Using Data to Inform the PLP Process
With the ubiquity of easy-to-use data collection tools available online, educators implementing personal learning plan programs this fall may want to consider systematizing their data collection efforts. This nuts and bolts organization can help teachers and students evaluate the direction of the program, develop essential feedback loops, and help complete the communication loop created with parents and the community.
Tools and Techniques
In our program, we leverage the ease of Google Forms to gather regular feedback from students regarding the elements of their personal learning plans, effectiveness of the initiative, and student dispositions regarding the personalization of the learning experience.
Educators and teams should spend some time deciding what information they would like to capture and at what intervals they would like to collect data. By setting up regular, consistent calendar dates for collecting feedback, teachers can design a system that not only informs current practice, but provides feedback over time, thus guiding the overall direction of the program. Standardizing questions throughout this process can help teachers identify strengths and challenges in the program.
One note on collecting data (and perhaps an obvious one); make sure that you have an effective labeling system for your data collection. Once your data set becomes more robust, wading through similarly labeled files can create confusion and eat up large amounts of time. Additionally, if you are interested in studying specific cohorts over time, specific labels will help organize your work.
Feedback, Student Input and the Learning Community
A critical element of collecting data regarding implementation of personal learning programs is the discussion and analysis of that data with students. Sharing the collected data (scrubbed of confidential or personal information) can be a huge benefit to teachers and students.
First, it provides students with the broader classroom perspective of the initiative. This can help students understand their role in the classroom community and also how their opinion and input can help shape the direction of that community. Second, data analysis and reflection can be an excellent platform for utilizing and teaching the transferable skills, particularly in areas of communication, collaboration, and use of technology. Finally, communicating data and analysis back to community members and families (some of whom may have participated in data collection activities) can keep them informed about their student's progress and is an important piece of Act 77 and the personal learning plan initiative.
Finally, and crucially, collecting data in an organized manner is an essential element of student and teacher reflection. Collectively analyzing data can provide students with the evidence upon which they can begin reflecting on the personalization of their education. By thoughtfully considering not only their own responses, but also those of the learning community, students can be encouraged to reflect on their role in that community, their goals as a student and learning community member, and how they can participate in a more personalized educational future.
For teachers, reflecting on the data from personalization initiatives can be the stepping stone to transformative teaching practices. Students are our most valuable, most important, and most responsive constituents. By utilizing their feedback in an organized way, reflective teachers can leverage that information into real classroom change that engages, motivates, and inspires children through an effective personal learning experience.