In our July 29 post, “A New Look at Assessments: The Student Performance Grid” we showed you how to conduct a detailed analysis of a classroom assessment of students’ learning. After sorting the student work, we began with the less proficient work samples. We entered specific descriptive information into the two columns labeled “Areas of Strength” and “Areas for Improvement.” Then we looked for common challenges and strengths within specific outcomes.
Today we’d like to show you how to use the same Grid to find the shared characteristics among the students not yet reaching proficiency. The goal of study group teachers is to relentlessly pursue, discover and apply responsive equitable approaches for learning so that each and every student reaches excellence. For this purpose, study groups analyze not only content outcomes; they also seek to understand who the learners are who are not yet reaching proficiency.
Although an individual can use the Grid to analyze student learning, it’s most transformative when a group of teachers have collaboratively defined the student outcomes they are promoting and have designed (or revised) a common assessment of them.
The first step is for each teacher to enter the information onto the Grid, as follows:
- In the “Student Characteristics” column, start at the top and write what you know about each student’s cultural background. Consider the characteristics of class, race, ethnicity, gender, behaviors, language, religion, and exceptionality.
- Circle the two or three most common cultural characteristics observed among the students with lower performance.
Next the teachers engage in consideration of the patterns found among their Grids, as follows.
- The group discusses the patterns found, using questions similar to, Which students are struggling the most? How would we describe them as people and learners?
- The recorder writes the top two characteristics found by each teacher on a chart paper or a computer screen that all can see.
- Teachers dialogue about this question: Which characteristics of your struggling students are you most curious about and why?
- Each teacher writes about this question: How does your own background compare with the characteristics of the students who struggle most in your classroom?
- Each teacher refers to their own grid and completes this statement: “I’d most like to discover new ways of teaching kids who have the following cultural characteristics: ____________.”
In collaborative groups dedicated to promoting both excellence and equity, the study of individual students’ work samples yields powerful professional learning. But for this learning to occur, the focus students need to be selected mindfully. We have found that the most transformative teacher learning occurs when 1) teachers study struggling students whose cultural backgrounds are different from the teachers’ own, and 2) teachers want to understand more about those backgrounds. The goal of such understanding is to fashion teaching approaches that are most responsive to the needs and strengths of specific students.