Teachers for Teachers | Slice of Life: The Child Before the Number #SOL18
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Slice of Life: The Child Before the Number #SOL18

In graduate school, I learned that team meetings or conversations about a child should always focus on the child first and foremost.  I was taught that a person is not defined by his or her diagnosis or difficulty. In class we would catch each other, forgetting to say the child’s name first or focusing on weaknesses rather than strengths.  Lately, I have been thinking I need to remember this philosophy in schools when discussing assessments. Often I hear entire classes described in levels, students by benchmarks and schools in terms of risk categories. These descriptors are labels. They do not help us understand the needs of the learners or give us the information we need to teach them.

In our data meetings, we focus on the readers – their interests, personalities, goals, and learning styles – first.  We then use any quantitative data we have to confirm our theories about the reader or push us to consider new ideas about the reader. We resist describing our readers by levels or benchmarks. Instead, we talk about the type of texts a reader may benefit from and why they would benefit from these texts. We discuss a range of text levels, types and lengths and think about finding a balance of text complexity that supports and scaffolds each reader’s development. We think about how they approach text and how to use their strengths to support new strategies and skills. A reader’s strengths, motivation, purpose, and engagement are at the center of our conversations.

The reader needs to be considered first. We do not teach levels or benchmarks, we teach children. Levels and benchmarks are tools and guidelines to help us plan a meaningful and authentic journey of literacy development.  Maya Angelou said, “Words mean more than what is set down on paper. It takes the human voice to infuse them with deeper meaning.” Our students’ voices and our voices need to infuse data with deeper meaning. When we take the time to collect, analyze, question and use data to truly understand our readers we can move beyond numbers and guarantee the person comes first.

How do you ensure the focus is on the reader and not the number?  We would love to learn from you!



  • Avatar
    Erika Victor
    Posted at 12:38h, 09 October Reply

    Important words as once I return to school I have to use the DRA to assess all the readers in my class. I really feel like I know them as readers without this confirmation.

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    Alex Lancia
    Posted at 13:00h, 09 October Reply

    We were just talking about this today in our team and perhaps delving deeper into the data to tease out what it really means. For example, if you are an F&P level J, what are you struggling with as a reader really. Is it the fluency piece, the comprehension, etc? And maybe if we were more purposeful in digging deeper this way we could work smarter in our strategy groups. Just a thought we had today that for sure needs to be developed further.

  • Avatar
    Posted at 16:15h, 09 October Reply

    I saw a brilliant tweet yesterday, but I can’t remember who said it. (Apparently, I have Twitter overload.) It encouraged teachers not to use words like “level _ reader,” “IEP student,” “low,” “high,” etc. when talking about students. I think when we talk about behaviors and share observations, we work towards eradicating potentially damaging labels.

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    Fran Haley
    Posted at 01:02h, 10 October Reply

    Such an important reminder about our readers, and labels. A focus on student strengths is so vital; data doesn’t always show it. That’s another reason why those critical conversations need to happen, to get to the real story behind that data. What is the child doing as a reader? Not doing? We will not know until we sit and listen to the child …

  • Avatar
    Christine Baldiga
    Posted at 01:05h, 10 October Reply

    Thank you for this post and the Maya Angelou quote. Today was our PD Day and we focused on data. This reminded me that we need to continue to think about each child by name first and foremost!

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