Putting a face on Data (aka ‘How NAPLAN can be your friend…’)

“The single most important factor common to successful change is that relationships improve. If relationships improve, schools get better.”(Michael Fullan)

“…in order to build success in schools, we need to see the data not as numbers but as the names and faces of every single student” (Sharratt and Fullan in G Whitby, Bluyonder, 30/4/12)

Over the past few months, I’ve presented the following information to a few different groups. In preparation for a small group workshop this week, I thought I’d finally follow through and write up the process…

Part of my current role as a LOP is to ensure that a number of students have a functioning Individual Education Plan – IEP – (students who are at or below benchmarks for Literacy and/or Numeracy (NAPLAN), new arrivals to Australia from a non-English speaking country, deemed at risk by the school, and/or from an ATSI background). Last year, this meant 1:1 meetings with 47 students and their parents, and subsequent feedback to teachers regarding student learning needs and implications for classroom teaching. I don’t like doing anything for the sake of ticking a box, so whilst last year’s process was good in terms of the value of the parent/student dialogue, this didn’t necessarily translate into changed classroom practice.

I was also struggling to get any traction around what the data was telling us in terms of student literacy needs. I could put up the numbers, jump up and down, even plead, but they were just numbers…

This year, I wanted to explore something that would be manageable for me (given there would be 137 IEPs required), but primarily more meaningful for the kids and the teachers. I had also read Greg Whitby’s post about “Putting a face to data” and that resonated with me. I crowd-sourced (thru emailing LOPS) who was doing what for IEPs. My lovely friend Jenny (@jcsymington) offered a process she had started involving Learning Surveys with all students. With permission, I pinched her survey and got started. Here’s what we did:

All students were asked to complete the Learning Survey. (Not perfect, but gave us a good overview of students needs, wishes, successes, etc.) We used google forms because this meant we could translate the data into graphics, but also convert the data into an Excel spreadsheet so it could be sorted. One of the survey questions explained that some students would have a follow-up survey and asked students to nominate a particular teacher for this process, should they be chosen.

The results of the Learning Survey itself were shared in list and graphical form with middle leaders – both Pastoral (Year Coordinators) and KLA (Subject) coordinators. Text-based responses were collected in a word document and captured in a Wordle to emphasise more common responses. The conversation at that level around what students reported was quite healthy – what they did to achieve their “proud moments” (most common answer, ‘work hard’) and what they struggled with (literacy, answering questions).

The next step was to involve ALL teachers in one-to-one “Individual Learning Conversations” with the students identified as needing IEPs. I set up a secondary survey, also on Google forms, which would give us more specific information about how these students in need were learning, and what they self-identified as helpful for them. Teachers were introduced to the process at a staff meeting where we talked through possible scenarios and talked about setting the scene, warming into the survey (small talk, etc.)

Using the data from the first survey, exported to Excel (“File/Download as/Microsoft Excel”), I was able to create a mail-merge document to provide each teacher with some background information on their allocated students. (Before this process, I had NEVER mastered mail-merge, but googling “how to’ made it doable for a tech flunky!) Teachers were given approximately four weeks to conduct the 10-20 minute survey with their allocated students. Teachers could do the learning survey on paper, and upload results at a later time, or they could complete the survey online using their laptops whilst talking to the students. Teachers were cautioned about merely administering a survey – the point was to engage in dialogue and make a connection with their students.

During the Individual Learning Conversations, students were asked to identify what aspect of school or study they found most difficult, what strategies or approaches teachers used that were helpful, and they were also asked to nominate things they could do to help themselves.

The students reported in general that time management, reading comprehension, grammar usage, career assistance, and use of academic English were areas of primary difficulty. What they appreciated most in a teacher were clear feedback, demonstrations, checking for understanding, modelling of writing, and “having fun with us”.

Using the data from this second survey, graphics and text summaries of student responses were collated (“Form/Show summary of responses”). This collated data formed the basis for a subsequent staff meeting where teachers not only examined the data, but asked questions of it: Questions to ask of data from Student Learning Conversations. The teacher feedback was also collated and shared and used to inform planning and dialogue at faculty and middle leader levels.

Sorry this is getting a bit long here, but it WAS a valuable process! The data and feedback informed subsequent professional development around meeting student learning needs. It was also used to inform pastoral programs for the coming year. The teachers’ exposure to individual students and their learning needs paved the way for a deeper reflection on the 2012 NAPLAN results and subsequent planning/programming/professional learning. It was  a long process, but putting a face to data in this manner helped make the connection between the numbers and the kids behind them. Teachers want their kids to learn. This process made that connection more real, and added to the quality of many student-teacher relationships as well.

But wait! There’s more! The second survey data was ALSO exported into Excel. The data this time was used in the following ways, depending on the audience for the information:

  • merged to create profiles on individual students who received specialist support
  • merged to provide information about Year 7 learning needs and approaches for a consultant working with the school
  • merged to provide ALL teachers with Individual Learning Profiles on the students in their own classes
  • merged into letter to the parents to inform them that their child had had a Learning Conversation, results/goals/what helps them – and suggestions for what the parents might do at home to assist their child.

It was a less than perfect process. Teacher feedback indicated it would be valuable for ALL students to have the second survey and conversation, but time constraints were an issue. Teachers generally preferred completing the survey on paper and later entering results online as the laptop served a physical barrier between student and teacher. The process needs to be started earlier in the year so the data can be used in more meaningful ways. Information sharing with parents would be better face to face at parent-teacher interviews, for instance. But on the whole, it was a successful approach. It was a way that we used the NAPLAN data NOT as a means to condemn or label, but as a means to leverage real conversations, leading to real adjustments and real awareness of the needs of individual students in our care. NAPLAN can be your friend when it is used to look at the individual faces behind the numbers…

To finish – quotes from two of the teachers involved:

“I like having that rapport, that one on one, they can see that someone else cares about their learning.  The care is really important. But we can’t just do this one off. We need to check in; it will be really important to keep that connection in the long run.”DT

“It was such a powerful experience, having that sort of a conversation with students about their learning. And when they would say, ‘Mrs So and So really helps me when she does this or that,’ I could then go back to that teacher and pass on the positive feedback. This really helps create a community of learners and contributes to great conversations about students and their learning.”JD

What are your thoughts? Would love to hear from you!


Questioning Makes a Difference for English Language Learners

There are days when you hope you do your best, but don’t necessarily walk away feeling like you’ve accomplished anything. And then there are days like yesterday, when you get an #eduwin! My role as Leader of Pedagogy is loosely defined as ‘change agent’ and ‘capacity builder’, and for a large part of my time I am lucky to be available to work with individual staff members on areas of need. What I love is when I can see how a tiny seed I’ve planted blossoms when a teacher takes something on board, runs with it and owns it.

Our ESL teacher had discussed her concerns about her Stage 6 ESL class with me on several occasions, but she was really tearing her hair out a few weeks ago. Her class is comprised of 9 boys, all who have been in Australia fewer than five years. One student is Sudanese, two Filipino, the rest Chinese or Korean. She was concerned that factions, built around language, had developed in the class and she was really struggling to get the boys engaged and speaking English. Two of the more confident speakers seemed to monopolise the conversations and the rest said, and did, very little.

Scratching my head, I suggested a few tactics.

  • Playing cards: giving the boys three cards each and require each student to play a card and contribute to the conversation before anyone was allowed to play a second card.
  • Putting desks in a circle, or “conference” table set-up, as per a Harkness Table, which I learnt about at the recent StudentMeet.
  • Using Dylan Williams’ “basketball questioning” instead of the standard “ping pong” or call and response methods we teachers usually use.

I’ve long been fascinated by questioning methods, and was exposed the notion of “wait time” (or “latency”) in the early days of my teaching in LA as part of the TESA program. But this year, through blog posts and Twitter bits and pieces, I’ve picked up some really good links and have been exploring how we can use more effective questioning to deepen student learning. (Apologies if you were someone who sent me a link, I can’t remember where I picked up what!)

Some of the links I passed along to Robyn (literally just sent via email) included the following:


But aside from that, she just went away and worked her own magic.


Robyn had been working with the boys on viewing, discussing and analysing “Rabbit Proof Fence”. Yesterday, she asked could I come to her class and observe as a “critical friend” to see how the boys were using questioning and conversation as a result of her recent efforts. What a privilege!


Students had previously been asked to choose an image from the film that they felt represented “belonging”. With their own image, they had to record why they chose it, how it related to belonging, what film technique was used and what effect that might have on the audience. Their work was uploaded to Edmodo and Robyn printed a selection of images and information for all the boys.


At the start of the lesson, Robyn reminded the boys that the focus was on “belonging” and the language related to “how”. The boys moved their tables quickly into a conference set up (4 x 2 desks, facing each other – Exeter on a budget!) And one by one, they talked about their chosen image, techniques, effects, etc.


Some of the dialogue?


S1: My chosen image is a long shot from a low angle. It shows Molly, but the angle is coming from the ground. It shows how, despite the hot weather, she shows responsibility to her sister. The low angle communicates her strength and her power.


S2: I think it also emphasises loneliness and separation because… no, not separation, isolation is a better word, because…


S1: Does anyone else have any other comments to add to my description?


S3: Yes, in my opinion, it is not a long shot. Your image shows the whole body, but it doesn’t show any of the rest of the environment. It emphasises her feelings but not her journey.


S4: No, I think it is a long shot because it emphasises how far they still have to walk.


When they had finished discussing a student’s image and information, one student would prompt the discussion to move to the next student. Robyn only stepped in to help the students stay on track, or in one case to remind a quiet student that he needed to use language to describe his image, not merely point to it.


And on they went. About 40 minutes of discussion, questioning, answering, justifying, challenging each other. This, from a group of boys who up until about 4 weeks ago wouldn’t speak in English, let alone speak to each other.


Robyn’s gentle manner, the change in classroom set-up, some instruction and practice in questioning – they were transformed. I congratulated the boys on their use of specific language, their willingness to challenge and clarify, their great questions, and most of all their manner. Robyn and the boys had created an environment which allowed all students to be heard and created a safe space for these English language learners to feel safe and take risks, not only in their use of language, but in using the academic language of English.


Next step? Moving from oral to written. But they’ve had a great start and a good grounding. And Robyn got a shout out at today’s staff meeting. #eduwin!!!