Self-guided learning: How data helps students pave their own paths

What’s the most powerful tool in your teaching toolbox? Data.

Data has revolutionized education. From the way teachers teach to the way students learn and everything in between, data is now woven into almost every aspect of education.

And one of the biggest data-fueled transformations in schools has been the move to student-centered, personalized learning that is guided by the student. Access to data has been pivotal in changing the way students become stewards of their own education. That’s why many people speak about “educational journeys.”

Education isn’t something that happens to students. Students can and should be active participants in that journey. When encouraged, they become central figures in directing their own learning.

In the past, students often saw data only in the form of test grades a few times a year. There was little to guide them down the path of improvement between major tests or exams. The lack of consistent feedback made it difficult for teachers and students to address learning issues.

Today, teachers now have access to more data than ever — and the means to easily share that data with students.

An informed student is an enlightened student

When students are left in the dark about their progress in learning, they don’t have the opportunity to own their achievements, warns Dr. Jason Perez, education professor at the University of Central Oklahoma. This can lead to a lack of motivation.

When teachers share data with students, they give students the power and motivation to own their educational journeys. This often leads to improved learning because the students are more engaged with lessons, take responsibility for their learning, and act on the data to improve their performance, say Carol Dwyer, Ph.D., and Dylan Wiliam, Ph.D.

By keeping students informed with data on their progress, you push them to overcome complacency and help them develop a desire to learn. When they apply the data to their learning, they become “active agents in their own growth,” setting personal goals that they understand and own, say Ron Berger, Leah Rugen, and Libby Woodfin, authors of Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools Through Student-Engaged Assessment.

The sooner they receive feedback, the more effective it will be

Don’t wait to give your students feedback. For the data to make a difference in their learning, they need to receive it as soon as possible so they can make adjustments while the iron is hot, so to speak.

Think about the opportunities for instant gratification most students have every day. Rob Drabkin, vice president of marketing at ACT Assessment Technologies company OpenEd, notes that many students are growing up playing video games that give instant feedback on performance. They immediately try and try again in those games until they meet the objectives. This is the type of motivation that data can give them in the classroom as well, says Drabkin.

The important thing to remember about sharing data with students, note Berger, Rugen, and Woodfin, is that the data sharing needs to become part of classroom culture. It cannot be a sporadic event. Students must constantly collect and analyze data to fully integrate it into their learning journeys.

Digital tools help facilitate the flow of data

A consistent flow of data is crucial to keep students progressing in their learning. This is where digital tools can help. Thanks to technology in the classroom, teachers have the ability to give students the immediate feedback that is so crucial to their personalized learning.

When it comes to assessments, digital tests and quizzes provide the most immediate feedback to students and teachers. Tools such as Jotform, ClassMarker, and EasyTestMaker allow you to get instantaneous data on performance. That data will highlight information gaps and provide students with information about where they need to improve.

When assigning a report or presentation for assessment, teachers can give students real-time feedback by using an online platform such as Google Docs. This helps students to not only create a better end product, but also actively learn while progressing through the assignment.

When teachers have to take these assessments home to grade, there is a delay between the time of the assessment and the receipt of feedback. During that time, students often move on from the information and lose out on the opportunity to adjust and improve.

Digital tools remedy that situation and ensure students receive data when it is most relevant to learning.

Help students learn how to interpret the data

All the data in the world won’t help students if they don’t know what that data means. When sharing data, you must also teach your students how to interpret the information and track the data points.

Chicago-area English language arts teacher Kimberly Long offers these progress-monitoring options you can teach your students to use:

  • Graphs and charts. These allows students to visualize trends in their performance over time.
  • Checklists. A checklist of standards helps students recognize which ones they have mastered and which they are still working toward. The list also serves to remind students of key concepts they have learned throughout the year.
  • Reflective activities. Reflection requires students to think critically about the data and analyze their learning. Rubrics, videos, and blog posts all help students reflect on what they have learned.

Data notebooks have become a popular method for helping students monitor their progress. These notebooks hold all of the progress-monitoring information in one place so students can easily track their learning and control their educational journey. Teachers are seeing positive results. Adrienne Wiggins, a third-grade teacher in Virginia, says that every year she has made a concerted effort to use data notebooks, both her students’ scores and confidence have increased.

When students are more engaged in the learning process and feel ownership over their educational journeys, they are empowered to do their best. You can help them achieve that sense of power by sharing data with them and encouraging them to be active participants in their learning.

Photos by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

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