Can the Numbers Lie? IV

“Mr. S,” asked T on Tuesday afternoon, “could I come in for a tutoring session sometime?”  Of course, I said – and Tuesday afternoons and Thursday mornings are my “always available” times.  Shortly after I press “Publish” for this post, I’ll be meeting with T about what’s bothering her.  It might be scansion or reading authentic Latin texts or higher-order text analysis, or it might be a group-dynamics issue, something Very Complex or Extremely Simple.  Learning has become more important for T than her grade, which is a solid “A.”  The numbers don’t lie – T’s performance is above expectations for a Latin IV student – but they don’t paint a complete picture of her learning.  And they don’t reveal her deep desire to improve.

X came to see me Wednesday about her grade, about how to improve it.  She actually knew what she needs to do: keep focus during reading activities, pay closer attention to vocabulary and forms-practice tasks, stop the extended conversations with Y, O, and B.  But it was easier to hear it from me than to say it to herself.  I was glad to say it for her, though, because as X makes these changes, the learning will increase along with the grade.  For X, and for so many of my students, that initial concern about grades is the key to unlock the learning.  The numbers don’t lie – X’s solid “B” matches a performance that’s right on level for a Latin II student  – but they don’t paint a complete picture, either.

U and J?  They like me, and each other, and the class, but they’re disconnected from school.  They don’t have an intrinsic interest in Latin – or, really, in learning much of anything – and they’ve learned that good grades are for other people.  Their numbers  don’t lie either, as they reveal performance slightly below expectation.  But the picture you’d get from their numbers isn’t complete, either.

As I’ve said so many times, “it’s all connected.”  Emily addressed connections – and disconnections – in her blog post yesterday:

Despite the data I brought back with me, and the data that they have seen, so many teachers and administrators are still *scared* of putting technology into the students’ hands or teaching students to think by, well, letting them.  What would happen if, rather than telling students how to do something, or lecturing them, we let them figure it out and gave them personalized feedback along the way?  What if we acknowledged that, say, there is more than one way to solve a particular math problem, or that there is more than one valid way to make a particular argument?  What if we put the resources in the students’ hands?

As one colleague told me, “It would be chaos! They would be running all over the place and talking too much!  Besides, it takes way too much time to gather all the resources and work with each student!”

And that’s all connected to the book my school will be studying this spring.  I’ve read the first two chapters, assigned for next Monday’s meeting.  So far, I’m pleased with his call for educators to focus not just on numbers and trends and charts, but on individual students and on causes for those numbers.  He also wants the numbers to measure what we say they’re measuring.

But I realized something:  it’s not all connected for everybody!  On Monday, each departmental PLC group will present “a strategy, video, website, or best practice.”   So my group met yesterday afternoon to decide.  We’ll use Ms. H’s notebook system this time,  my self-checking practice activities next time – the ones with downloadable keys and “Thinking Aloud On Paper” explanations that students access if needed.  It was a short, simple meeting … but poor Ms. K was upset.  “They,” she said, “are just putting so much on Us!  A new principal, all the changes she wants to make, the new curriculum, the new evaluation system, this book study, and They took Our teacher workdays away.  There’s just too much to do!”

For T and X, things are connected; for Ms. K, they aren’t.  Whatever is bothering T, she knows she can fix it with help.  X knows the little problems she’s causing, sees how they’re getting bigger, finds ways to solve them.  But for Ms. K – like anyone who’s internalized the factory mindset – things are disconnected, like stations on the assembly line.  Even when “They” explain connections, Ms. K doesn’t see them.  A book study about using data, a statewide focus on better data, new assessments to generate better data, a new student information system to collect the data better.  Surely those things are connected … unless you’ve learned to see work as tidy little boxes that don’t overlap.

I’ve never seen things that way; Ms. K hasn’t seen them any other way.  Are both perspectives important?

Responding to yesterday’s post on Google+, Debbie said yes:

The Fire of Truth …nobody said it was easy to listen to and respect all perspectives, just that it was important and necessary if we want to see and understand the bigger picture.

The ego voice’s goal is to make life easy for us, protect us from pain and feel the joy of any type of achievement, but in so doing it often robs us of the learning, of the growth, and of awareness and understanding. The hard questions have to be asked, the challenges have to met, and the the ego voice has to be silenced at times not only as we walk our own journeys but also as we guide and empower the next generation.

How can we use numbers and data – and the reasons and patterns they reveal – to build deeper, more authentic learning community?  And what about Ms. K and her counterparts, who see only discrete points, who miss the webs of connections?  Will a joyful community be strong enough to honor those who prefer disconnection?

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Published in: on March 14, 2013 at 10:01 am  Leave a Comment  

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