“During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.” George Orwell

Monday, October 17, 2011

Chickens and data based instruction

Something I wrote about 10 years back about data collection.  You can visit the actual website where it lives, if you want.  There is other information there about being data based as a teacher.

There are several reasons why a teacher should take data on her students. Interestingly, they all seem to follow a chicken feeding model. Don’t ask why, just read on.
Instruction in a general education setting is pretty much a chicken feed model. That is, the food is tossed out to the chickens, and they eat it. In a general education setting, most often instruction is made to the group. Assistance is provided to individuals to some extent, however, simply due to the sheer numbers of students, individualized instruction is at a minimum.
Such is not the case with Special Education. The instruction in Special education is supposed to be individualized. Some chickens, for whatever reason, cannot feed themselves. As a result, you walk into the coop and see some very fat chickens, those who are thriving in that setting, and those who are sickly and scrawny. The idea behind individualized instruction is to work directly with those who become sick and scrawny under the traditional model of chicken feeding so that they too can put on a little weight.
The first reason for taking data then, is to monitor the progress of students who have had difficulty in the past in order to ensure that they are improving. Imagine that you are responsible for a group of about 25 chickens. You might consider yourself an entry level "chicken service worker." The director of the chicken coop comes by one day and you have the following conversation . . .

"Hello chicken service worker number one. How are the chickens doing?"
"They are doing great" you respond.

"Yeah, they are much better than they used to be. You should have seen them when I first got them!"
"Are they eating better?"
"Yeah, I feel like they are much better then they were."
"Why is that one chicken sleeping with his feet sticking straight up and his tongue hanging out?"
"I don’t know. He does that all the time. But he has made friends with a family of flies."
" . . .and several others seem awfully skinny. I have never seen chickens sit down for so long."
"You know, when they first came here, they used to run around like crazy. Now they sit like good little chickens."
"Prior to visiting your coop, I didn’t know chickens could sit. I’m not sure they are supposed to sit."
"They do in here."
"How much food have the scrawny ones been eating?"
"Oh, a lot."
"Have they been gaining any weight?"
"Yeah, I feel like they have been gaining quite a bit of weight."
"I think that chicken with the friends is dead."
"Those other skinny ones, they don’t look like they are getting enough to eat. Have you been keeping track of how much they eat?"
Pointing to his head, "I keep it all up here."
"You keep the weights of twenty-five chickens as well as their daily intake of food in your head? That's a lot of information. . . I can’t believe you are able to do that."
Yet as unbelievable as it sounds, there are teachers who have starving students, educationally, in their classrooms. Students are educationally dead, in their classrooms and they don’t know it because they are not collecting any data. They are using educational approaches which are not working and they are unaware.

A second reason for taking data, is to evaluate our own teaching. Just because a teacher is teaching doesn’t mean a student is learning. It is the teacher’s job to ensure that the student is learning. Very often, the reason that students do not learn is not because they are unable to learn. Rather, it is because we as teachers are unable to teach, or refuse to teach using best practices.

"Those chickens are really, I mean REALLY scrawny!"
"I feed them every day!"
"Are they eating it?"
Pause, "I feed them every day. I even use SCRAWNEX, a special feed for scrawny chickens. Like the add says, ‘scrawny today, chubby tomorrow’"
"Is is working?"
"We had a coop inservice which said that it is the best food for scrawny chickens."
" . . . and why are those straws sticking out of the water bowls."
"I thought I’d try something new. I covered up the water, except for the straws."
"Are the chickens getting enough water?"
"They sure peck at the straws a lot!"
". . . and you thought this was a good idea?"
"Do chickens have lips?"

Many teachers have no idea whether the approach they are using is working, for any or all of their students. Yet, they blindly continue on with what they are doing.

The systematic taking of data also ensures that students are given instruction relative to a specific objective every day, or as often as the objective or program demands. Back to the chickens . . .

"You know when you took this job, the idea was to keep the chickens healthy."
"I think I have tried to do that."
"The feeding objective assumes you will feed and water the chickens every day. Have you given them food and water every day."
"Well, there are other things I needed to work on which weren’t in the objectives."
"So what are you telling me? Please don’t tell me that little Winger is so skinny because you haven’t been feeding her every day."
"She got food. Nearly every day she got food, and water too, I think."
"You know, if you had been taking data, you would not only know whether or not she had been fed every day, the recording of the data point would have ensured that you feed her every day."

A final reason is to be able to document for others the progress students are making. Imagine the same conversation above, however, the chicken service worker has been taking data on her chickens.

"So, how are the chickens doing?"
"Pretty good. Did you know we went through five different types of food last season?"
"Yeah. I finally found one that Beaky could eat. She has gone from two to three pounds in the last two months."
"What about that chicken who is sleeping over there?"
"He might not be sleeping, I think he might be dead. I have tried the five different types of feed, and have delivered each of them using three different feeding techniques. But still, he won’t eat and hasn’t gained any weight."
"Did you give them enough time to work?"
"I can show you the graphs if you’d like."
"Well, I’m sorry to say that we can’t save all of them. But at least you have done your best. I may need to show your graphs to the coop director if he really is dead."

How many times has the discussion at an IEP meeting revolved around the changing of objectives which haven’t been met, and there is no mention of data. Teachers should be responsible for sharing the data which would minimally indicate the various approaches which have been tried, how long the approach was tried, the results of the attempts, as well as anecdotal notes which would indicate the next steps which should be taken or the next approaches to be tried. Unfortunately, it is suspected that the sharing of this level of information at an IEP meeting is the exception rather than the rule.

Why take data? As professionals in special education could we do any less?

Teachers who do not take data, should be guilty of malpractice not common practice.


Jordan V said...

Hello Prof. McNair

I read your post and I was thinking that it is very applicable to human service work as well. It is often the case, opperating group homes, that at the Person Centered Planning meeting very little data is given. In recent history I have been using tracking methods to measure the success if behavior support plans and I found it very helpful in knowing what was working and what was not. It also helped the team to identify specific issues in our programing that we have been able to modify with encouraging results.

Anonymous said...

I love this post!!! I take data, notes, work samples, and so forth. Is there one method that is better/easier than another? I would love to observe other teachers who do this as well. Always trying to improve and make adjustments to better our program.

Sarah Slayman

Susan Clyde said...

This is a great picture of why we need to take data Jeff. Teachers often times get overwhelmed with the large number of assessments and progress monitoring that must be done daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly.... I think back to when I first started teaching and sadly, decisions were made based on "what was fun" or "cute" not what students needed. I am such a better teacher now because I am using data to make decisions for all of my students (general ed. & special ed.).