None of us expected that our students would be engaged in online and hybrid learning for so many months. This reality has created very real barriers to knowing and assessing our students in meaningful ways. The good news is this very challenge has created rich opportunities for instructional coaching. If we can find ways to collect student evidence, then this information can be used to co-plan responsive lessons with teachers. While using student evidence has always been a core practice for Student-Centered Coaching, and we know that we’ll have to tweak how we do it, it is as important now as ever.
Before we introduce three ways of making this happen, let’s first define what we mean by ‘student evidence’. In Student-Centered Coaching: The Moves (2017) we write,
Looking at quantitative data can be useful to identify school or district-wide trends and achievement gaps and to set big-picture goals. But when thinking about partnering with teachers through student-centered coaching, we need to use an entirely different type of data. We are looking for student evidence that we can collect today and that will inform us about what our students need tomorrow. So instead of looking at spreadsheets from big formal tests, we look at things like student writing samples, math problems, exit slips, and responses to reading. In this way, we can gain an understanding of where students are in relation to that day’s learning and plan for next steps in instruction moving forward. (p. 106)
Strategy 1: Identify the Qualities of Useful Evidence
If student evidence is a driver for knowing where students are in relation to the desired learning, then teachers and coaches need to be thoughtful about what kinds of evidence they use. For example, there are a broad variety of digital tools available as well as more traditional forms of student evidence such as writing samples and exit slips. Regardless of setting, teachers and coaches will find student evidence most helpful when:
- It doesn’t take long to create.
- It isn’t necessarily something “extra” but can be what students are already producing.
- It is descriptive in nature and makes thinking visible.
- It is aligned with desired learning outcomes, standards, and learning targets.
- It can be produced and shared virtually.
From: Student-Centered Coaching from a Distance (Sweeney and Harris, 2021)
Strategy 2: Be Thoughtful About the Age Level and Content Area
The pivot to remote learning has caused an incredible level of acceleration in the area of technology integration. While these tools and programs offer lots of possibilities for students to demonstrate their learning, there are a few circumstances where we have to think even more out of the box about how to collect student evidence.
One of these areas relates to the age and developmental stage of the students we are working with. Jessy, an elementary coach, recently faced this issue when co-planning a writing unit with a first-grade team. When doing similar planning with the upper elementary grades in her school, they created digital writers’ notebooks for students in Google Docs. This provided an easy and efficient way for students to share their writing, and for the teachers and coach to give feedback through the comment feature. But what about six and seven-year olds, most of whom are still spelling phonetically, developing their handwriting skills, and relying heavily on pictures to help tell their story? Jessy and the team grappled with this and came up with three ideas to try:
- Use FlipGrid so students can video themselves reading their stories as they point to words.
- Have students take a “story selfie”, or picture of their story, and upload it into the LMS.
- Provide a “give one, get one” plan where family members can pick up a blank story packet for their student, and then receive a new one each time they bring a completed packet back to the school.
- By coming up with three different options, Jessy led the team in thinking about equity by providing options for people to choose which method would work best for them and their student.
Strategy 3: What About Anecdotal Evidence?
There seems to be an age-old battle in education about the value of qualitative versus quantitative data. We recognize that both are important and strongly believe that anecdotal evidence can be a valuable tool for understanding where individual students are at any given moment. It’s easy to limit our view of “evidence” to solely include tangible things that students have produced or created. Yet we can also gain evidence through what we observe students doing or by what they tell us directly, as in reading and writing conferences. For coaches, anecdotal evidence is gathered in the moves for co-teaching such as You Pick Four, Co-conferring, and Noticing and Naming. For more information on these co-teaching moves, see Student-Centered Coaching: The Moves (Sweeney and Harris, 2017).
What Can We Carry Forward?
Using student evidence is a practice that’s rooted in formative assessment and is a key driver in Student-Centered Coaching. Whether coaching in person or at a distance, our hope is that coaches will continue to pursue partnerships with teachers that leverage the continued use of high-quality EdTech tools for students to demonstrate their understanding, increase the emphasis on clarity for teachers, students, and caregivers, and maintain a flexible mindset about what qualifies as student evidence.