Tag Archives: qualitative data

What do fingernails have to do with data?

We all feel it, don’t we? That time of the year when teaching gets tough:  skies get darker, holidays come looming, and students look out windows more than they look to learn. I have 2.5 days until the break, and, like you, I am ready.

This is the time of year I start to question myself. Have I taught the way my students need me to teach? Have I made them feel special, valued, a part of our learning community? Have they learned anything?

These were my musings last week when I got a special gift in my inbox:  three photos of a former student’s fingernails.

With this message:

This is totally random, but I thought you might like to know that aside from all of the English, reading and writing skills that you taught me. . .our end of the year project (the How-To), has actually helped me in real life! If you remember, I did my project over biting nails because I desperately wanted to stop. After that project, it was so easy to, and I haven’t bitten them since the end of the year in your class 6 months ago! I’ve attached some pictures… Like I said, this is super random & weird, but if you’ve ever wanted proof of that project actually working, here is my successful end product.

Does this count as hard data?

Yesterday I answered questions about student data in a phone interview. One question went something like this:  If a cynic questions your methods, what do you do to win her over?

The exchange left me unsettled. I said I would show the cynic student work and let her read students’ self-reflections on their learning. I spoke about how the data I care about is the qualitative type that comes from my observations, conferences, and interactions with students. I value process over product.

I think my response fell flat with my interviewer. Maybe she wanted numbers. What would she think of Micaela’s nails as proof of my instructional methods?

Later in the day I twittered upon these tweets:

Screen Shot 2017-12-18 at 8.06.56 PM

The whole thread rings true.  And I’ll add this:  Numbers mean nothing if we do not add value to a child’s life and help her learn to thrive, achieve, and find herself within it.

I’ll be honest:  I thought Micaela chose an easy topic last spring as her final writing piece:  a multi-genre project that was more than a how-to but a comprehensive argument for or against an issue; I didn’t think she could write enough about breaking her habit. But I got out of her way, and she composed a multi-layered piece about the shame and the struggle and her desperate desire to leave her nails alone.

I’ll go on break this Thursday. But when I get back to work in 2018, I’ll remember Micaela. What do my students need beyond my ELA curriculum? What motivates their thinking? What will my students choose to do this spring if I remember to get out of their way?

Amy Rasmussen shares a classroom with juniors and seniors at Lewisville High School in North TX where she learns as much from them as they ever do from her. She was once a nail-biter herself. Writing a paper about her habit at 16 might have helped her kick it a lot sooner. She was 21. Amy wishes you a joyful holiday and a Happy New Year, and sincerely thanks you for following and sharing Three Teachers Talk.


Knowing Where to Look by Amy Estersohn

I’ve discovered a way to pack more reading conferences into my day.

No, I do not possess the ability to extend class time (though I wish I did!) and no, I am not able to talk to multiple students at once (though I’m sure my students wish I could!)  

4816266197_7805b15db2_z1However, I have been able to sharpen my powers of observation, and through these observations I’ve been able to deepen my sense of the readers I work with.

I begin observing before the Pledge of Allegiance.  Who is using the minutes before the bell to read?  Who comes to my classroom looking for a new book because he finished one on the way to school this morning?  Who approaches me in the hallway to ask if I have the sequel to a book finished long ago?  Who remembers that she owes me a book?  Who mumbles apologetically because he loaned the book that he borrowed to a younger sibling?

I continue observing the hallways.  Who is carrying a book?   Who brings comics to lunch?  Who brings books to a school assembly?  On a field trip?

student-147783_1280When students have an opportunity to read in class, I observe body language.  Different readers have different methods of getting physically “into” a book.  Some fold the book in half like a newspaper and bring the book inches from their eyes.  Others put their heads on their desks.   To the untrained eye, teen readers can look slouchy, lazy, or inches away from napping.  These are students who have entered what Nancie Atwell calls “the reading zone” — they are so immersed in a story that they are lost to the outside world and are unaware of how others are perceiving them in that moment.

The conclusion of independent reading time gives me another time to collect observations.  Who is eager to close the book?  Who is reading to the end of the page for a sense of closure before placing a bookmark?  Who doesn’t hear the first warning and needs additional cueing away from the reading zone?  Who softly moans, “Noooo”?

When students browse for a new book, how do they navigate your classroom library?  Is there a section that they zoom towards?  Do they pick up the first book in their field of vision, or do they spend time weighing and considering their next book choice?

The data to help us build better readers is all around us when we learn how to look.

Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in Westchester County, NY.   She also reviews comic books for http://www.noflyingnotights.com.   Follow her on Twitter at @HMX_MSE.

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