By: Edline Blot, 1st Grade Teacher; Kirstyn Fletcher, Assistant Teacher; Rossana Mahvi, Assistant Principal; and Erica Marcus, English Teacher

“…typically we limit our vision of who can productively use data: school leaders, coaches, and teachers.  Students are left out.  When students are equipped to analyze data for their own learning…the power of data as an engine for growth is centered where it has the greatest potential to improve learning- with students” (Berger, 2014, 95-96).  
Using data with students is crucial for building a growth mindset in students and ultimately enhancing their growth as learners. Growth mindset is the belief that intelligence can be developed through effort, practice, and hard work.  It puts the emphasis on working hard and teaches students to value effort and embrace challenges.  This stands in stark contrast to a “fixed mindset,” in which students believe their traits are set in stone and they have no control over their performance. In this framework, it’s born intelligence and out of their hands (Dweck, 2009). Developing a growth mindset isn’t just about feel-good fluffy stuff. Ultimately, the kind of mindset students have directly translates into classroom and academic success.  Carol Dweck, a professor of Psychology at Stanford University (2013) found that seventh grade students with a fixed mindset saw their math scores fall over two years, while those with a growth mindset rose during that same period. It is critical that students are supported in developing this belief system, both for their personal and academic growth.

At Two Rivers, teachers intentionally use data with students to foster a growth mindset, thus living our mission of nurturing “life-long learners.” To live our mission, we must make sure our students understand themselves as in control of their own education. One crucial way we make this happen is to have students analyze their own data in order to set goals for improvement. This is true across grade levels in a variety of formats from sharing reading levels with first graders and having them set individual reading goals to full-fledged student-led conferences in the upper grades where students take ownership over a battery of data to paint a picture of themselves as learners. Students across the school can be found examining and discussing their individual behavior trackers, reading development, work samples and rubrics, standardized assessment data, or performance towards goals outlined in their individual education program. They use this information to set goals, cementing the belief that there are next steps that can be taken to continue improving and learning.

Reading Levels: 1st grade

When a first-grader begins the year, teachers take the time to assess every student in the class in order to understand where the students are in their skills as a reader. Students are assessed on their ability to decode, their oral reading fluency, and their ability to comprehend texts that they are decoding. Teachers use this information to construct plans for daily literacy instruction and to differentiate reading instruction based on student needs. This is essential information for teachers but it is also important data for students as well, as they use this information to set individual goals for themselves. Readers in first grade propel their development as readers while developing a growth mindset towards their skills in reading through this process of goal setting.

Throughout the school year, teachers will individually conference with students to review strengths and weaknesses in their reading performance. Students have expressed that knowing their guided reading level motivates them to continue practicing to progress to higher reading levels. Teachers have found that conferring with students about their reading level and assisting in the development of smaller reading goals helps students maintain a positive disposition towards reading that ultimately assists in achieving their goals and, at times, surpassing them.
When students engage in these conversations they become active participants in their journey as readers. It allows them to see that being a good reader does not happen overnight. Discussions that are centered on their individual reading data provides students with clear understanding of where they are and the expectations for them. Regular monitoring with students not only allows them to track their individual progress but also provides them with opportunities to self-reflect on their growth by considering their individual effort, as opposed to gauging their success in relation to the performance of their peers. Teacher emphasis on the work and effort leads to students making the connection that, “the more work I put into reaching the goals I set, the more progress I make in reaching my goals”.  Student mindset shifts from thinking that to be a reader you are naturally good at it to being a good reader means I work hard.

Behavior Self-Assessment: 5th grade

However, we don’t only collect and share data about academic performance.  Students also must develop habits and behaviors that have a direct correlation with future success.  With this in mind, self-assessment is used to help students monitor and evaluate their behavior throughout the day. To help all students set reasonable goals around behavior, we use four scholarly habits: “I work hard,” “I’m responsible and independent,” “I’m a team player,” and “I care for my community.”  Using these four habits, we describe a full range of performance and character traits from being responsible by keeping up with homework to caring for our community by actively seeking service opportunities.  Students self evaluate and self-select areas of growth in areas related to these four scholarly habits. They start by setting clear goals and expectations for themselves and implement strategies to reach those expectations. This will help them to identify strategies that will improve their ability to handle different situations in appropriate ways.

For example, a fifth grade student that might have difficulty completing her homework, might set a goal for herself to complete 100% of her homework over the course of a week.  She then can make a plan that includes the time and place that she will complete her homework, and how she will track her homework completion.  Then evaluating how she did at the end of the week, gives her a clear sense of how she has done towards reaching her goal. Similar to the area of academic goals, students develop a growth mindset related to the improvement of their social and personal management skills as they see that by paying close attention to a particular area in need of growth, setting reasonable goals, and monitoring their achievement of those goals over time leads to marked improvement.

Student-Led Conferences: Middle School

Shifting from formal but less public opportunities to examine their data and set reasonable goals in earlier grades, starting in sixth grade, students take charge of their conferences and present a holistic picture of themselves to their parents and crew leaders.  In November, they present data on MAP testing, progress reports, behavior, attendance, and scholarly habits self-assessment.  They are encouraged to analyze their strengths and areas for growth, as well as make connections between habits of work and their academic achievement.  Finally, they are asked to set goals for the second quarter, closely linking scholarly habits to academic achievement, so that they can make improvements in the areas where they struggle.

The February and June student-led conferences gives students an opportunity to present portfolios highlighting work from each class.  At this meeting, they present work that illustrates their learning from the semester, allowing them to more specifically speak to what they struggle with and are strong in for each class.  They also use standardized test data, scholarly habits data, and report cards to explain who they are as a student. Again, students set goals for the next semester, or over the summer, so they can see the growth for which they would like to aim.

These conferences give students a voice in a parent-teacher meetings that more traditionally happens only between teacher and parent, at times even without the child present.  That voice is key to developing a sense of agency in the student.  Furthermore, in using a holistic model that emphasizes the connection between scholarly habits and academic achievement, students can see how their behavior impacts their learning.  As Ron Berger (2014) put it, “It’s hard to imagine a more high-leverage practice for improving learning than this…it puts students at the helm of their growth as learners” (p. 180).  Once students are there, and understand that their behavior, whether it is illustrated through behavior incidents, scholarly habit grades, or attendance, does impact their learning, they can do something about it.  As stated in Leaders of Their Own Learning, students begin to see the connection between working hard and achievement, developing the belief that, “if I work hard, I’ll get better” (Berger, 2014, 99).  Student-led conferences develop student agency, which in turn helps develop the growth mindset.

Also, through portfolios and data analysis, students have documentation of success, which encourages a positive concept of one’s ability to improve in students who may traditionally struggle.  When looking at a holistic picture of a student, through portfolios and multiple data points, it becomes clear that while they may have some areas where they struggle, they also have strengths and areas where they have grown.   At November conferences this year, one eighth grader noticed that while he was still not proficient in reading according to MAP, he made great strides since the last test, demonstrating over two grade levels of growth.  Furthermore, his grades demonstrated proficiency in some areas, because he used after school help and classroom time to improve his understanding.  Having evidence of that success can support students in further believing in their ability to improve their current academic state. Additionally, having a running portfolio allows students to see growth overtime, and notice if they’ve met their goals or shown growth, not just if they met expected levels of proficiency.

The preparatory work leading up to student-led conferences is vital in building that growth mindset in students.  They need to have time to digest and make sense of areas of struggle and areas of strength.  At Two Rivers, the experience of looking at data is intentionally framed through the growth mindset, through readings, power points, and discussions, so students are primed to think about the work through that lens.  During this time, students are encouraged to make notices about their data, and set goals towards improvement.  During this time, it is vital that students are supported in setting goals that are specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, and timely (S.M.A.R.T), so they can experience success with them. Simply providing a student with a report card with grades suggests that the student’s abilities are set, but analyzing data and setting goals with the student demonstrates the flexibility for growth.

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