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Increasing Student Ownership by Using Data

January 27, 2015

In my special education class, students rotate between centers—each providing a different way of teaching and learning.  In one center, students work on their own.  In another, I provide instruction to a small group of students.  In the third center-- their favorite—students work with an adaptive computer program.

In this blended rotational model, while some of the students are working on the computer, program, I am providing individual attention to other students.  As a result, I monitor how students are progressing in multiple ways—from one-on-one interactions in our small group instruction, and through computer-generated data while they are at the computer station.  

I take time after each class period to review and analyze how the students are progressing.  The program used by my school provides several different types data.  I am able to look at everything from a general student overview, to a student’s performance correlated to grade-specific Common Core State Standards.

With so much data available, I quickly realized that in order for it to mean something to students and parents, as well as a way to promote self-motivation inside my classroom, students needed to understand their progress. Given that I teach special education in an elementary school, I needed a way to take the information provided by the computer program (and intended for a teacher’s use) and simplify it into something that would make sense to my students.   

For my own personal use in planning instruction, I look at passing rate in each content area.  However, for my students, I decided that the number of lessons passed was the easiest and best metric to use.   

To display this data for my students, I simply created a bar graph.  Each student colors in a section on his or her bar every time they pass a lesson, allowing them to easily see their progress. Not only does this encourage ownership over their learning, it also helps emphasize that the academic gains they make on the computer also translate to the broader classroom.

While I initially thought my students were making great progress through the program, it was not until students began tracking their own progress that the class became invested.

When I began my data experiment, students had been using the computer programs for about six weeks.  At this point, my students had passed an average of seven lessons.  After engaging them in tracking their own progress, students immediately began passing lessons more quickly than I ever imagined possible.  Several of my students have made such great progress, that they have moved through a whole grade level of curriculum in just half a year!

This progress is a testament to the impact of student buy-in.  My students began to feel ownership over their learning by tracking their progress.  These simple charts have not only boosted the morale of the classroom, they have also helped my students grow academically.


Caroline Straus is a Special Education teacher in Washington, DC