Have you ever wondered if your students really understood what you were teaching? I have… many times. After completing lessons where I felt I had done my best, grading my students’ work made it clear that some still didn’t understand the content. What to do?
Things began to change in 1994 when I got my first computer. I was hooked! Was this THE answer? Unfortunately it wasn’t, but I started seeing some positive change. When my district offered grants to teachers to use technology in the classroom, I jumped at the chance. When I received a second grant the next year, I was told the district needed proof that these grants were making a difference. How could I quantify the change I was seeing?
The answer arrived when a colleague introduced me to action research. Action research provided a process I could use to measure student success in a variety of ways, helping me collect data for performances that were previously hard to quantify. When Richard Sagor visited our district to train on this method, I could finally see a clear path to improving my teaching and student learning. Richard wisely advised us to first focus on smaller issues we could control to see what makes a lesson work or not work. This was the beginning of my action research journey.
I decided to focus on projects every three to four weeks, so I could reach conclusions before the end of the school year. I would evaluate several times along the way. I began teaching with note cards and outlining without using computers. These early projects elicited groans from the students, who were eager to get their hands on the computers. As we began to progress from note cards to databases, learning to take pictures and video, scanning pictures, and using the computers in ways the kids had never imagined, my students‘ excitement about what we would do next continued to grow.
I started by using external methods of surveying my class. From having students close their eyes and raise their hands to creating formal surveys to gather numeric data, I worked to find numbers to show my students’ thoughts and feelings about their work. I also used their project work to determine whether I was successful at helping them understand the concepts I was teaching.
On we blazed… trying new, exciting things and all the while collecting measurable results! The data reflected that my students’ grades were improving, as were their attitudes and excitement about learning.
So what did I learn? Every project my students completed (even those on note cards or stapled, smudgy paper) could be measured for success using statistics, surveys, polls, reviews of student work, even the opinions (and expressions!) of the students. Students felt successful, and I also felt successful now that I could show that what I was doing was making their success possible.
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