How To Use Data... The Quick And Dirty Way!

How To Use Data... The Quick And Dirty Way! by A Word On Third

Do you ever pre-assess students only to find that you're half-way through a unit of study and you haven't even looked at the pre-assessments yet?


...Ok, yes it has happened to me. But only once.

Okay, it has happened more than once!!! And when it happened, I would feel a mix of really negative emotions. I'd think I was ineffective, bad at managing my time, a terrible teacher... the list goes on. Over time, I've figured out how to collect data and USE IT so that it actually helps me to inform my instruction and differentiate. I'll show you how I do it during writing class, and hopefully you can use some of these same strategies in other subject areas too!


Did I make that big enough so you would notice it? This is probably the change that has made the most significant impact on my teaching. I try to give my pre-assessments 4 to 7 days in advance (including weekend time). Therefore, in writing, I give my pre-assessment a minimum of 2 days before we start editing. I can't grade all of those suckers in one day!!! NO WAY!!! Nor do I want to!! After the day I assess my students, we will have 1-2 more days of editing and 1-2 days of publishing and celebrating our writing. (Notice I don't give my class more time to publish--we are all about the process more than the product in our room. I don't mind if our published piece is messy--we can show off all of our learning that way. But! That's another post for another day).

When I'm giving the students a writing pre-assessment, I like to give them a direction sheet with exactly what they are expected to do on it. It might say something like:
"Write the very best realistic fiction piece that you can write. You'll have 40 minutes to complete this and make it your best writing, so you'll need to plan, draft, edit, and revise in that time. Remember to write a beginning, develop your character, use transitional words and phrases, and write an ending for your piece. Use any and all of the tools in the room to help you."
Once you've got your assessments in hand, you can see a LOT about them. Here's a recent writing sample from my class:

How To Use Data... The Quick And Dirty Way! by A Word On Third

I didn't want to put a student's writing on blast, but just looking at this blurry piece, you can see a TON of things that this writer is doing well, even without being able to read the words. This writer is making sure to hit each stage of the writing process when writing her piece. You see that red pen on her paper? That's HER writing! Already, that's one obvious strength of hers.

When I look a pre-assessment, the first thing I do is just read it for pleasure. That's it--a simple read through. Sometimes we can't notice all the awesome things a student is doing in their work without reading over it for fun. Once you've read your piece, make a T-chart on a post-it note and stick it right on his/her writing. I make one that looks like this:

How To Use Data... The Quick And Dirty Way! by A Word On Third

Now, of course on the strengths column, I can write that she edits and revises. She's shown me that clearly on her work. I'm going to write all the things going well that I see. What does your curriculum ask you to teach? If the writer does that, write it down. Write about structure, organization, spelling, grammar, elaboration, craft, knowledge of genre, etc. Then, when you can see everything the writer IS doing already, what do you think the writer's next step is? Building on a writer's strengths instead of panicking and trying to fix what you perceive as a weakness will help you move your writer along much, much faster.

Now after I've looked over each student, I say think about a few things:
  • Are there any lessons that I don't have to teach because all (or most) of my students are already doing it? If so, great. You earned yourself an extra day to teach something new. I'm guessing there's got to be at least ONE thing your students don't need you to teach them. If, say, 16 out of 20 kids know something, then just teach the other 4 students that skill in a small group.
  • Are there any things most of my students have listed as a next step? Perhaps that will be a mini-lesson on it's own.
  • How can I form small groups? I like to teach kids in small groups of no more than 5. If I have more than 5 kids working on something in a small group, I either teach two small groups or I reconsider if my whole class might need that lesson. 
Usually when I plan small groups for writing, I will just jot all of these things down on a paper:
  • Introduction
  • Conclusion
  • Structure
  • Organization
  • Elaboration
  • Craft
  • Grammar
I probably write a few other things down too. Then, I flip through each pre-assessment and check the strengths/next step post-it. If the student's next steps have to do with crafting, elaboration, etc, I write their names down on that list next to that category. This list becomes my small group instruction list.

Viola! I'm pretty much done now! I will use more data that I get from small groups and conferences, but I have used my pre-assessment data in a way that's meaningful and efficient for me. I could go crazy circling a million rubrics and making a check-list and scoring each child and color-coding... but the truth is, I just don't have time for that. This system is not as pretty or Pinterest-worthy, but it WORKS and it gives me more time to TEACH and PLAN INSTRUCTION. That is a much better use of my time if you ask me!

So what are your hacks for using data to drive your instruction without going crazy and pulling all of your hard-grown hair out!? Comment below!!

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