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Daily Data: How TeachCycle is Different

May 13, 2015


Data. It may be one of the most controversial buzzwords in education, but can small data inform and enable targeted, meaningful changes in practice?

Even as a self-proclaimed math geek (…and one who loves data and numbers), there was indeed a time when I stressed about student data and the pressure often associated with it.

While big data from district benchmarks and summative assessments are important, teachers can’t always translate it into the classroom in an easy, concrete way. Small data, however, is immediately actionable. So, read on to find out more!

Thankfully, data is so much more than an end of unit assessment or a district testing score. Our teaching is about more than a single test, and our data should reflect that. Data should be about the teaching that occurs every single day, and the impact that intentional, informed instruction has on students’ mastery of skills. For example, did more of my students build off of one another’s ideas in class discussion today after I tried that new, “Silent Discussion” strategy?*

Data’s a lot friendlier if it’s about something concrete and immediately important to us and our students.

As educators, we all want what is best for our students. And, put simply, small data can  help us learn what works best for our students as quickly as possible. That’s why BetterLesson launched TeachCycle; we want to bring continuous improvement cycles within reach by supporting teams of teachers to:

  1. Identify a Teaching Challenge, based on key areas of pressing student growth.
  2. Pick a simple, intuitive way to measure progress (small data FTW!).
  3. Try new strategies, and see what works!

As a math TeachCycle coach, I’ve worked with inspiring teacher teams to use small data in their daily lessons — and what a powerful impact we’ve seen! Take my middle school math team for example. We’ve been focused on helping students stay on task and make meaningful contributions to their group discussions. Teachers each focus on a slightly different metric, for example: what % of my students can make one or more meaningful contributions to the group. The team discussed and defined meaningful, and then we set off to try some strategies with students to see how we could support more students to meaningfully contribute to a group discussion. This team implemented a “Participation Rubric” and “Group Roles,” and it’s been so awesome to see the number of students who made one or more meaningful contributions to the group increase each week. The teachers bravely narrow their focus, and “go small” in order to get some pretty cool, powerfully-big results. The team was thrilled with the results, but they were even more excited to see how quickly the students’ engagement in group discussions changed with the implementation of such an easy strategy. Now that the expectations for group discussions are more clear,  the team feels like group work is running more smoothly.

In TeachCycle, you get frequent, small data about which strategies best support your students’ learning. And as a teacher myself, I cannot count the number of times I thought I had implemented the best strategy to support my students understanding of a skill or skills only to be shocked at the results of the end of unit assessment. The power of small data, is that you are able to quickly determine if this strategy is making an impact for your students or if you need to tweak it or try a new one.

So whether you use TeachCycle or not, definitely consider joining the small data train. Small data lets us quickly determine what is and what isn’t working for our students. And what’s more powerful than that?

*This example shows an ELA class, but this strategy can be used in any class. Additional Silent Discussion Resources: Silent Discussion in Action, Why Try Silent Discussion?, Silent Discussion Directions

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