Researcher Storyteller Brené Brown said, “Maybe stories are just data with a soul.” Her words resonate with me. Ever since the slice of life challenge this March, when someone posted a video of her TED talk as a gift to the rest of us slicers, this quote has been tumbling around my brain trying to plant itself and grow roots—roots so deep it would become part of my being instead of a tumbling idea to chase around.
I have always believed that there has to be some connection between the stories of student growth that fuel me as a teacher and the numbers administration and lawmakers demand as evidence of student performance. So, this idea of bridging the two—stories and data—that Brené Brown suggested excites me.
This year, I have been teaching a secondary intervention class that I designed, proposed, and got approved. This class is a regular 8th grade language arts class, meaning it doesn’t take additional time out of these students’ schedules. We purchased Alfred Tatum’sID program for the class, but I have not been using the program, since not all the components work for this group of students. So, this turned out to be a no-cost intervention as well.
Although I am not exactly as far along as I had hoped to be with these students at this point in the year, my teacher gut tells me what I am doing matters.
D, who was described by our school counselor as being so disengaged at one point in the year that his eyes looked ‘dead,’ crumpled to the floor, his shoulders wracking with sobs when he told me his father was in jail. His latest poem contains the line, “I hope I never have to see my father go to jail again.”A, who sent me an e-mail to let me know she cares about school even though she doesn’t show it in her body language or attitude in class, has purchased (and read) 3 books from the store this school year because she thought they looked good. This is the first time she has ever asked her parents to spend money on her reading habit.R, who had stopped coming to school because he was tired of being continuously bullied by other students in the same class, agreed to each lunch with a couple of his friends and me to work out a plan. Even though all 3 students were terrified (and although I didn’t show it, I shared some of their concern) that the bullies might flip over desks and go nuts if we confronted them during class, we did just that. R spoke up for himself during that confrontation and declared that even though he goes along with name-calling, it really does hurt him. And the students who were involved in the bullying stopped. R hasn’t been absent since and in his most recent piece of writing he said, “I learned to love school this year.”N, who never used to smile, shared with the class that her mother has stage four liver, kidney, and lung cancer. She said she felt empowered and safe after sharing what she had been carrying around with her.C, who walks into class day after day looking for any way to get attention for himself from across the room, responded by stepping up today when I asked him if he had any ideas for motivating M. C took M from a student who said, “I don’t want to do this poetry thing. I don’t know where my notebook went. I can’t do this. I have nothing to say in poetry,” to a student who at the end of class was bragging about the lines of poetry he created.
These are only 5 stories out of the 25 students in this class. When I think of these stories, I believe in my heart of hearts that what I am doing matters.
But. What about the numbers?
I can’t shake the feeling that my success in the eyes of the powers that be will be measured in MAP® (Measures of Academic Progress®) test scores (reported in terms of RIT score).
So, I finally decided to open my eyes and take a peek at the numbers. I have had my students’ fall and winter scores for a few months now. I have seen which students’ scores dropped, which stayed the same, and which increased. However, I had yet to find meaning in all of that.
The only data I could figure might be meaningful to me, that might actually give me feedback as to whether what I am doing really matters when measured in standardized testing units, was the average growth (or regression
) of each
class. So, I calculated the change in
each student’s score from fall to winter, added the total, and divided by the
number of students in the class. I decided
that to really make meaning, I would have to collect this data for all three of
my 8th grade language arts classes.
In my regular co-taught language arts class, the average change was +3.5 points from fall to winter. Given that the highest expected typical growth for the entire school year for any of my students is 4 points, I was pretty happy with that number.
In my honors class, the average change was +3.6 points from fall to winter. Given that their expected typical growth is even lower (since their starting scores were higher), I was also happy with this number.
But by far, the best news of all comes from the intervention class, which had an average change of +6 points from fall to winter!
I’ve always known that stories matched data in Nancie Atwell’sworld, but now I can rest easier knowing the data in my humble corner of the world has a soul.