Data Tracking and Student Growth, Part III

We have been looking at data tracking and student growth. In Part I, we looked at the importance of a good data tracking system, and in Part II, we discussed three reading assessments I recommend. 

Today, we will be looking at recording data. There are many ways you can record data, but for me, a good old fashioned spreadsheet works best. If you are a teacher who collaborate with other teachers or shares students, I recommend using Google Sheets. This way, you will both have direct access to data.

Here is how I approach data collection: 

  • Create a spreadsheet and make separate pages for each assessment.
  • On the first page you create, list student names along left column.
  • Copy and paste student list to each new assessment page.
  • Decide how you want to label columns. For example, for Dibels assessment (I talk about this in Part II), have columns for: Fall Words Per Minute, Fall Error Medium, and then do the same for winter and spring. 
  • Enter score for each student.

This is a very basic description of data collection. Each teacher will discover what works best once they start a systematic data system. Some teachers prefer a paper chart in a binder; others learn to customize their charts, color code, and make graphs. There are many ways to approach data collection. The important thing is to have the data, and have it organized and readily accessible. 

Data Tracking and Student Growth, Part II

In Part I, I wrote about how important it is for teachers to have an efficient data tracking system in place. In Part II, we will look at some of the assessments I use, and how I use them to measure student growth.

A few reliable assessments I like to use include: 

  • Dibels (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy). I use this assessment to measure grade-level reading fluency. The good news is–it’s FREE! (The not so good news is it takes a long time to assemble once printed and is somewhat confusing to assemble)  Type “Dibels” in your search engine and download from the University of Oregon. At the beginning of the year, make packets for each student and grade level (for me, that means grades K-6). Give your students each 3 one-minute timed passages to read. This will take place three times a year in fall, winter, and spring. Each time, calculate the words per minute for the three passages, as well as errors, and record the median score. You will now have your student’s grade level fluency rate. This is great solid data to have, and will show whether your students are making growth in their decoding and fluency.
  • DRA, (Developmental Reading Assessment). I have worked at four different schools, and they have all had a set of DRAs. As such, I am hoping you have access to this assessment. The DRA will give you a fluency rate once students are decoding, but I like to use it primarily to look at reading comprehension and writing skills. The assessment has a range of what it tests, depending on grade level, but once students are decoding, they read a passage and answer comprehension questions and write a passage. It is always a good idea to have a leveled writing assessment. This will show whether students are on grade-level, ahead, or lagging behind. The one tricky thing about the DRA is it is graded based on a rubric, and though mostly structured, it can be a little more subjective when graded depending on the teacher.
  • QPA (Quick Phonics Assessment). This is another assessment that you can download for FREE. A colleague recently introduced me to this test, and I really like. Each subtest looks at different phonetic reading skills, and gives you a good idea where to focus. For example, you may see a deficit in r-controlled vowels, vowel teams, and multisyllabic words. This, in turn, helps guide your teaching instruction and address areas of need and deficits. 

I hope this helps! In Part III, we will look at tracking methods, and what to do if you find you have a student (or students) who isn’t showing growth. Have a wonderful weekend! 

The Value of Elaborative Rehearsal

jpg_4289-Owl-Teacher-Cartoon-Character-With-A-Pointer-2You’ve taught the core curriculum so your students have got it, right?

Well…maybe. Students may understand the concepts, but you also need to factor in their long term memory.

Rehearsal refers to the repetition of material, and elaborative rehearsal involves deep thinking about the material presented and associating it with information that already exists in long-term memory.

Because memory is improved with meaningful repetition, revisit the material you have taught throughout the year to help your students make connections to prior learning. This works as learning and memory occur best when various cognitive processes are repeated and overlapped. Remember, even if students have mastered a concept revisit it at a later date for optimal learning.

Taking at Look at Brain Targeted Teaching

gif_anatomy_02Lately, I have been reading about Brain Targeted Teaching.

Brain Target Teaching is a teaching style that utilizes and focuses on what we know about how the brain learns best.

Dr. Mariale Hardiman, out of John Hopkin’s University, identifies six key elements in brain targeted teaching.The six elements are:

  • The Emotional Climate
  • Physical Environment
  • Learning Design
  • Teaching for Mastery
  • Teaching for Application
  • Evaluating Learning

Here is a link to Dr. Hardiman’s site I will be going into more detail in upcoming posts, as well as sharing some classroom experiences.

Happy Friday and have a wonderful weekend!

Free Planning Page for Teaching Beginning Writing!

I work a lot on writing with my students. There are many great graphic organizers and writing programs out there, but here is a planning page that I have found really works. I call it the “Stars and Bars Planning Page.” They are actually more like bullets or dashes, but “stars” rhymes with “bars,” and rhyming is a memory aid. (Thanks to my boss for sharing this idea!)

Download:   Stars and Bars Free Planning Page

Stars and Bars Free Planning Page-1

The reason I like this planning page is because it can be used on any piece of paper. Once the students know the format, they can make their own stars and bars, and fill in the planner. Here are a few important rules:

  • The planning page is for ideas, not sentences.
  • Limit ideas to five words or less.
  • Students start with the topic sentence and work their way down.
  • Students put a check mark on the planning page after they use an idea and have written the sentence.

The sample below is from the writing prompt: We just had our winter break. Write a paragraph in which you describe your break. Be sure to include a topic sentence, supporting details, and a conclusion.

Below is a sample planning page and then first draft paragraph.

Stars and Bars Sample














Writing Sample

Here are some common mistakes I see students make as I work with them:

  • Students try to write out sentences on their planning page; that is why I limit the ideas to five words or less. This is where they plan!
  • Students omit the topic sentence and go straight for the big ideas. I frequently emphasize the importance of introducing the topic–this is also the reason I make students start at the top of the planning page.
  • Students write all their big ideas into one long sentence. This is why we work through each sentence one at a time, and check off each idea on our planning page after we use it.
  • Students write about something totally different then what is on their planning page. Again, making the students put a check by each part of the planning page helps.

Students need a lot of guidance, and for the teacher/parent to work through the process with them. The more they practice, the better they get!

Finally, once students are familiar with the planning page, they can just draw the stars and bars on any sheet of paper, and plan for writing.

Simplified planning page:

Stars and Bars Simplified







Stars and Bars Basic









I hope this helps! I will discuss editing and revising in a separate post. 

Fixed versus Growth Mindset

What is the difference between a fixed versus a growth mindset?

A fixed mindset is one that believes intelligence and talent are things we are born with and they do not change.

A growth mindset is one that believes you can increase your intelligence and develop talents.

Your mindset about how you view intelligence will have an impact on your teaching. Of the two views, a growth mindset is the more accurate way to view intelligence.

There is no denying that some students and people have natural abilities (in music, language, math, athletics, etc.). Still, research shows people can increase their IQs. Alfred Binet, the inventor of the IQ test, created the test to identify which students needed extra help–not to classify them with a fixed intellect!

Here are a couple differences that can affect your teaching (and personal thought life!):

You think your students are good or not good at a subject (fixed mindset).

You encourage your students to grow at each subject and emphasize the process of learning (growth mindset). The focus is on growth, and we all have the capability to grow!

Text Dependent Questions

jpg_5034-Clipart-Illustration-of-Question-Mark-Cartoon-Character-With-Speech-Bubble-2What are text dependent questions?

Text dependent question are questions that can only be answered by looking at/understanding the text.

For example, think of the story Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.

A text dependent question would be: What were the reasons Fern gave to her father for not killing Wilbur?

A non-text dependent question would be: Have you ever stood up for something you believed in and why?

Both questions are good, but only one requires the text in order to answer the question.

Think about the questions you ask. Be sure to include text dependent questions, as they require students to show a good understanding/comprehension of what they have read.

The Importance of Using Wait Time

jpg_watch800I have found in teaching, it really does make a difference to use wait time.

Wait time refers to the time you give your students for processing before they are expected to answer a question or do a task.

Years ago, I tested myself on this concept, and found that I only gave a few seconds for students to answer a question or comply to directions–not nearly enough wait time! (Studies show most teachers give about a second.)

Teaching Tip: After you ask a student a question or give directions, in your head, count to ten. This forces you to slow down, and allows more processing time for your students. I just smile at the students while waiting.

The Results: Time and time again, students come up with an answer or comply! They just needed more time to process. For students/children on the autism spectrum and/or with language processing disorders, the wait time may be even longer. Adjust accordingly.

Beginning of the School Year “To Do’s”

jpg_circle-blue-check-1Some of you have already been teaching for a few weeks(like me), and/or your kids are back in school. Others have just started after Labor Day.

The first few weeks of school are very time consuming, and set the pace for the rest of the year.

Here are some priorities:

  • Review classroom rules (daily).
  • Get to know your students (I love doing an “All About Me” paper with each of my students. Here is a free All About Me worksheet!)
  • Get baselines for your students levels. Each district has different criteria for testing. (For a really simple way to get your students’ or child’s reading ability, try the San Diego Quick.)
  • For students on IEPs (Individualized Education Program), review: student levels, goals, accommodations, modifications, and any other pertinent information. Even if you are not the student’s special education teacher, you should know this!
  • Set up small groups for instruction, based on student needs.

This is  how I spend my first few weeks of school. Once I have this organized, the rest of the year runs much smoother. I hope you are all off to a great start!

Using Rubrics

jpg_4289-Owl-Teacher-Cartoon-Character-With-A-Pointer-2Recently, I had a someone ask, “What is a rubric?” As she had never heard of one, I assume there are others out there who need to know as well.

Here was my reply:

A rubric is a scoring guide that helps teachers grade an assignment; it also helps the student know the criteria for an assignment.
For example, in writing a paragraph, the rubric may give points for: grammar/conventions, topic sentence, supporting details, word choice, etc. Add all the points up, and that is the grade.

My take on rubrics:

I think rubrics are helpful, but I am not totally attached to them. Rubrics are beneficial in that as a student or teacher, you know what is expected out of an assignment; it is clearly laid out.

Where I am not the biggest fan of rubrics is–sometimes I find that they take away from holistically looking at an assignment. For instance, a student can turn in a paper that really shines, but miss on certain points and still get a “B.”

My suggestion is…use them as a guideline, but occasionally allow some flexibility in grading. If it is an “A” paper, give it an “A.” (I wouldn’t grade down, but definitely grade up when you feel the assignment has earned it!) This may seem a little subjective, but we really should reward quality work when we see it. Call it bonus points!