For years, I have been writing about how the term “data-driven” has bothered me in education. Simply stated, I feel students should be more “learner-driven” than “data-driven”; that we need to know our students as individuals first, and not simply as a collection of scores and numbers. I would even say that the advocates of the term “data-driven” would say the same thing, but I feel that this term goes beyond semantics for the many teachers that cheer when I say how far we have gone astray by focusing so much on scores and not as much on individuals.
The reason I am thinking about this is that someone tweeted the following response to what I stated in a recent talk (I can’t find the tweet, but I do not want to take credit for it):
Learner-Driven > Data-Driven
It was simple but made the point. It also made me think about what other ideas we need to rethink and shift. A little bit more about “learner-driven” to start off.
1. “Data-Driven” to “Learner-Driven.”
Data is important. I would contend that shifting from the word “data” to “evidence” is beneficial because “evidence” hints at something much more holistic than data. It can be tests or assignments, but it can be in conversations, in and out of the classrooms, events that schools put on, and a myriad of extracurricular opportunities that show tremendous learning. Using evidence to INFORM practice and move it forward is serving the child is crucial.
But when using the term “learner-driven,” it is more about getting to know your students on an individual level and finding out what drives them and what would best support them. For example, I hated reading as a child because I was often forced to read things that I had no interest in at school. It took me years after school to start reading again on a regular basis. Since I was a good reader, it may not have had harmed me during my time in school, but later in life, did I lose out? I am not saying that everything in school should be “fun” but I do know that if I feel that I am valued as an individual, the “hard” or “boring” stuff becomes much more tolerable.
I have shared these questions to start off the school year before, and the purpose is to get to know the students as individuals and to help with the personalization of learning in classrooms.
Here is one of the other reasons that I am trying to push the conversation to focus more on the learner. In a world where technology is more abundant than ever, we are in peril of losing some of our humanity. Conversations online seem to forget that on the other side of the screen is a human being with a story, strengths, and weaknesses, family and friends. When we do not see the impact of our words directly, it might not affect the person who delivers the message as much as the person receiving it. In a world where technology is everywhere, we need to focus more on what it means to be “human” than focus on that idea less. By being “Learner-Driven,” I feel schools can lead the way in this area in our world. We need schools that are more human, not less.
This leads to the next point.
2. Weakness-Focused to Strengths-Based.
No educator would say that they are “weakness-focused” outright, but sometimes our systems within education lead to that process. We often have meetings about our “struggling students” and talk about where they are weak. Then we wonder why they don’t want to be at school. If you were in a situation where you worked in an organization that was constantly focused on what you weren’t good at, and they developed strategies on how to “fix you,” you might not want to come to work each day. Students wouldn’t want to come either.
Rememeber…some of your worst students academically are some of your most talented and gifted students. Our conversations should always start with the strengths of the child and how we can build on that. According to this article from “Scientific American,” focusing on strengths can have great benefits while ignoring strengths can be of a great detriment:
Some researchers have tested programs called “positive interventions” that give people the chance to uncover, explore, and practice their strengths. In one such program, people take a test to identify their top five character strengths, and then are tasked with using these strengths in a new and different way every day for a week. Researchers found that people who practiced their strengths in this way were happier and less depressed six months later.
Neglecting strengths might also have negative consequences. People may believe that their weaknesses will be lost over time, but that their strengths are there to stay. Because of this, we might not be very motivated to work on our strengths. Imagine a person who feels that they are a particularly kind person, and that this will never change. She or he might not take the time to cultivate kindness even further – for instance, to go out of her or his way to volunteer or help other people. Perhaps this person would instead let these habits slide, and – secure in her or his “kindness” – would actually become less kind over time. If we don’t actively engage with our strengths, we might see them fade.
This is not about “ignoring weaknesses” but understanding that developing confidence in our learners helps them grow through the process. Weaknesses need to be improved but always start with the strengths.
3. From Product to Process.
Have you ever heard that stat along the lines of, “x percent of jobs in y amount of years will not exist today”? I have no idea the accuracy and if it is said every year, so how can it truly be measured? But some of those jobs that don’t exist now, will not exist in the future as well. Things will always change, so the stat doesn’t necessarily matter. What does matter is that there will always be a need for people that can learn and adapt. So going back to the first point on “learner-driven” versus “data-driven,” is the data based on the ability to learn or on what someone knows at a certain point in time?
People learn in different ways and different paces. The focus is not necessarily the speed but the ability to grow. It is harder to measure, but that doesn’t mean it is less important.
Remember…Pluto was once a planet. Some information can change over time, but the ability to learn is forever.
Going through any of these points, I want to make sure that they are not seen as an “either/or” scenario. Using data evidence to inform learning, developing weaknesses, and creating products in education will always be important. My point is that we can place our focus starting in the wrong place. Focusing on the learner, developing strengths, and focusing on the importance of the process of learning first will help grow the other areas, where the opposite might not always be true.
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