by Vicki Bigham
In the early 70’s I was teaching high school English to a range of classrooms of students from honors to remedial to however they then described “regular” students. I had five preparations each day and a frightening percentage of students who did not read above sixth grade level. I had not been prepared for any of this. I did not yet know terms like personalized learning, differentiated instruction, learning preferences, project-based learning, or formative assessment. But I somehow instinctively knew I needed to group students, to know what motivated each, and to meet them where they were. I wanted active learning going on in each class.
As I worked to help each student, I knew which were doing well – the ones grasping concepts, making links, applying knowledge. But what about the ones who weren’t? I was frustrated as I reviewed essays written, tests completed, worksheets filled out. For the stronger students, as well as those struggling, I wanted to understand more. What were their thought processes in getting to the final product? How did they approach a question? How many tries did they make before solving a problem? I thought if I could just empty the wastebasket and pore through their wadded up pieces of paper and series of tries, I could perhaps understand so much more.
I grew a lot from those early days of teaching. And often I wish I could return to those classrooms armed with some of the lessons I have now learned over the years. It was 1978 when I first stood behind an elementary school student working with a reading software program on a TI-99/4A computer. By today’s standards, it was rudimentary, but some of us in the Dallas Independent School District were working with Texas Instruments on early speech synthesis and development of computer-assisted instruction.
As I hovered over this young learner responding to questions and being branched to supportive correction and expanded information as needed, I felt for the first time like I had a window into what the student was thinking as she worked.
Fast forward to 21st century teaching and learning. Technology now equips teachers with a host of data – data I wanted to access and understand from those wadded up pieces of paper. With meaningful software tools embedded into the instruction, teachers can now find and understand data for each student that can help a teacher select the best instructional approach for the learner and frame relevant questions to pose.
We need to continue to expand and understand how to best make use of the technology we have to support data-informed decision making in the classroom. And we have much work yet to do in preparing and supporting teachers in their acquisition of data skills to help them improve the effectiveness of their teaching and increase student achievement.
Teachers need to routinely, systematically, and through a variety of methods, use data to assess performance progress and individualize and guide instruction. Technology is one tool in their toolbox to help support this best practice and tailor instruction to the interests and capabilities of each student.
How exciting it is for me to observe teachers in today’s classrooms using a host of ongoing assessment techniques and gaining information about students from technology-enhanced curriculum that helps guide instruction for each learner. And how critical it is that teachers have ever-expanding access to this data that they want and need to know.
Vicki Smith Bigham has over forty years experience in public and private school education as a teacher, software developer, school administrator, university professor, and industry consultant. As President of Bigham Technology Solutions, Inc., she manages a variety of product development, professional development, training, meeting planning, and marketing projects, and works with both companies and schools. She manages the EdNET Conference for MDR and serves as Professional Development Consultant for the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN). She is a former president of the Texas Computer Education Association (TCEA), which she helped to found, and a former president of the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE). Vicki’s career has focused on supporting educators in effective use of technology and bringing together the best ideas and people in the education marketplace to produce quality products and services for schools. She has been a pioneer and leader in helping to build a networked community of educators, industry executives and legislative policymakers, all working to improve teaching and learning through the use of technology.