How Temporary Virtual Classrooms Can Help Teachers Better Use Data in Their Real Classrooms

Strong Teachers and Leaders
How Temporary Virtual Classrooms Can Help Teachers Better Use Data in Their Real Classrooms

Teacher Data Literacy Week is an opportunity to elevate why data-literate teachers are so important to student success and the actions that can be taken to support teachers in building these skills. In this blog post, Claire Shanahan, a sixth grade English Language Arts teacher and former Data Quality Campaign fellow, reflects on how the COVID-19 crisis and the shift to remote learning have impacted how she uses data to help her students succeed. Because she and her team already had a rhythm for data use, they’ve been able to nimbly apply it to a new setting.

Data is an important tool for me in my 6th grade ELA classroom; I use standardized test results, daily classwork, and qualitative data every day to help me make decisions about small groups and differentiate instruction.

Under regular circumstances, my co-teachers and I spend an afternoon each week evaluating how well each of our 125 students are mastering the skills we had been practicing. In a class in early March, for example, we were identifying which students were able to understand the meaning of examples of figurative language in our class novel. We then used that data, along with Lexile data from beginning or middle-of-year testing, to make decisions about future instruction. The data would help us identify who should join a small group reteaching of figurative language at the end of the week, or who would be assigned the extension classwork for students already showing mastery. Often, we would also use it to create the groupings for the following week’s station-based lessons, during which each group would continue learning about figurative language with varying levels of scaffolding.

By using data to make these decisions about groupings and differentiation, we could ensure each student was receiving appropriately challenging instruction without unconscious biases interfering. As a result, students learned more and showed more growth. However, our weekly schedule for assessment often meant there could be a lag between classwork data collection and implementation. And when using Lexile data from standardized tests, we could be making classroom decisions based on data from weeks or months prior.

Now, with the temporary switch to virtual instruction, the process of data collection, decision-making and implementation all happens in a matter of hours. As my co-teachers and I assign checks for understanding or classwork assignments on our virtual platforms, we can see instantly which students aren’t quite understanding the topic and which are able to provide strong answers in a short amount of time.

While one teacher continues facilitating a virtual class, the other two teachers can immediately identify who needs more support. We can pull small groups of students who share a misunderstanding right there during class. We also invite students who need extra challenge or more support to designated office hours time that same day.

One of the benefits of virtual learning is letting us collect data in order to address each student’s needs almost instantly and differentiate instruction efficiently.

It’s worth mentioning that collecting and using data in the virtual classroom is easier than usual because our numbers are so small. On a good day, about half of our students attend our live classes because many still lack access to reliable technology, share devices with siblings, or have responsibilities outside of attending class.

Moreover, in the real classroom setting, classroom management and organization don’t allow teachers to remain in front of a computer screen. And technology can never replace meaningful student interaction or the pleasure of reading a physical book.

However, we are learning lessons about the efficiency of using real-time student data that we can take with us when it is safe to return to the classroom. Both students and teachers will benefit from finding an efficient way to use available technology to minimize the turnaround time between collecting data and putting it to good use.

Stay tuned for more Teacher Data Literacy Week content. And in case you missed it, check out our second blog post, highlighting the researcher perspective on positive data practices and cultures.

Join the conversation on social media throughout the week using #TDLMatters. Also, join us for our #TDLMatters Twitter chat on Thursday, April 30 from 1-2 pm EST!