily mountain of other tasks every teacher confronts. Reading and grading the stack of required tasks in a curriculum is burdensome enough; who would ask for more? Thus, how many students at almost any level of schooling engage in regular cycles of drafting, feedback, revision, feedback and polishing? It’s safe to say, “probably not as many as we’d like,” knowing that such approaches not only develop better writing, but, in fact, can develop writers.
Teachers do what only Teachers Can
I suggest that removing some of the burden of the writing process as well as providing rich analytics and resources related to each teacher’s students is where technology can help. The fact that software can’t help developing writers craft ironic, poetic or poignant prose, doesn’t mean that it can’t help them with word choice, the mechanics of sentences or more sophisticated paragraphing and text structures. The way I see it, software can help students take ownership of their writing to the extent that when they submit their work to teachers, it represents their best efforts and warrants critical assessment. Again:
Let Software Do…
What Software can, so…
Teachers do what only Teachers Can
1 – Grade with confidence
Grading a stack of student writings can be intimidating. You want the marks to be accurate and fair, whether it’s the first text you read or the last. You also know students want a clear idea of why writings get different grades. Scribo makes all this easier and increases teachers confidence with tools for moderating grades, comparing writings and reviewing summaries.
2 – Make Feedback Fast & Effective
Teacher feedback is one of the most powerful ways to improve student writing. It can also take lots of time. Even more disappointing is when all that effort disappears or is under- valued by students. Scribo speeds up the feedback process with talk-to-text and the ability to send comments to individuals or the class. All with one click or less. Best of all, every piece of feedback is collected and builds a rich picture of student ability and growth over time.
3 – Get data-informed insights on Students’ Skills
Most teachers have an idea what students need to do to improve their writing. Often it’s some like using more varied sentences, expanding vocabulary or better structuring their paragraphs. Scribo quickly analyses texts across these and other aspects so teachers’ can combine their instincts with data insights to confidently focus on areas for improvement.
4 – Target Teaching Before Reading
Teachers grade student writings for many reasons. One of the most valuable outcomes is the collected insights gained by reading a class set of texts. Teachers learn about student strengths as well as areas for improvement. Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could get these insights without reading all those papers?This is EXACTLY what Scribo does for all teachers whose students compose extended texts. Within minutes of feeding a class set of writings into Scribo, it identifies strengths and skill gaps as well as generates a full suite of interactive resources you can use for targeted teaching. Now you have samples of student work that illustrate the very teaching points you want to make.
5 – Save Time at Every Step
What are the steps of your writing process: drafting, peer feedback, targeted instruction, grading, feedback, revision? Scribo simplifies, speeds up, and makes each step more effective. Teachers can reclaim precious time by using Scribo for one or all these steps.
Scribo – the new step in your writing program