Ever been to a data review meeting like this?
Data is projected for everyone to see.
You group students into those who are exceeding, meeting, and not meeting the target expectation.
Everyone gives reasons for why students have reached varied levels of proficiency.
In the last 5-10 minutes, you come up with some ideas for what to do for these students, focusing mostly on the students who are struggling. These ideas almost always include the following: reteaching skills in small group and/or a “double-dip” with a specialist.
Everyone agrees to do said ideas, but these ideas either get pushed to the wayside for new standards being taught or people end up planning the language and strategies of the reteach lessons on their own. For the most part, everyone ends up in the same place at the next meeting.
I’ve experienced hundreds of meetings like this as both a participant and facilitator. It can be incredibly frustrating and make everyone feel like they’re wasting their time. However, I’ve also experienced the opposite where conversations result in specific goals and rich plans for student learning resulting in huge growth for kids.
So what’s the difference? How can we have meaningful data conversations each time?
It’s actually a lot simpler than you think, but requires an openness on the part of the participants. This past week we had a data review of our winter Fountas & Pinnell data planned for each grade level at their weekly 60 minute PLC. The objective of the meeting was to answer the question, “Is our Tier One instruction meeting the needs of our students?”
We started out similarly to the description at the top of this post. We looked at data and gave possible reasons for the results. This year started with 46% of our 2nd grade students not meeting the grade-level benchmark in literacy, but this percentage had now dropped to 29%, a significant amount in a short few months. This growth had truly been a group effort that included:
- Coteaching with the EL teacher and reading specialist
- Small group instruction with the reading specialist outside of the classroom
- A deep data dive into phonics skills using the Core Phonics Inventory run by our school psychologist that was monitored and checked in with the team every six months. The results shifted instructional practice and grouping.
- Parent volunteers who were trained by our reading specialist and one of our 2nd-grade teachers to come and read with ALL kids daily
- A 5th-grade mentor who also read regularly with students
- The instructional coach working with the team to develop a Tier One phonics progression with learning experiences
- A retired teacher from Jefferson regularly volunteering and working with groups as well as reading with individual students as well
When we got to the part where we discussed what the classroom teachers were doing instructionally they attributed the success to their small group instruction. Like what has happened hundreds of times before, we could have stopped there. Everyone knows what small group instruction looks like so it must be the same right?
When we were about to move on, I asked a simple question to one of the teachers, the question that I would recommend asking every time you meet as a group.
“What does your instructional practice actually look like?”
From this one simple question, we got a variety of answers that ended up resulting in a huge shift to the direction we were going in as well as a concrete plan for next steps. One teacher explained that she has the students do the reading for group at their desks and then the time she spends with them is actually on talking about the book and developing instructional strategies. Another teacher explained that she was working on questioning which was different from another teacher on the team. The third member of the grade level team said that she gives students at least 10 minutes each day to just read independently.
As we delved more deeply into the specifics of their instruction we realized as a team that students were frequently meeting with teachers and getting systematic instruction, but that the amount of time students had to read independently varied greatly. Teachers were honest in the fact that they were worried that many students weren’t able to do this for extended periods of time on their own. This was the reason why they had come in as such struggling readers at the beginning of the year because they were mostly “fake reading.”
We celebrated as a team how far the students had come from the beginning of the year, but really started to push one another’s thinking on independent reading. Essentially, how could students continue to grow if they were never really reading longer than 10 minutes on their own?
Instead of leaving saying, let’s make sure our students can read at least x amount of minutes a day without a concrete plan for how to do this, we made sure that the team was supported with ideas as well as resources to help. Our instructional coach brought up Jennifer Serravallo’s engagement inventory that many on the team had used before. She offered to come in and do it for the teachers so that they could work with students. Another part of the plan was freezing some of the group work that was happening so that the teachers could monitor independent reading for “fake reading” as well as independent strategy use. This would be done by conferring. They planned to redo their “Good Fit” book discussion as well as their processes for students filling their book boxes which was planned outside of the independent reading time.
The team ultimately decided they would set a goal for the students to read independently for 20 minutes a day. This benchmark would be progress-monitored and discussed regularly at PLC meetings. The conversations that they would have as a team would be explicit discussions of conferring strategies, students who were struggling with independence followed by specific plans of action moving forward.
Another realization that came out of this conversation was the importance of academic language and that students might be missing understanding simply from not knowing the vocabulary. An additional plan was created for this outcome as well. The meeting finished with a few minutes to spare and a sense of accomplishment.
It is amazing what can be accomplished in a short time when the goal is clear and the participants share deeply. DuFour created these PLC Questions decades ago:
- What do we want all students to know and be able to do?
- How will we know if they learn it?
- How will we respond when some students do not learn?
- How will we extend the learning for students who are already proficient?
Each of these questions plans plays a critical role in the power of a PLC, but if we don’t have deeply explicit conversations about any of the questions, then they are relegated to simply a discussion tool to run the organization of a meeting. The power in the PLC is the expertise of the participants, trusting one another, benefitting from one another’s strengths and ideas. The next time you are planning or participating in a PLC, give explicit time to share how you teach, not just what you did. Making this tiny shift will create an incredible ripple of effects on student learning.