Slide 1: Welcome to the webinar on recording and sharing data. This is Craig Howley, formerly at Ohio University and now a researcher working for WordFarmers Associates on behalf of the Ohio Partnership for Excellence in Paraprofessional Preparation at the University of Dayton School of Education and Health Sciences Grant Center.
Slide 2: Paraprofessionals are typically expected to record and share data about students. State and national standards specifying the work of paraprofessionals explicitly talk about data collection and recording. Of course, details about data—what to collect, how to collect it, and when to collect it—will come from the instructional team. Your supervising teacher or other team members will tell you exactly what to do in terms of collecting and recording data; these determinations are not something you would come up with on your own. But it’s still useful to know something about the reasons for gathering and sharing data.
Slide 3: This topic is very important because teachers, schools, and districts gather and record data in a bewildering variety of ways and for many, many purposes. But you will be involved in only some types of data gathering and recording, most likely related to the students you are working with directly.
Slide 4: So before moving on, let’s first specify the sorts of “data” we’re talking about in this unit. We’re talking about information gathered specifically to help plan for, estimate the progress of, and modify instruction, and mostly for individual children. In fact, data measuring children’s learning and behavior are what educators use to determine the effectiveness of instruction. If a child is making good progress, then it’s quite likely that he or she is receiving responsive instruction. If a child is not making good progress, then the instruction needs to change. Notice that this way of looking at data makes educators responsible for students’ progress.
Slide 5: Your role as a paraprofessional, in fact, gives you a good position from which to gather data relevant to instruction and to the accomplishment of IEP goals. You might, for instance, be asked to record information during a one-on-one session with a student—perhaps the number of errors made during the student’s oral reading of a paragraph. Or you might track the frequency of a particular behavior during a set time period (for instance, recording the amount of time a shy student is able to maintain eye contact with the teacher or recording the length of the sentences uttered by a student with communication difficulties).
Slide 6: Students with disabilities, of course, often receive more individual attention than other students (for instance: your help!). They’ve been identified as needing such help. But because you work so directly with students—in some cases one-on-one—you can readily make observations and gather the data that the team needs.
Slide 7: You see what’s at stake with gathering and recording data? Right: it’s one way to find out if what educators are doing is helping students learn. Information useful for guiding instructional decisions is what you will most often help gather and record, and then share with the team.
Slide 8: As educators, it’s our responsibility to make sure learning happens with students. We cannot just be wasting their time and ours! IEPs exist for one purpose only: to help students learn better. But the plan itself does not ensure that students learn better. In fact, an IEP is often too general to guide daily instruction. Teachers use the IEP to make more detailed, day-by-day and week-by-week plans. And these plans might or might not be on-target. Many things can go wrong! Making things go right is not easy, and students with disabilities, of course, confront unusual challenges. So monitoring their learning is extremely important as a way to make certain that instructional time is put to good use.
Slide 9: So, as you can see, the IEP is just the first step in an ongoing process. To address IEP goals, instruction must be tailored to the needs of the individual student or the needs of a small group of students who benefit from the same approach. And tailoring instruction requires information about how well instruction is working.
Slide 10: We want to do things right, but we can tell only by careful observation. And gathering data systematically is a key part of “careful observation.” Because we expect students to learn better—and because we expect our instructional decisions and our actual lessons to help students learn important content—the need to gather data is ongoing.
Slide 11: In fact, even if things are going well, IEPs need at least annual revisions for just this reason: the process is ongoing. But if things are not going well, immediate revisions are necessary to the IEP. And for this reason, too, the team must be on top of efforts to gather and consider the data together.
Slide 12: You can now see how important recording data is. Again, this effort is particularly necessary for students with learning challenges. It’s so important, in fact, that frequent data gathering and sharing is advisable. Educators may collect data for this purpose daily. As national and state standards indicate, you can expect this to be part of what you do (you may already be doing it, of course!).
Slide 13: Many educators find that work to gather, record, and think about data is particularly interesting. Why? Data often suggest insights and patterns that would probably go unnoticed otherwise. And good data, well considered by the team, provides good reasons for making adjustments to ongoing instruction or even to the IEP.
Slide 14: Think about it! Educators want to know if what they are doing is working! Sometimes, perhaps too often, we think we already know. Perhaps it feels like things are working because the students are paying attention and nodding their heads. Or perhaps it feels like things are not working because students use every opportunity to talk among themselves rather than seeming to pay attention. Our intuitions about such things can be valuable, but sometimes they’re wrong. Gathering data systematically and looking at it together provides a wider, and often more reliable, perspective. But one can—and should—also share one’s well-considered intuitions when working with data to refine instruction! What’s intuition? It’s a hunch that the mind jumps toward for reasons that are often unknown.
Slide 15: So, that word “systematic,” which I just used, is very important. Mere information becomes “data” only because it is treated systematically!Information gathered in unsystematic ways is usually less useful than information (data) gathered systematically.
Slide 16: For instance, imagine that a teacher thought about a student’s classroom behavior in order to determine a weekly grade for that student’s “comportment.” Of course, with this arrangement, it would be possible for the teacher’s mood in any given week to influence his or her recollections or it would be possible for the teacher to have a general impression of the behavior of the whole class and use that impression as a basis for determining the comportment grade for the individual child. These methods are unsystematic, and, in fact, they suggest a very bad use of intuition. It would be better to have a good system for measuring key student behaviors related to “comportment.”
Slide 17: Here’s another example: imagine that an educator measured a student’s oral reading performance with a passage that was far too easy for the student, and then recorded the errors. Information would exist, certainly: but it would not tell us anything that would help the student learn better. A systematic approach would encourage the educator to choose a better passage or, preferably, a series of increasingly more difficult passages.
Slide 18: So a systematic approach to gathering data is essential. What to gather, how to gather it, when to gather it, and how to use it are all decisions that should be specified in advance. Such specifications contribute to making the effort systematic.
Slide 19: Many other things that you learn to do as you become more experienced in your work may also contribute to systematic data gathering and use. But remember: as a paraprofessional, you need to rely on the team to find, use, adapt, or invent an appropriate system for whatever data you are asked to gather and record.
Slide 20: At the same time, it’s important to be observant and to share what you observe. For example, your one-on-one work with a student might point to a possible problem that no one else has considered. Perhaps you observe a student struggling to find a comfortable way to hold a reading book. The student first holds it close to his eyes, then far away, then on the left side of the desk, and then on the right. What you observe might, in fact, lead you to suspect that the student is having a hard time processing visual information. Sharing your insight with the team can speed the process of getting a proper diagnosis and treatment of the problem. Your initial observations help the team decide what data to collect and how to collect it.
Slide 21: Because you will gather data for the purpose of preserving it to share with the team, you have the important role of recording it clearly and accurately. In work in factories or laboratories, machines might collect data. But in education, in your role, you are the recording instrument, and if data get recorded inaccurately, they become useless to the team! It turns out that you, too, are part of any good system used to gather data. And this system breaks down without your care and attention!
Slide 22: One critical thing to remember: whenever you gather and record data, you will be acting under the direction and on behalf of the instructional team (even if that team includes just you and a supervising teacher). And the data you collect and share systematically will be for the teacher’s or the team’s eyes only. Sharing data takes place on a need-to-know basis only! The next unit (Unit 9, on “confidentiality”) discusses how information—such as the data you might gather to help improve instruction—must be safeguarded.