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Analyze Student Work to Inform Instruction

Tailor your instruction by incorporating your peers’ feedback about student work.  NOVEMBER 1, 2016


Analyzing Student Work Data Protocol (PDF) allows Two Rivers Public Charter School in Washington, DC, to meet every student where they are in their understanding.

At least three times a semester, teachers meet to examine their students’ work and have it critiqued by a common planning team or by a team that spans across grade levels. This process can take anywhere from 25 to 35 minutes.

The outcome? Teachers leave with concrete steps on how to scaffold instruction to meet their students’ needs. “I love it,” says Taryn Peacock, a third-grade lead teacher. “It gives us an opportunity to see in depth what all the students in the class are doing.”

How It’s Done

Choose Student Work to Analyze

Choose work that your students haven’t yet mastered so you can get feedback on how to best move forward. “We just started doing bar graphs with them last week,” says Peacock. “The process of looking at work will help me as I’m planning the rest of this sequence of lessons.”

Analyzing Student Work Protocol

  1. Share the task (1 minute): Read the task to your colleagues. “We do this because we want to see if the task was worded in a way where students could understand it,” explains Peacock. “That’s why we don’t like to do too much of an explanation.”
  2. Silent observation (4 minutes):After reading the task, have your peers examine the student work silently, and ask themselves:
  • How would I respond to the task?
  • How did students respond?
  • How do we assess students on this task?
  • What is a high-quality response to this task? (Useful for assessing students’ understanding against the exemplar, suggests Peacock.)
  • What do I notice and wonder about the student work?

“You also want [your peers] to think about why students did things the way they did, as well as look at the nuances between their work,” advises Peacock.

  1. Notice and Wonders (5 minutes):Your peers discuss their observations, questions, and what they notice about how student knowledge was assessed—no judgement or interpretation. The point is to notice patterns, like, “A lot of students included a title,” or “I notice that there are three different sets of numbers,” says Peacock. The presenter is silent during this time, taking notes.
  2. Analysis and Judgement (5 to 10 minutes):Peers discuss their assessment of the task and student work, as well as solutions for addressing issues. The presenter is again silent during this time, taking notes. “I feel like there’s this profound vulnerability in being silent while your team looks at your work,” reflects Carolina Riveros-Ruenes, a middle school ELA teacher. “It also enables you to focus on what people are saying because you’re actively listening.” (See The Power of Vulnerability in Professional Development.)

To guide the discussion, Jeff Heyck-Williams, the director of curriculum and instruction, suggests answering the following questions:

  1. What does the student work tell me about student learning and thinking?
  2. In general, at what stage are students in their understanding with the content?
  3. What are next steps for teaching these students? What opportunities do they need to move their understanding and thinking from beginning to advanced?
  4. Is there a student or a group of students that have only basic or novice understanding? If so, what reteaching or scaffolding needs to occur? In what ways can we break down the concepts or skills to support these students?
  5. Is there a student or group of students that are advanced in their understanding? If so, what extensions need to be provided for them? How can they be challenged to deepen their thinking and understanding of the core concepts?

“We never say, ‘These students got it. We’ll just let them do whatever,’” emphasizes Peacock. “And we never say, ‘These students were behind, but we need to move on.’ It’s always, ‘How can we push the student, regardless of where they are?’”

  1. Open discussion and suggestions (5 to 10 minutes):The presenter can join the discussion and answer questions. A lot of this discussion is centered around identifying and building on solutions, says Peacock:
  • What are the next steps that students need?
  • What is the confusion students have?
  • How can we dig deeper into this work?

When analyzing student work, Peacock advises sorting it by understanding: students who finished the task and didn’t, students who mislabeled something, students who got something wrong. “We’re able to look at specific groups of students and see who was inaccurate with their scale, who didn’t have a very representative title, and what we need to do with them. We try to group students together so we can do differentiated, small-group instruction,” says Peacock. “Other times, I’ll get feedback based on a particular student. There were two students in particular who needed a lot more scaffolds and support in order for them to do the graph.”

  1. Debrief (5 minutes):Everyone can make one last comment about the student work—reflecting on a takeaway—relating to the classroom of the presenting teacher, their classroom, or school-wide.

How would you adapt this protocol to fit your school and needs?




Jeff: I think this data helps demonstrate. This student organized it from greatest to least before he graphed it.

Teacher: That is interesting.

Teacher: This one is counting by sixes, twelves, fives.

Jessica: Because our teachers look at student work, they really see what students are thinking and how they’re expressing their understand from the classroom, and they’re better able to guide and facilitate a deeper level of student learning.

Taryn: So it’s two ways of them being able to think about creating this graph.

Jeff: At Two Rivers, we really care about our whole community as learners.

Taryn: So what did we do so far?

Jeff: That includes not just our students, but also our staff.

Jessica: The reason we look at student work is to help teachers become better teachers. Student work is the expression of what kids are learning, and so if you’re thinking about, how am I doing as a teacher, there’s your evidence.

Taryn: So when you guys get with your partner, you’re going to work to create a, what type of graph?

Students: Bar graph.

Taryn: Bar graph.

We just started doing bar graphs with them last week, so it’s relatively new.

Make sure your name is on it, please.

The process of looking at the work will really help me as I’m planning the rest of this sequence of lessons.

Jessica: One of the most powerful things that we do is the looking at student work protocol.

Jeff: Taryn today brought a set of student work. The group of teachers and I took a look at that work to give her some insights into what do her kids really understand around this technical skill of creating a graph?

Taryn: So the task that they had was, Miss Cynthia is ordering new shirts for next year.

The protocol starts where I give a very short introduction to what the work is.

How can Miss Cynthia create a graph to represent the data about the different colored shirts she ordered? And what you’ll see is the chart with the different colored shirts, and there’s different numbers. So it was different shading.

The team looks at the work, and they look at it silently, just thinking about how they would respond to the task, and then looking at how students did. After that, there is about five minutes where the presenter is silent and you’re just talking about things you notice and things you wonder about the task.

Teacher: I notice that there’s three different sets of numbers.

Teacher: I noticed that in one of the sets, it’s only two digit numbers. I wonder which students got which sets of numbers.

Jeff: After about five minutes, we shift the protocol to comments where there is analysis, and we can start to put our own judgments into what we are seeing with the data.

I feel like what the kids needed to grapple with in this problem was really around scale.

Teacher: Look at how different they look based on what the scale that they chose was.

Carolina: I feel like there’s this profound vulnerability in being silent while your team looks at the work that you’re doing. It removes you from the conversation so that you can really focus on what people are saying because you’re listening.

Taryn: Following that, there is a discussion.

I think what was happy for me to hear was you guys noticed. What we wanted them to grapple with was the scale on this one.

That’s the part where we really talk about, okay, well, what are the next steps that students need?

Teacher: Thinking about this story, if we look at Matthew’s and then someone else.

Taryn: It all of a sudden looks like way more shirts were ordered.

Jeff: It does.

Carolina: I think you’re designing a graph to tell a story of something, you know. Scale matters, right?

Taryn: I feel like I get concrete feedback and concrete steps to take.

I like the idea that you guys said. What is the story, like what do we want people to think about it?

So I really like the idea of graphing telling a story.

What else could that graph be telling me?

So I think that’s going to be our focus.

Has anyone ever thought about stories in math before? I don’t know if you’re going to believe me, but the bar graphs you create tell a story.

Jessica: Getting feedback is daunting at first, but after people experience it, they relish it.

Student: This is how much people like yellow. This is how much people like green.

Taryn: The same way students get ideas from each other, I get a lot of ideas from my colleagues. I absolutely love it and I need it.

Source: https://www.edutopia.org/practice/analyze-student-work-inform-instruction


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