So we all know we need to use data to drive instruction in our classrooms, but what exactly does that look like? For most of us, when we hear the word “data” we immediately picture long and detailed reports, numbers written in small print and the overwhelming task of trying to make sense of it all. As teachers, we assume that the data we use to drive our instruction comes directly from a large assessment, usually formal and standardized, that we have given our students and use to create small groups. Experienced educators may even take things one step further to create their own standards-based formative assessments in order to better inform their weekly lessons and target individual instruction. As important as these practices are to effective teaching, we need to do even more and most teachers already are. They just don’t realize it.
We need to start by adjusting our mindsets and allowing ourselves to see “data” as more than just a formal process that comes after a pencil and paper assessment. We need to understand that we are acquiring, analyzing, making decisions and adjusting our instruction constantly throughout our day in a very formal and natural way through the art of Effective Questioning. Many teachers don’t realize that they are conducting informal assessments each and every time they pose a question, probe a student, rephrase a statement and explain something in a different way. I have seen teachers change the direction of their lesson at a moment’s notice when they observe that their students just aren’t getting it. When a question is posed to a group of students that no one is able to answer successfully, the teacher will naturally begin to scaffold and probe students to help them get there.
Not only does this approach help empower students, but data-driven instruction helps the teacher better understand the students and how they learn. When this is done on a regular basis, students become partners in their own education and they grow as a result. The teacher has the freedom to adjust instructional practices on the spot and in future lessons in order to better support student outcomes in a very informal and natural way. No longer does the task of “using data to drive instruction” become something that is seen as particularly daunting and time consuming, but something that is a part of the flow of the lesson as it is an embedded part of the classroom environment. Instruction is differentiated without the need for elaborate plans and hours of legwork. Effective questioning allows more advanced students to be challenged and those that are struggling to be given the support they need to be successful. A teacher can immediately see how students are processing new information, address any misunderstandings or misconceptions, and provide support as needed. I want to reiterate that this does not by any means replace a more formal means of data analysis, but should be implemented right alongside of it in an ongoing and more widely recognized way. This discrete way of informing classroom decisions can be enacted on the spot and yield even more success for students!