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Data-Driven Workshop Part 2: Monitoring Language and Skills

Once teachers have modeled exactly what students will be doing independently, they will guide students in applying the strategy taught. When modeling, teachers should demonstrate twice. When guiding students, they should provide two more opportunities for students to practice the skill. This doubling up on modeling and guided practice will take teachers a little longer during the minilesson, but it will pay off! We model twice and guide twice for each strategy because we want students to see the use of strategies and language four times before they are released for independent practice. This gives them a chance to make sure they really understand what is expected of them, and clarify any misconceptions they have. For language learners, they get the added benefit of hearing the same language used four times. It helps them build linguistic confidence and competence. 

So, you’re sending them off to apply this same strategy on their own, what next? Be careful not to fall into the trap of “helicopter teacher.” I used to be a helicopter teacher. I would walk around, notice a student who needed a little extra scaffold or review of a particular strategy, and I would swoop in to help. Unfortunately, this approach has a major drawback; I would walk to another student, recognize the same needs and re-teach the exact same thing. I’d be doubling up on the same type of conference, honing the same next step for these students. It wasn’t the most efficient use of my time.

Make the most of limited independent practice time by starting off with basic monitoring. Be the teacher monitor. At PS 58, I would close my minilesson with something to the effect of “and now it’s your turn to try this strategy in your…” I would then pick up my clipboard (red for math, green for reading, blue for writing), walk around the class to assess students, and see which skills they were implementing.  

Click the image above (or here) for more examples of formative assessment checklists. 
Annotate the Formative Assessment Checklist

For each subject area, I have a formative assessment checklist. The students’ names run down the left hand side, and then I have 5-8 columns at the top with content objectives worded in the “I can by strategy” format. Note that when I create a formative assessment checklist, I write the date at which I begin using the checklist in the top left corner. I can use the same formative assessment checklist for 5-10 days, sometimes an entire unit. While I teach many  different strategies each unit, I only write the most important ones in the formative assessment checklist. What do I consider “important?” I focus on the “I can” objectives that show that a student is on grade-level. 

Armed with my clipboard and subject-specific formative assessment checklist, I spend 3-10 minutes simply monitoring students. To monitor means to walk around and take note of what students can and cannot do. I do not stop to talk to them, nor are they allowed to interrupt me while I do this very important work. They know that when I’m walking around with my clipboard, I’m getting ready to help them, so they must show me their best work to help me identify next steps.  I use a basic system to take notes on what my students can and cannot do: 

Do I observe each student? No, I try to observe 3-5 students across one or two skills. Otherwise, I observe a lot of students in one skill only. I always make sure to peek over the shoulders of my students who’ve been struggling. They’re not the first I start to monitor because they may take a little longer to get started.  

How do I know students have mastered a skill? You’ll know students have mastered a skill when they’re able to use the strategy associated with the skill (the “by”) proficiently. If a student is approximating the strategy, I still mark an O because it’s not secure. I only use the checkmark when students have consistent control of the strategy.  

Analyze the Data by Column

Before you start pulling a small group, take a step back from the students, and look at your data. Specifically, examine one column at a time, and identify which column shows the most need (most Os). When you notice a column with quite a few Os, you will want to start pulling those students for small group work, or sometimes call students back for a group lesson.  

It’s possible you had planned on a particular small group that day, but now that you’re looking at the data, you’re noticing a totally different need. Another possibility is that you notice that today’s lesson wasn’t absorbed well, and most likely that’s because you need to fix it. 

Think of Alternative Strategies

So, some of your students haven't yet mastered a particular skill. They don’t exhibit full proficiency in the strategy. Maybe they’re not using the language goals you provided them with, or they’re not following the steps in the correct order. Whatever the reason, it’s our job to figure out how to give students access to the curriculum. There isn’t just one way of implementing a skill, there are many. So, how do we give each kid a chance to succeed?

Maybe some of my students couldn’t “supply a reason for their opinion by explaining what makes them excited about the topic.” I can have them supply a reason by: 

  • giving facts or statistics about their topic.
  • showing the reader how it would have an impact on them.
  • describing something special about their topic. 

I’ll start pulling small groups of 3-4 students, and try one strategy at a time. If there are still some students who cannot apply the new strategy, I move on to the next strategy, until I feel like they are starting to show some proficiency. 

The Data-Driven Workshop is about seeing what students can do, and then adjusting our own teaching to give them other strategies to help them achieve a skill.  

Next week, you’ll find out more about how to intentionally create equity in the Data-Driven Workshop. Thanks for tuning in, and feel free to subscribe to the blog here!


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