How do you effectively and efficiently share formative assessment data between the teachers providing different types of instructional support when the population of students receiving extra instructional support exceeds more than 75% of the student body? This is a question we have been thinking about recently with some of the teachers with whom we collaborate.
These schools had done the work of identifying common goals for these students through data team meetings, but wanted to share the instructional strategies being used and the formative data collected daily for these students. Most of these students were receiving support from three to five different teachers and the teams thought it was essential to share information so they could work collaboratively and provide cohesive instruction to these students. We tried many different systems, but in the end we chose to create a personal conferring notebook for each student. Rather than trying to copy and share notes or add notes to each teacher’s conferring notebook for this number of students, each student traveled with a personal notebook that contained her goals and all the formative assessment notes for the teachers she was working with throughout the day. We discovered many benefits from this system:
Taking conferring notes to inform our instruction has always been part of our practice, but when the students each had their own personal notebook that was shared between teachers the purpose for these notes became clearer. Each day we begin our sessions opening the notebooks of each student and reading what the other teachers had written. These notes, questions, and ideas pushed our thinking. We find ourselves wanting to continue the dialogue by responding, adding questions, and sharing our insights. We are motivated to document our notes each day so we can continue the communication. In the past, we always valued this communication, but found it difficult to find the time to do it. We either talked on the fly as we passed our colleagues in the hall, or received each other’s notes a week later when the information was not as timely. The personal conferring notebook supports ongoing communication by creating a cycle of immediate feedback. The more we respond, the more each teacher uses the information, and the dialogue continues to grow.
Our students began to notice that we start each session by reading their notebook. They want to know what is in the notebook and hear about what we are writing. We notice that our students are more invested in knowing their goals and understanding how we are assessing their progress towards these goals. Students ask us how they are doing and share their thoughts on the process with us. We want our students to tell us when our lessons are helping them, and to give us feedback on what is confusing to them. Their involvement in the process has made our notes more authentic and purposeful for both the teachers and the students. When we reflect on our personal learning we realize it is very difficult to get better at something if we do not know our goals or our progress towards those goals. We need to get purposeful, timely feedback so that we can continue to grow and learn. The personal conferring notebooks provide an opportunity for us to talk directly to our students about their goals and it helps them understand that all their teachers are working together to help them progress towards their goals. We have found as a result that our students are more engaged, and taking more ownership over their learning.
When we developed the personal conferring notebooks, our motivation was to bring coherence to our communication around the instructional goals of our at-risk readers. We found that this system also brought coherence to our instructional strategies, assessment, and professional learning. These notebooks inspired continued dialogue between all of us. We wanted to hear more about a strategy a particular teacher was trying and share expertise. We began to find different ways to document our notes and found consistent methods so that we could easily analyze and use the information each teacher provided.
We also generated lots of topics to explore together during our professional learning communities. The dialogue we were having around these students helped us identify areas we wanted to learn more about so that we could teach our students more effectively. We chose topics to read more about, or to watch professional videos about to see how to teach particular strategies. We even co-constructed and co-taught some lessons so that we could learn how to teach some strategies together. These experiences transformed our PLCs. We began to truly use this time to learn about topics that were meaningful to us, and to use data during these sessions to help us assess our students’ progress. These meetings no longer felt like something we had to do, but something that was helping us to our job better.
One of the biggest challenges we are facing with formative assessment is finding time for teams of teachers to communicate about at-risk readers. It is ideal if teams of teachers can meet weekly to share how students are progressing and what they are noticing in their instructional groups. When we communicate this information we can use everyone’s assessment data to help our teaching become more precise and targeted for a particular student or group of students’ needs. Everyone’s schedules are so packed in schools today that it seems unrealistic to suggest the obvious, that we need more common planning time. While we would love more common planning time, we know this is not a realistic goal for most schools. We tried an alternative — personal conferring notebooks — as a system to share notes so we can use them in the moment in all instructional support lessons. If you are struggling with finding more common planning time to share information on your at-risk readers, this system may work for you.