Take the Thank-You Challenge

Growing up, there were lots of lessons I should have learned from my mother but….I ignored some of her sage advice. For example, I should have listened when she told me not to pluck my own eyebrows but…alas…2001 was rough.

However, one thing I absolutely learned from my mom was the value of handwritten thank-you cards. There’s something magical about dropping a quick thank you in someone’s mailbox! A few lines that take you five minutes to write can go a long way in improving someone else’s day!

Thank You Challenge #moore-english @moore-english.com

For this reason, I keep a box of blank cards in my desk drawer. When I see cards on clearance or at a garage sale, I almost always pick them up. There’s something special about getting an actual card and not an email or a text. No occasion is too small for a thank you–send them after a curriculum meeting, after a co-worker leads a great PD session, or after a colleague does you a favor. As long as your thanks is genuine, there are no rules–sign your name, sign as a group, seal the envelope, have your students do the writing!  

So here’s my challenge for you: find a way to thank someone in your life this week! Take a few minutes and drop a line to a past teacher, a fellow teacher, or a member of the support staff. Send a genuine, handwritten note of thanks and let them know you’re grateful!

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Paired Texts for To Kill a Mockingbird

As I mentioned in an earlier post, instead of doing a traditional short stories and/or poetry unit, I prefer to teach a novel or drama and then supplement with thematically relevant texts. Here are the texts I pair with To Kill a Mockingbird and the skills I emphasize with each

Paired Texts for To Kill a Mockingbird #moore-english moore-english.com

1. “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Since To Kill a Mockingbird is the first text we read in my sophomore class, “We Wear the Mask” is first poem we encounter, and it provides both great context for To Kill a Mockingbird but also provides students with a good introduction to annotating poetry

2. “The Mask” and “Caged Bird” by Maya Angelou

After reading Dunbar’s poem, we also read Angelou’s re-interpretation or adaptation of his work. This opens up a great conversation about the way authors and artists build on one another’s work, finding way to address similar themes and concerns. In particular, this is a poem where I begin to introduce the concept of tone.

Similarly, “Caged Bird” provides an opportunity for synthesis. While the poem and the novel use similar symbols, they have different perspectives. With this poem, students build on annotation skills and on their understanding of tone, but now we’ve added symbolism and started in on our synthesis skills. At this point, we are able to start building a synthesis map to visualize connections between texts.

3. Credo: What I Believe” by Neil Gaiman

This short piece from Gaiman is a recent addition to my To Kill a Mockingbird unit, but it’s proven to be invaluable. As with “Caged Bird,” it’s a good piece for addressing perspective. It also contributes to our synthesis map. However, paraphrasing and summarizing are the skills I really emphasize with this piece. It’s short enough that students can summarize it independently, but then we break it into chunks and practice our paraphrasing and close-reading skills. Where I place this text within my unit varies from class to class: for classes with low comprehension skills, I place this early; for classes with low synthesis skills, I place this later in the unit. 

4. “The Economics of the New Jim Crow” from Inequality.org

This is the first piece of nonfiction my students read, so it is both fitting in connection with To Kill a Mockingbird and of appropriate complexity and length for the beginning of the year. Before deploying this text, read it carefully because it begins with a powerful image. The text helps reinforce the notion that American racism has not ended but that it has evolved and has an economic component. Great for discussing how authors use evidence and figurative language to make and support claims. Inequality.org also has The Disparate Impact of Climate Change,” which I do not always have time to teach (and it’s getting a little dated); however, this article makes a great point about the connection between class, poverty, and discrimination. My students often miss the class implications of To Kill a Mockingbird, so I value that aspect of this article.

5. Ruby Payne’s Hidden Rules for Understanding Poverty from A Framework for Understanding Poverty

Most of us probably read Ruby Payne’s work as undergrads, and while I admit that the text has some problems, the chart of Hidden Rules works extremely well with To Kill a Mockingbird. This is a discussion point for my students as they evaluate how the hidden rules work within To Kill a Mockingbird. This is an opportunity to continue synthesis, but this is also a place where I begin introducing text features and discussion skills. 

6. CrashCourse To Kill a Mockingbird: Part I and Part IIPaired Texts for Teaching To Kill a Mockingbird @moore-english #moore-english #2ndaryela

I rarely show these clips to the whole class, but I often use them as discussion stations. I’ll place one clip at one station and ask students to either write questions based on the clip, or I will write questions for discussion for the students. If you are not able to use these in class, you can post them to your Google Classroom. Be careful about when in your reading you use a clip so as to guard against spoilers. I also have listening guides for both episodes.

What texts do you pair with To Kill a Mockingbird? How do you use this text to teach the intersection of history and literature? What texts should I add to this list? Let us know in the comments! 

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Assessing Close Reading

Yesterday, Danielle Valentin asked me a great question on Twitter: What’s the best way to assess close reading? Assessing Close Reading #moore-english #closereading #iteachela #2ndaryela #annotation

According to Beth Burke, NBCT, close reading “is thoughtful, critical analysis of a text that focuses on significant details or patterns in order to develop a deep, precise understanding of the text…” In other words, close reading engages in a meaningful dialogue with the text. Oftentimes, we facilitate that conversation through annotation, but Carol Jago and Penny Kittle remind us that “Annotation is not close reading; it is a habit of the mind.”Assessing Close Reading #moore-english #closereading #iteachela #2ndaryela #annotation

Similarly, Dave Stuart Jr. reminds us that annotation is only valuable when it has purpose. This means, as teachers, we must intentionally plan for how annotation will appear in our lessons. Additionally, we must also make sure students understand the purpose for annotation in our lessons. If we incorporate annotation into our lessons in service of close reading, then we must ask ourselves how the assessment measures students’ ability to close read. Furthermore, we must return to Danielle’s original question: how do we assess close reading?

With that question in mind, here are 5 Dos and 1 Don’t for assessing close reading:

DO model close reading and share your thinking with students. Assessing Close Reading #moore-english #closereading #iteachela #2ndaryela #annotationBefore students can begin the process of close reading with rigor, it’s important to walk students through the process. Let them see and hear your dialogue with a text. For my juniors, I model close reading with the first paragraphs of Jonathan Edwards’ “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Choose a text that presents frequent opportunities for students to wrestle with meaning. Build in an opportunity for you to self-assess your work in front of students, so you are modeling the reflection process for them, too. 

DO invite dialogue. My absolute #teachertruth is that reading is a conversation, and writing is a social activity. With this philosophy in mind, I fully believe that close reading is a conversation with a text. Students have to bring their insights into the text and make room for the text’s impact. For Peter Elbow, this is the “violence” involved in learning: to make sure that both student and text are “maximally transformed–in a sense, deformed” (331). Close reading should invite a chorus, a cacophony, a conversation! Incorporate meaningful academic discussion into your lesson. Ask students to establish some behavior norms for discussion, but then let them dig into the text together. The assessment comes from your observations, student responses to each other, and student responses to your questions.

Assessing Close Reading #moore-english #closereading #iteachela #2ndaryela #annotation

DO use close reading as formative assessment. While my students are discussing a text, I ask them to have their annotations out. As they chat, I walk around and read through annotations. If annotation is your tool for assessing close reading, then you have to be reading over students’ annotations to make sure they balance critical thought with comprehension. This can be a hard balance to strike, which is why modeling is so important. As I walk, I star great insights and write questions where students missed an opportunity to extend thought further. After a discussion, I encourage students to share their reflections on their annotations. If I consistently see a student struggling to create meaningful annotations, I will do a mini-lesson and reteach as needed.

DO use close reading as a platform for summative assessment. Four Steps For Pre-Reading Any Poem #moore-english moore-english.comClose reading draws on inference, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation skills! Because close reading requires so many higher-level skills, it is a great platform for diving into a summative assessment. In writing, close reading is an important part of peer revisions and feedback, but the summative assessment is the writing. During Socratic Seminar, close reading is essential to generating meaningful questions, but the questions and dialogue are the summative assessment. In reading, close reading is critical to providing a nuanced poetry study, but student responses to the poem (maybe in the form of multiple-choice questions or a short answer) are the summative assessment.

DO incorporate voice and choice into close reading. In my classroom, close reading almost always means annotation. However, instead of insisting that students use one standard annotation format, we experiment with a variety of formats: double-entry journals, Cornell notes, and post-it-notes. Sometimes we annotate in Kami or directly on a piece. After students try a certain number of annotation styles, they can choose the one that fits their needs and their mind. But annotation isn’t the only marker of close reading. Students can complete exit tickets, color-code a text, design graphic organizers, free write, or journal. Each one of these items can be an assessment of close reading.

DON’T grade close reading. Close reading improves student comprehension, engagement, and higher-level thinking. However, close reading is not the summative assessment, so there’s no need to put a grade on close reading. Remember, “grading” and “assessment” are not synonymous. As Carnegie Mellon University indicates, assessment seeks to “improve student learning” while grading is evaluative. Close reading is an assessment of how well a student interacted with a text and can be measured with annotation. However, the goal of close reading, like the goal of assessment, is to improve student learning. Grade the final copy. Grade the Socratic Seminar. Grade the item, task, or product that shows the culmination of student learning.

What close-reading strategies work in your classroom? What other questions do you have for Moore English? Send your questions, and remember to subscribe for new posts every Thursday. Follow along and keep in touch with Moore English on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.

Assessing Close Reading #moore-english #closereading #iteachela #2ndaryela #annotation

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Parent-Teacher Conference Tips

Last week, my school hosted parent-teacher conferences. As we were preparing to welcome parents and guardians, one of our new teachers asked me what to expect. How many parents would attend? How should teachers dress? Would dinner be provided? During this conversations, I realized there are several little tips and tricks teacher pick up over the years that make for a smoother conference experience.

Parent-Teacher Conference Tips @moore-english.com #moore-english


Classroom Goals and Conferences 2018-19 @moore-english.com #moore-english

Begin early. Setting the stage for successful parent-teacher conferences begins long before conference night. One of my goals for this year was to make more positive parent contact, and each instance of positive parent contact makes for a smoother conference night. I still have a long way to go in terms of meeting my goal, but positive contacts ahead of conference night can make the challenging aspects of conference night easier to manage. Additionally, if you have a concern for a student or see opportunities for growth, try to begin that conversation before conference night. Conference night should not be the first time you address a concern with parents.

Invite conversations. When you start proactive conversations with parents, conference night becomes another opportunity to continue the conversation. Think of it as a formative assessment in determining how effectively you are leveraging your parent-teacher relationship in favor of helping out a student. For this reason, when colleagues mention that they never see the parents they need to see at conferences, suggest they invite families into the conversation.

Seating arrangements. Before conferences begin, arrange seats so you will be on the same side of the table. This visually suggests to parents that you are all on the same side. Sitting behind a desk or at opposite ends of a table creates an adversarial atmosphere, and that’s to be avoided. This may seem like a little gesture, but if you can be proactive about this one detail, it will give you the opportunity to frame the conversation in a positive, collaborative manner.  

Be proactive. Similarly, if you know a challenging conversation is coming, be proactive and arrive with solutions, including tutoring opportunities, pre-planned intervention options, course recommendations for the future, or appointments with counselors and coaches. While you want to honor parent concerns, and while you also want to listen to parent concerns, arriving with a few options ready to go shows parents that you are prepared, invested, and continually working for their student. You may not need all the items or solutions you prepare, but having a few planned options gives you room to say, “Here’s option x, but I can also look into y.” Even if you know the coming conversation is going to be a breeze, arriving with data, student work, student goals, or enrichment opportunities is an important part of continuing to build meaningful parent-teacher relationships.

Listen to listen. The science of listener attention indicates that in most conversations, we are listening to respond rather than listening to learn. In other words, instead of taking in someone else’s words, we’re continually thinking of our responses. While I encourage you to arrive to conferences prepared, I also want to encourage you to listen to parents. Sometimes they simply need to vent or simply need to know someone is listening to them. You may still end up offering your solutions and suggestions, but you also want to honor parent concerns and emotions. Dignify first.

Provide a takeaway. Oftentimes the outcome of a parent-teacher conference is intangible. Sometimes it’s trying a new behavior system, staying the course, or trying a different modification. Providing parents with a tangible takeaway gives the conference some gravity and gives parents something to take home. The takeaway can be a grade report, a piece of student work, or an at-home literacy game.

Stand up. An uneasy silence can often fall over the end of a conference. I like to think that this happens because parents are waiting for the teacher (that’s you!) to dismiss them. When this happens, just stand up, offer a handshake, and see parents to the door. These gestures are easy and effortless but can make a world of difference.

Follow up as needed. Especially when a conference has been challenging or has led to a change in classroom behavior, a follow-up message is important. Sometimes the message is as simple as “I can see your student trying” or “The additional tutoring is really paying off!” In these cases, a positive message is an important step in that continually growing relationship. When conferences have not led to the desired outcome, a follow up becomes an important part of showing parents that you are not giving up on their student.

When do you have conferences? What tips and tricks would you pass on to new teachers? Let us know in the comments! 

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Image credit: Ivory Mix

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Intersections of Historical Context and Literature

A few weeks ago, I discussed strategies for tackling the ever-challenging CCSS 9-10.7 and 11-12.7, the standards associated with approaching a text in two mediums. As I was reflecting on this post, I began to think of other challenging Common Core standards, and 9-10.9 and 11-12.9 came to mind. These standards focus on the intersections of history and literature, challenging students to consider the relationship between the historical context in which a text was written, takes place, and was published. Such considerations beg the question: what is the relationship between history and literature? Further, can ELA teachers, who may or may not be certified in social studies or history, help students understand this complex intersection?

Teaching the Intersection of Literature and Historical Context @moore-english moore-english.com

Before Instruction

First, consider what historical context is developmentally appropriate for your students and your course and curriculum. For example, in my unit about The Great Gatsby, it’s important for students to understand the alienating and disillusioning effects of World War I in relation to the American Dream, but they do not need information about postmodernism (curricular need). Additionally, if your team or department has specific expectations about teaching a particular aspect of historical context, make sure to incorporate that into your planning. Similarly, reading The Great Gatsby with freshmen or sophomores is different than reading with juniors and seniors. Typically, freshmen and sophomores need to spend more time working on basic figurative and literary devices like point of view and paradox whereas juniors and seniors are better prepared to synthesize dense material about literary movements (developmental need). Making these kinds of distinctions allows teachers to build historical context that is developmentally appropriate. 

Next, consider the summative outcome. Engage in some backwards design and consider what students need to be able to do at the end of the unit. Do they need to be able to connect historical contexts? Compare contexts? Situate a text in its historical context? Synthesize historical context and theme? Each one of these skills (connect, compare, situate, synthesize) happens at a different level of understanding. Once you know where students need to end up, you can build instruction backward to make sure students end up with the knowledge and skills necessary.

Then, do some research into the historical context you’ll be using in class. This does not have to rigorous research, but make sure you are versed in the basics of what you’re teaching. Consider checking out resources like the Smithsonian Learning Lab, the Folger Shakespeare Library, C-SPAN Classroom, or Newseum-ed. Do not feel like you need to be an expert, but make sure you acquaint yourself with key information students will need for success.

During Instruction

Start by drawing on prior knowledge. Ask students how literature and history relate to one another. See if they can point to any specific examples. For example, how does the tide of dystopian novels comment on the current state of affairs? Or, how does the increasing diversity in Young Adult literature comment on the reckoning happening in the public sphere? These kinds of rich, specific topics can help students cement prior understanding and will provide an anchor for additional knowledge.

Teaching the Intersection of Literature and Historical Context @moore-english moore-english.com

Create opportunities for students to approach multiple standards or learning targets at the same time. For example, under the Common Core, students should be able to understand historical context, and students should also be able to generate research questions, locate credible research, determine a text’s relevance, and analyze a text. This is a great opportunity for students to work on two related skills. For example, today my sophomores started reading Anderson Cooper’s memoir Dispatches from the Edge. Throughout the book, Cooper visits Sri Lanka after the tsunami, the Middle East during the Iraq War, Africa during the Niger famine, and Louisiana shortly after Hurricane Katrina. While my students may have heard of these events, most of them have no cognitive framework for such disasters or settings. I could have done an elaborate lecture with historical background for each location, but I chose to frame this as a research opportunity. Students exercised voice and choice by determining which event they would like to research. We reviewed the characteristics of a credible, reliable source, and then they began to search for a source of interest. For homework, students will annotate their source, provide an objective summary, note any key text features, and provide an MLA Works Cited entry. This way, students are working with several skills at once: research, citation, summary, annotating, and analyzing the intersection of literature and history.

Next, create opportunities for students to visualize historical context. Making a class timeline can be a great way to “see” history. Similarly, ReadWriteThink.org has a digital timeline tool that students can use collaboratively. I also have had success with collaborative Google Slides; each student or group can add a slide with an historical event and the slides can be arranged chronologically. Another great way to help students visualize historical context is to have students seek out or encounter primary sources. For example, when teaching Beowulf, students almost always consider an image of the text as it appears in Old English. This helps give students an idea of how the English language has transformed and provides us with an opportunity to reflect on why language changes or evolves. Additionally, maps can help students visualize historical context. Oftentimes, my seniors struggle to conceptualize the relationship between Beowulf’s Scandinavia and Hrothgar’s Denmark, so we turn to a map to visualize the world.   

Teaching the Intersection of Literature and Historical Context @moore-english moore-english.com

Finally, as you build instructional opportunities, continually consider where you want students to end up. If, at the end of the unit, students need to be able to write about the intersection of historical context and literature, then build in formative assessments addressing the concept. Similarly, if synthesis of historical context and literature is the end goal, continually provide opportunities for students to draw from multiple texts and perspectives. Design instructional opportunities that will prepare students to show off everything they’ve learned. This should allow you to create summative celebrations rather than summative panic attacks.

After Instruction

After a lesson or a formative assessment, consider where students are in relation to the Introducing Literary Criticism and Historical Context @moore-english moore-english.comend goal. If they are far off the mark, how will you address this concern? Are students misunderstanding domain-specific terms like “historical context”? If so, it may be time for a mini-lesson. Are students struggling with synthesizing?Try a think aloud or modeling opportunity may be in order. Do some students “have it” while others do not? Then, consider historical criticism as an enrichment opportunity for some and a revision opportunity for others.

Working with historical context is difficult for students and teachers, but planning for how you will address the intersection of such dense concepts is key. How do you prepare students to tackle this standard?   

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Teaching the Intersection of Literature and Historical Context @moore-english moore-english.com

Photo credits: Photo by Ian on UnsplashArtem Bali on Unsplash; Himesh Kumar Behera on Unsplash

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American Dream Introduction

Last week, I mentioned that my juniors were testing on The Great Gatsby, which got me thinking about some of my favorite lessons for Fitzgerald’s classic novel. Helping students conceptualize the American Dream is an essential part of The Great Gatsby. One of my favorite ways to introduce the American Dream is with primary source articles tracing the development and evolution of the American Dream. The New York Times has a section called the Learning Network, which includes relevant articles for high school students, lessons for teachers, and appropriate clips and infographics. It’s a great resource, and even if you ignore the rest of this blog, you should check it out.

A few years ago, their weekly newsletter included a lesson called “I Dreamed a Dream in Time Gone By”, which included links to several articles from the New York Times, each one from a different time period and each one offering a different perspective on the American dream.

At the time, my students were getting ready to start The Great Gatsby, so I knew I was going to spend some time discussing the idea of the American Dream. The Learning Network’s resources proved invaluable in helping me introduce students to the concept of the American Dream and also provided an opportunity for students to interact with primary sources. 

While the Learning Network provides its own lesson, I ended up doing this.

1. Collect Resources: I printed each of the articles linked to the Learning Network lesson. There were 11 articles in total, and each year I add another article to the pile to keep the conversation going. Each article is, itself, a primary source. To find additional articles, I visited Time and NPR. Most of the time I print the articles I want to use, but sometimes I link them on our class’ Google Classroom.

2. Read each article yourself because you will find that some articles are more complex than others.

3. Divide the class and assign readings. I rarely create high-low partnerships in my classroom, so I divide these readings from most complex to least complex and assign my most independent readers to the most challenging texts and my weaker readers to the least complex texts. I do all of this before class begins.

3. Explain the directions

Grading the American Dream @moore-english.com #moore-english

For me, each group has to read and annotate their articles and then grade the American dream as it was presented in the article. I have students use the following chart as a way of organizing their ideas. The chart asks students to situate their article historically, consider how history affected the American Dream, determine the requirements fo achieving the American Dream during their historical context, and to grade the American Dream accordingly. I model this process with an example article.

4. Predict. Before students begin presenting their grades for the American dream, ask students to predict the trend in the American dream since its naming in the 1930s. Do students think the American dream has remained steadfast? Fallen off? Improved? Ask them to make a prediction and, if you have time, share and discuss those predictions.

5. Present their grades to their classmates. Have students present their grades of the American Dream in chronological order so students can see how the American Dream has progressed. After students present, I hang all of the charts on the wall so we have an American dream timeline. Then we discuss the trend in the conception and strength of the American dream.

Throughout our reading of The Great Gatsby, students reference this timeline as its version of the American Dream conflicts with and/or relates to the American Dream as it appears in Fitzgerald’s novel. Overall, I’m grateful for the Learning Network’s resources. What strategies or methods do you use to introduce the American Dream? Do you introduce the American Dream with The Great Gatsby or as a different part of your course? Let us know in the comments.

Check out these resources for The Great Gatsby. 

Grading the American Dream @moore-english.com #moore-englishGrading the American Dream @moore-english.com #moore-englishGrading the American Dream @moore-english.com #moore-english

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Analyze Test Data in 6 Steps

For the past week, we’ve been talking about how to use classroom data: with students, with co-workers, and with parents. Well, this week my students are taking their first tests of the year: my juniors will test over The Great Gatsby, and my sophomores will test over To Kill a Mockingbird. By the end of the week, I will have solid summative data on all of my students. And after I spend some time with that data, I will be able to resort my small groups, focus on standard or skill-specific minilessons, and will be able to make revisions to both instruction and assessment going forward.

But that wasn’t always the case. As a new teacher, I had no idea what to do with test data. Sometimes I printed it and considered the questions we missed the most frequently, but often times I just recorded scores, put them in the grade book, and moved on to the next unit. However, there is lots of valuable information in test data, so I’ve developed these best practices.

6. Take time with data and be intentional in your approach to data. One of my earliest mistakes with data was thinking that I could look at student test data and at most-frequently missed questions and that was enough. While student test scores are valuable, and while it is important to look at the most-frequently missed questions, there’s a lot more to be found in data.

  • In particular, I now look specifically at slam dunk questions–items on which 85%+ of students excelled. Why are these questions valuable? Because they provide insight into skills and content I am teaching well.
  • Additionally, I also consider which standard(s) a question assesses and if that standard(s) has been an historical problem for this group of students. If the standard or skill is a growth opportunity for this group of students, I consider Tier 1 and 2 interventions, minilessons, or re-teaching opportunities I can implement right now.
  • Further, I also consider if this standard or skill is an historical weakness for this and past groups of students because this may point to a gap in the curriculum or a gap in my instruction, which suggests that, in the future, I can try to intervene on this standard or skill before giving students a summative assessment.
  • Finally, I consider middle-of-the-road questions: these are questions on which 70-75% of my students did well. In assessment terms, that means the class did C-C+ work on these questions. With these kinds of questions, I’m interested in what clicked for 70-75% of students and what didn’t click for 25-30% of students. This is where reflection comes into play, and this is where I might invited colleagues instructional coaches into the conversation.

5. Explore data collaboratively. As I mentioned earlier, there’s a time and place for inviting co-workers or instructional coaches into the conversation. This is especially true if I’m looking for alternative ways to present content or skills. If my students did poorly or middle-of-the-road on a question, I know they can do better, and I know I can do better for them. This presents a great opportunity for asking my peers for suggestions, tips, and feedback.

  • Sometimes this is as simple as sharing a lesson: try x instead of y. 
  • Other times, I might invite a colleague into my classroom for an #observeme focused on a particular skill, say wait time or use of high-level questions.
  • Still other times, I might look to our instructional coach to guide me through an instructional cycle focused on a skill I’m interesting in improving.

These kinds of data-driven conversations require vulnerability, but they are worth it! Working without collaboration is like working in an echo chamber. Furthermore, working collaboratively can confirm or validate my data: if the majority of sophomores in English II struggled with similar concepts, we know that we have to intervene on that concept earlier, need to reteach the concept now, and will revisit the curricular spiral in the near future so we don’t have the same problem later.

4. Have a goal for data analysis. As with most reflective practices, a goal can always provide meaningful guidance and can prevent you from feeling overwhelmed. The goal can be as general as you’d like: how did students adapt to open-ended questions? Or as SMART as you’d like. For me, I approach data with two questions in mind: what insights can I implement tomorrow? And what insights can I implement next time I teach this lesson? One goal focuses on this group of students and how I can help them grow, learn, and achieve. The other goal focuses on the next group of students and how I can learn from this experience to improve the future.

3. Make formative adjustments and summative revisions. As department chair, I often see teachers approach data analysis with the mindset that if students struggled on a test, the test must be at fault. While tests do sometimes need revisions (because they’re not standards-based, not developmentally appropriate, or include a typo), oftentimes this instinct comes from fear. Data analysis should not be a gotcha. Data analysis is an opportunity for growth, not for judgement. Instead of revising the test, consider revising the pedagogy.

Analyze Test Data in 6 Steps @moore-english.com #moore-english

What concepts or skills did students miss? What needs to happen in order for students to successfully “get” those concepts or skills? If, as a teacher, you can answer these two questions, you can make meaningful adjustments for students right now. Before the next summative assessment, make some adjustments in instructional practices. Consider how your formative assessment prepares students for the summative and how formative assessment is being used to determine student preparedness for the summative. If you make a formative change today, you might be able to save yourself the headache of summative revision later. Finally, if the summative truly needs revision (and it might), develop a plan and timeline for making those revisions before teaching this unit again in the future.

2. Don’t take data personally. Because teachers work so closely with students, we can take their data personally. I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth repeating.

1. Use data as guidance but not as the law. Ultimately, you know your students, your classroom, and your strengths as a teacher. No amount of data can replace relationships in the classroom. For this reason, it’s important that teachers use data to guide them, but don’t pledge allegiance to your data, either. Balance data analysis with relationship building, and you will be successful.

What other suggestions do you have for teachers digging into test data? Let us know in the comments. 

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Remember to subscribe for new posts every Tuesday. When I started this blogging adventure, I had no idea how much was involved in producing quality content and managing blog content and classroom content. So, now, with the advantage of perspective, Moore English will publish every Tuesday, which will allow me to keep bringing you quality content and will allow me to keep up with my students! Thanks for your understanding! 

Analyze Test Data in 6 Steps @moore-english.com #moore-english

Photo Credit: Photo by Jessica Lewis on Unsplash

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Sharing Student Data with Parents

For the past week, we’ve been focused on using student data professionally as a means of leading data-driven, student-centered conversations. As a conclusion to this series, let’s discuss how to effectively share student data with parents. These strategies provide a great structure or framework for conferencing with parents.

Visualize. Just as it is important to help students visualize meaning, it is also important to help parents visualize student growth. For this reason, I really value my classroom data wall. Seeing our classroom charts and graphs, which track class averages, helps parents understand where their student falls in the classroom. This can be important when helping parents visualize struggles or when confirming student skill mastery.

Another way I help parents visualize their student’s personal growth is through student data sheets. Even at the high school level, data sheets can be powerful Data-drive, student-centered conversations more-english.com #moore-engishtools for students. During conferences, I often show parents their student’s data sheet, which focuses on writing and grammar growth, and help parents track the ups and downs of their student’s data sheet. This helps parents see where their student needs additional and where their student truly succeeds. Additionally, parents often see trends I do not see: a dip the week of a family vacation or a spike during an elder sibling’s visit home. These kinds of insights can be invaluable going forward during the year.

Emphasize growth. In addition to helping parents visualize their student’s data, it is also important to help parents see their student’s growth. This is where individual data sheets are especially important: data sheets show where students began and where they are now. Additionally, looking at formative assessment can be a good way of helping parents recognize student growth. Sometimes I also ELA Goal Setting Freebie moore-english.com #moore-englishbring student-made goal sheets so parents can read through their student’s self-selected goals. This helps parents align their priorities with their student’s priorities, and this activity can cast the rest of the discussion in a whole new light because it puts the student at the center of the discussion and lets the student’s desires drive the conversation. Check out this free goal sheet here.

Choose data carefully. In my classes, the grade book usually has around 1000 points a semester, so I can offer parents a lot of data: pre-test scores, writing rubrics, benchmark assessments, etc. While each of these items is an important indicator of student performance, sharing too much information can be overwhelming for parents and can be too much for a brief parent-teacher conferences. For this reason, I suggest selecting data carefully. While I’d never advocate for hiding or intentionally withholding information from parents, I am suggesting that during a parent-teacher conference, not every piece of data needs to make an appearance.

So how do teachers determine which pieces of data to share? Choose three pieces of data to bring to a parent meeting: a celebration, a growth opportunity, and a student-selected brag. 

1. A celebration. To start any parent interaction off on the right foot, share data that celebrates student success. This can be a spike in the data binder, a powerful rubric, or a compelling benchmark assessment. Regardless of which data point you choose, celebrate student success with parents. If possible, give parents something tangible they can take home and put on the refrigerator.

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2. A growth opportunity. Next, bring a piece of data that represents an opportunity for student growth. This is probably the document(s) that inspired a parent-teacher conference in the first place: a series of concerning formative assessments, a low-scoring diagnostic, a rough rough draft. I prefer to bring this item out second because you can point to the celebration piece and say, “I know your student is capable of great things–just look at this first item–but this second item does not match that same level of mastery.” After introducing the growth opportunity, teachers can answer parent questions about the data–how was it collected? Under what circumstances? With what preparation? Then, teachers can ask parents “How can I help your student improve in this area?” This is usually a revealing question and can help parents and teachers design the best means of helping the student achieve success.

3. A student-selected brag. After developing a plan of action, I like to end by sharing student-selected data: a promising test score, a reflective journal, a recently-met goal. This activity provides students with an opportunity to show off a little, which creates an empowering opportunity for students. Additionally, giving parents another tangible item can be a good place to end our discussion before standing up and shaking hands.

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Using Student Data Professionally

On Tuesday, we discussed the advantages of using data to help students set, manage, and respond to their own goals. While assessment data has its limitations, and while teachers cannot know students through data alone, information is always power. And, as professionals, we must also use student data readily, responsively, and responsibly.

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In order to make the most out of data collection and analysis, teachers should consider some best practices for using data.

1. Engage data. As with most strategies, using data requires teacher buy-in. This means actively and promptly collecting and organizing data. Depending on your district or team, there may be norms in place to guide data discussions. If there are not expectations in place, establish some. Every practice is more effective when it’s goal guided, so establish some goals and norms for use of data.

2. Demonstrate vulnerability. As teachers, we know our students well: what they’ve been through, home much they’ve grown, and how they respond in testing situations. In other words, we are close to our students, so sometimes we take their assessment data personally. However, for data collection and analysis to be effective, we have to take student data seriously but not personally. From evaluating data, teachers should develop an understanding of their personal strengths as well as the strengths or their co-workers. This means that teachers can rely on one another for support. But asking for support requires vulnerability. However, such vulnerability indicates an ability and a willingness to change and grow.

3. Ask questions. The only stupid questions are unasked, so if the data-collection or analysis process proves challenging or unwieldy, ask for help. Similarly, if the data indicates a skills deficit in an area you know you’ve covered, ask for guidance. This guidance can come from co-workers, instructional coaches, or from students. Especially at the high-school level, students are almost always willing to give an opinion about how much they learned, including what details were confusing. In addition to asking questions, participating in an #observeme or in a peer coaching cycle can also be a good way to ask questions targeted at specific aspects of your instruction.

4. Collaborate. Part of being vulnerable and asking questions is a willingness to collaborate with your co-workers. Sharing positive stories from the classroom can help build relationships between teachers, but asking for help from a co-worker provides them with a sense of empowerment that may carry over into their classroom. Working together to determine the meaning of an action or piece of data can be a helpful method of collaboration.

5. Repeat. This is very important, but data-drive conversations are cyclical. Once you’ve finished one round of analysis, make some changes, and then it’s time to do another round of analysis. Check out teachers employing some of these strategies and determine how you can implement data analysis into your own pedagogy.

Using Student Data Professionally: Readily, Responsively, and Responsibly #moore-english moore-english.com

In the past three years or so, my district has undergone serious transformations in curriculum writing, design, and revision; in the structure and function of our professional learning community (PLC); and in expectations for tracking, collecting, and analyzing student data. One of the most important shifts in our thinking was using student data responsively. In the past, teachers would give a unit assessment, collect the data and reflect, and then move on. While summative assessment data is valuable, formative assessment data is more valuable because formative data is prescriptive.

After administering a formative assessment and analyzing the results, teachers should have an idea of how to alter instruction going forward. Sometimes the data suggests the entire class needs a new approach, but sometimes the data reveals two or three students with a specific struggle. In this scenario, a small-group or individual lesson is warranted. Either way, the data requires a response from teachers. Responses to data can come from single teachers, teams, or departments, but data requires a response. Some kind of action is required, and passivity is not an option.

Using Student Data Professionally: Readily, Responsively, and Responsibly #moore-english moore-english.com

Finally, teachers must use data responsibly. While we are professionals, here are tenants to guide responsible data-drive discussions.

1. Tact. Student data is sensitive, so when hosting a data discussion, choose an appropriately private location. Consider who can hear you, who can access the data, and how the data will be shared so as to maintain its integrity and security. Similarly, since we can take student data personally, avoiding “you should…” statements can be helpful and can de-escalate a conversation. Instead of “you should,” consider asking questions. What does the data indicate? What strategies does the data suggest? What opportunities does the data present? How would you advise a teacher or team in a similar situation?

2. Timeliness.  As teachers, we know that students respond best to prompt and timely feedback. The same is true for data. The most relevant data is analyzed and discussed in a reasonable amount of time. Establishing a regular scheduling for collecting and discussing data can be key to successfully making critical changes.

3. Teaching experience. Finally, working responsibly with data requires an awareness of the experience of other teachers. The insights a new teacher gathers from data will be different from the insights a veteran teachers makes. Similarly, the veteran teacher may already know how to access her data before the new teacher has given the diagnostic. In addition, because we are at different levels, team leaders should model effective data collection and analysis attitudes.

How does your school handle data? What are your best practices for using data professionally? Let us know in the comments.

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Data-Drive Student-Centered Conversations

For the past few weeks, I’ve been focused on helping students visualize content, including through anchor charts, well-chosen YouTube videos, and through the use of visual reading strategies like annotation, “acting” out a play in class, or book mapping. But today as my students were grading their first grammar quiz, I began to think about how secondary teachers can help students visualize their growth. Today, I will share how secondary teachers can implement visualization strategies; why secondary teachers should employ visualization strategies; and how visualization strategies can lead to data-drive, student-centered conversations.

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1. First, decide what growth areas you want students to visualize. In ELA, teachers can consider reading, writing, language use, speaking, or listening are growth areas. But if teachers asked students to track data in each of those areas, students (and teachers) get overwhelmed easily! The first year I employed growth visualization strategies, I only focused on grammar. I chose grammar because most of our assessments are easily quantifiable. Eventually, I expanded to tracking grammar and writing growth.

2. Next, choose a system for tracking this data. I use these data sheets. At the beginning of the year, students place these sheets at the front of their class binders. In the blank space at the bottom, each student writes a grammar and Data-drive, student-centered conversations more-english.com #moore-engish writing goal. If a paper/pencil system isn’t for you, students could track their growth digitally. Because students are the agents of their own growth, students are in charge of their data sheets, and I check them every Friday for updates. Regardless of which system you choose, choose a system that works for you. Whatever system you choose has to be sustainable within your subject and your classroom.

3. Then, plan time for reflection. For teachers who have struggled to successfully implement growth visualization strategies, one of the main complaints is that there’s not enough time. For this reason, teachers must schedule time for reflection. Put it in the lesson plan, and make it a regular habit. In my classroom, we track grammar data on Fridays. Once you build this into the schedule, you and your students will internalize the behavior.

4. Celebrate growth and discuss struggles openly! While you want to schedule time for reflection, you also want to give celebration its due! I track class averages on a large graph on the wall. Each week, we update the class average and celebrate growth. If I have multiple sections of the same subject, we will make a competition between the classes. When we stumble and have a down week, we have a class conversation about what lessons were confusing, which concepts we should review, and how we can ask for help if we’re struggling. This is a great opportunity to get some honest students feedback and also helps build classroom community.

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Last week when we talked about acting out Shakespeare’s plays to improve comprehension, we discussed the importance of helping students visualize meaning. Tracking student data works the same way because it helps students see their growth. Visualization strategies are great because they help students see growth, invite students to take ownership of their growth, and make growth appear attainable.

As teachers, we know students learn in a variety of ways, and setting up a visualization strategy will appeal to multiple intelligences. When teachers give students a score or a grade, the numbers appeal to quantitative thinkers. Discussions about student growth appeal to verbal, aural, and qualitative thinkers. A graph or data chart appeals to visual thinkers, quantitative thinkers, and kinesthetic thinkers because the act of filling in the graph involves action. By engaging multiple intelligences, teachers help diverse learners “see” growth.

Similarly, when students record their own data, they take ownership of their growth. In addition to recording our data each Friday, students also set a new goal for the next week, so students are constantly engaged in a cycle of re-evaluating their progress. Every week or so, I also make a point of talking to each student about their progress, which builds relationships and invites students to engage in meaningful dialogue about their strengths and struggles. Another strategy I like to use with this process comes from Grant Wiggin’s and Jay McTighe’s Understanding by Design. With this strategy, as an exit slip, students simply write down what worked and what didn’t work each week. When I focus students’ responses on what worked with and what didn’t work with their goals, students own their growth but also help me guide instruction.

Lastly, the process of recording goals and growth makes goals attainable. One thing I really like about these data sheets is their use of bar graphs. The bar graphs are broken down into categories: advanced, proficient, basic, and below basic. This is the same language that’s used on our state assessment, and by breaking the bar graph down into sections, students can set a goal to move from section to section. If that system of breaking down goals doesn’t work fo you, working with a percentage of 100 also means students can break goals down into 5-and-10 percent increments. Making goals incremental makes them manageable, and when goals are manageable, students feel less intimidated and more capable.

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In education, the phrases “data driven” and “student centered” can be frustrating. Sometimes the way these terms are used can be insulting, but neither term comes from bad intentions. Detractors of the term “data driven” often indicate that teachers cannot know students strictly through data–and that is absolutely true! Assessment data is a minor, minor, minor part of a student. That being said, asking students to track data can be a great way to begin and focus a conversation about student growth. This kind of data is not summative, so students are more focused on growth and not on end results.

When I start these kinds of conversations with students, I usually ask them for an inference. “What does your graph show us?” The open-ended nature of the question lets students lead the conversation. When students lead the conversation, they sometimes reveal concerns I hadn’t anticipated. This is the second advantage of using visualization strategies: students become the center of the conversation. Like “data driven,” the phrase “student centered” has its detractors, including a concern that such a phrase is pejorative or reductive. But in this context, “student centered” is an apt description of the kinds of conversations teachers are able to have with students who have been tracking their growth and goals.

How do you incorporate goal setting and data tracking into your classroom? What suggestions do you have for managing student growth and goals? Let us know in the comments.

Remember to subscribe for new posts Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday. Follow along and keep in touch with Moore English on Instagram, Pinterest, and Twitter.

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