Opinion Blog

Classroom Q&A

With Larry Ferlazzo

In this EdWeek blog, an experiment in knowledge-gathering, Ferlazzo will address readers’ questions on classroom management, ELL instruction, lesson planning, and other issues facing teachers. Send your questions to lferlazzo@epe.org.

Teaching Opinion

Improving Instruction With Student Data

By Larry Ferlazzo — January 12, 2021 7 min read

(This is the second post in a two-part series. You can see Part One here.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

What are examples of your collecting and using student “data” in the classroom successfully?

In Part One, Lauren Nifong, Cindy Garcia, and Deedy Camarena shared their experiences. All three were guests on my 10-minute BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

Today, Luiza Mureseanu, Ciera Walker, and Douglas Reeves offer their ideas.

“Assessment for learning”

Luiza Mureseanu is an instructional resource teacher-K-12, for ESL/ELD programs, in Peel District School Board, Ontario, with over 17 years of teaching middle and high school students in Canada and Romania. She believes that all English-learners will be successful in schools that cultivate culturally and linguistically responsive practices:

Pedagogical documentation and data collection from students—either qualitative or quantitative—play a significant role in informing our practice.

I often use Google forms, exit tickets, notes, comments, peer assessment, interviews, class surveys to gather information about multiple aspects of teaching and learning. Based on student input, I change and diversify the text selection, types and number of assignments, selection of group work or grouping strategies, assessment narratives.

The learning space is an open and democratic forum where things get to be changed if need be or maintained and improved when necessary. One important piece of evidence collected from students that has a positive impact on student learning is related to their assessment for learning.

When asked about their major projects and final evaluations, students are able to articulate their ideas about changes that will serve their learning better. Some of these changes refer to more time accommodation and timeline flexibility and some are about new tasks for their final evaluations.

For example, students in my class determined a change of the traditional formal class presentations to student-led TED Talks and/or video stories. Student data can be truly beneficial in improving classroom instruction. A simple exit ticket can provide a clear overview about teaching strategies, a lesson, or a whole unit planning.


Using a growth mindset

Ciera Walker is a sixth-year systemwide elementary school ELL teacher in east Tennessee:

At the beginning of the year, my students were working on a reading assignment with partners. As I circulated the room, one group walked over to the “Our Goals” bulletin board in the back of the classroom. They looked at and discussed their WIDA Access scores from the previous year. The group consisted of one lower listener/higher reader and one lower reader/higher listener. They decided the higher reader would read the text and the lower reader would echo read. The low listener would make sure that the echo read was correct. As the teacher, my only role in this process was to observe and guide as needed. The students were able to take ownership of their learning and make decisions that were best for them for the specific assignment.

In Tennessee, the WIDA Access is used as the English-language-development assessment for ELLs. This assessment measures language acquisition in four domains: listening, reading, writing, and speaking. It is important that students know their score in each domain in order to focus on goals throughout the year to continuously grow and improve.

In the 2019-20 school year, I tried a new method for collecting, sharing, and using student data in my classroom that was utilized throughout the school year. At the beginning of the year, my classes and I discussed “growth mindset” and how to apply it to the classroom and to our language learning. We discussed how each of us learn differently and that we have different strengths and weaknesses—and that is OK. After this discussion, I gave students their WIDA Access score reports from the previous year. Students were given time to look at their scores and identify their strengths and areas that needed improvement. Students were eager to share their strengths and areas that were in need of improvement with their classmates. My students took time to highlight their strengths and then chose a domain they wanted to improve. This exercise helped students create a goal to work on throughout the year, while simultaneously building our classroom community and culture.

Next, students traced their hands on construction paper, cut them out, and wrote one domain and score on each finger; the thumb was for their overall score. On their arm, they wrote an academic goal for the year (based on their scores) and a sentence about how they planned to reach the goal. My students were eager to write a nonacademic goal as well. Students displayed their goals in the class and referenced them throughout the school year during various assignments. They used rubrics to think about how to improve their scores in each domain as well. Additionally, these scores and goals helped me, as the teacher, determine groups for certain activities. I could group students based on similar or different strengths and weaknesses in order for them to successfully complete tasks in class. The “Our Goals” bulletin board served as a constant reminder of the importance in having a growth mindset as well as the importance of setting goals and trying to reach them.

My students and I referenced the bulletin board throughout the year. When students got discouraged, we would use the board to remind them of the goals they set. I would have students reference the board before an assignment, and they would recognize which part of the assignment they needed to focus on based on their WIDA Access scores.

In the weeks that led up to the WIDA Access, students would check their previous scores and purposefully focus on rubrics to improve their scores in lower domains. Students worked hard to stay on track with their academic goals throughout the year. Keeping track of student data is a way for students to build and sustain a voice in their own education. I will continue to use this method for collecting and sharing student data in the classroom.


“Data has a face”

Douglas Reeves is the author of more than 30 books and 100 articles on educational leadership, teaching, and student achievement. His videos and articles are all free downloads at CreativeLeadership.net. Doug Tweets @DouglasReeves and can be reached at DReeves@ChangeLeaders.com:

I worry that too often we think of data only in terms of test scores, and too many schools have been told that “looking at data” yields some mystical insight.

There is great value in combining the macro (how all students are doing) with the micro (the progress of an individual student). Compare the work of a single student from one month to the next and watch the paragraphs become more elaborate; the sentences, more complex; the problem-solving, more elegant. That’s the impact of teaching at work.

You might also follow the lead of teachers I watched who place pictures of every student on their data wall to remind them, as their headline said, that “data has a face.”


Thanks to Luiza, Ciera, and Doug for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at lferlazzo@epe.org. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it’s selected or if you’d prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It’s titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email (The RSS feed for this blog, and for all Ed Week articles, has been changed by the new redesign - new ones won’t be available until late January). And if you missed any of the highlights from the first nine years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below.

This Year’s Most Popular Q&A Posts

Race & Racism in Schools

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Best Ways to Begin the School Year

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Student Motivation & Social-Emotional Learning

Implementing the Common Core

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Differentiating Instruction

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