Data the Ditch Driver

Jay's Seeds

This is a third grader’s response to a recent assessment. This is data, but unfortunately not the type of data we tend to see on “data walls” and in “war rooms.”

Data comes in both quantitative and qualitative forms. In our field, we are quite familiar with quantitative data. We use data dashboards, and deep dives, and drill downs so that data can drive everything we do. But if we only use quantitative data when analyzing the performance of human beings, then data can drive us into a ditch.

Quantitative data measures attributes and properties while qualitative characterizes them. Quantitative data defines while qualitative describes.  Among other things, analysis of qualitative data can help to accomplish the following:

  • Determine students’ intentions to explain causal relationships
  • Empathize with students to gain understanding of their perspectives
  • Make holistic observations of the total context (Gall, Gall, and Borg, 2006, p. 25)

Quantitative data is easier to analyze and manipulate because they are numerical. Qualitative data, on the other hand, is more challenging to analyze because they require you to seek out and generate accurate descriptions of what students think and feel. But qualitative data, when analyzed with quantitative data, tells a more complete story, and perhaps provides the opportunity for a more successful “drive.”

A cursory review of the student sample above can lead one to conclude that the student didn’t understand the problem; however, a more holistic analysis reveals some level of understanding. Without a holistic analysis a teacher can dive immediately into “reteach” mode without uncovering the real gaps in understanding.  (The Core Deconstructed can help you uncover gaps in understanding.)

Determining that the student did not master the standard is not enough. An understanding of how s/he processed the problem is necessary. This type of data analysis takes more time, but yields more substantive solutions. So here’s my question to you as a professional in the field of education: how are you using qualitative data to inform your data-driven decisions?



Gall, M. D., Gall, J. P. & Borg, W. R. (2006). Educational research: An introduction (8th ed.). NY: Allyn and Bacon.


WARNING: Poor Lesson Plans Mean Students Learn Poorly

What’s your process for designing learning experiences? Just today I engaged in dialogue with a group of senior leaders about  processes. Their responses were filled with great output examples, but no processes. The discussion mirrored conversations I had last week about the process of lesson design. Given today’s experiences and given the fact that we are still at the start of the school year, I chose to share a post that was written almost one year ago.

Lesson design is a process. Edward Deming once stated, If you can’t describe what you are doing as a process, you don’t know what you are doing.” Clear processes lead to clear outcomes. When the process is unclear, then so goes the learning. Therefore, please note (and read)  the following –  WARNING: Poor Lesson Plans Mean Students Learn Poorly.


7 Ways to Use The Core Deconstructed®

“My goal is to see 1,000,000 empowered educators who know the standards intimately, collaborating across the country to yield the true success for students we all know is possible by 2015. This goal can only be accomplished with you.

Last week I had a mixed group. I facilitated the professional learning of a mixed group of educators that included college professors, K-12 teachers and principals on The Core Deconstructed® (TCD) in Washington, DC. As a proponent of reflective practice, I asked them to share their insights on the process in relation to their return to their respective work sites. Their diverse roles allowed for multiple perspectives on ways to use the TCD. Since this is the place where I share, reflect and inspire and because of my goal stated above, I thought to share 7 ways that you could use the TCD based on theirs and others’ insights.

So here they are: 7 Ways to Use The Core Deconstructed®:

  1. Create pre-unit assessments: a third year teacher admitted that she did not see the value of pre-unit assessments, but later recognized that using the TCD to create them would help her with creating standards-based flexible groups
  2. Modify instruction for diverse populations: a special education and ELL educator indicated that the TCD allowed them to quickly identify how to modify learning objectives for their students while ensuring that they mastered the standard
  3. Advance the learning of students with special needs: a special education professional  shared that she was able to see how to not only expose her students to grade level standards, but help them be successful with the standards as well
  4. Write performance tasks and unit plans: a full-time university professor shared that she planned on making the TCD practice journal be the foundation of her course on secondary literacy instruction and that after deconstructing the standards she would have her learners use them to generate performance tasks and unit plans
  5. Decide on learning station activities regularly: after deconstructing a standard, an elementary educator immediately saw how to use her matrix to create learning stations for her flexible groups
  6. Support classroom planning and instruction: a director of literacy shared that within grade-level teachers could share the responsibility of deconstructing standards and that the process would strengthen their collaboration and instruction
  7. Improve leader and teacher effectiveness: a principal said that she definitely needed to know how to deconstruct the standards so that she would know how best to support her teachers’ growth

The principal concluded her reflection with, “It was truly worth the time.”

One thing I make clear at the start of a professional learning session is that, “deconstructing the standards to extract their essential details and hidden assumptions will take work, but the work is certainly worth it for you as the professional and most importantly your students.”

I asked them and now I ask you: are you up for the work?

Well if you are, use The Core Deconstructed® process then consider sharing your insights here to help others reflect. In the meantime, check out the slideshare below to read a middle school teacher’s insights and success tips with the Common Core after using the TCD process.

Common Core: Seeing the Big Picture

Overall, I found that this system makes it easier for teachers to see the big picture and build towards the Practitioner/Expert level over the course of a few lessons rather than overwhelm students or unintentionally instill a sense of defeat in them if an objective were not met in by the end of a class.

Since my deconstruction matrix  is now a soft copy, over time I can link websites with enrichment or re-teaching exercises, online games, web-based assessments or supplemental texts to each cell in the matrix. This will enhance my ability to more effectively target instruction in my diverse classes.

The beauty of this system is that each teacher can tailor the results of the process to their own teaching style and the needs of their individual students.

These are the words of a middle school ELA/Literacy teacher who engaged in The Core Deconstructed® (TCD) process last school year. She shared deeper insights and tips that you can download and read here. She also shared her reflection below.

Heather's Thank You Email

The Core Deconstructed® Practice Journals became available to all on Friday. The journal is loaded with grade level examples, sample lessons and other resources to help you master teaching the standards. Use the TCD® Practice Journal to analyze standards and determine how to accomplish the following: create pre- and post-unit assessments; write lessons that allow for teaching multiple standards at a time; design tiered lessons for special needs, struggling and advanced learners; pinpoint exactly where students are struggling in the process of mastering a standard and much more.

Now’s the time for you to deconstruct! See the big picture for the entire school year and experience the success that Heather did.

Close Reading Deep Dive: Professional Learning Action Steps

It’s time.

If your teachers haven’t returned yet, I’m sure they’ll return in a few days.  Shortly thereafter, school will begin again. You are in preparation mode.

A recent conversation with a State level leader caused me to reflect on a challenge: how will instructional leaders support teachers as they mediate complex texts?

A few months ago I delivered a series on designing lessons that employ the close reading approach. Now, as teachers return, is a great time to take a deep dive into understanding close reading. Simply talking about it, or giving steps to it, or buying someone’s kit is not enough. If you want to develop professional mastery, analysis of the approach is necessary.

Below are three sample lessons designed for students to use the close reading approach to engage with complex text. They are all linked to the posts from which they originate. Reading each post will provide the background knowledge necessary to understand the logic of the lesson. Review the posts then consider the professional learning action steps that follow.




Professional Learning Action Steps

  1. Read or present What is Close Reading and the posts associated with the lessons above (everyone)
  2. Distribute the  lesson designs by assigning to groups (1 lesson per group)
  3. Read the lesson design process and the lesson itself
  4. Make the connections between the process and the lesson
  5. Facilitate discussion on how the teacher mediates the text in the lesson (here’s support)
  6. Use the lesson as a model to plan your own
  7. Peer review and rotate

Complex texts must be used in instruction and teachers must be mediators of the text, therefore educators must master the close reading approach.

It’s time.

Common Core Strategy Alignment: Professional Learning Action Steps

Two things happened on the way to writing this post.

First, I was conversing with a Chief Academic Officer (CAO) who shared that her principals needed to become better at instructional leadership. She then followed her statement by saying they did not require coaching or professional development, but they needed to be managed more instead. She has been the second CAO to share this sentiment in two years. I am bewildered.

Second, yesterday a colleague engaged in a chat on Twitter where teachers shared that they had yet to see the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). I am bewildered and concerned.


Strategy is defined as a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim.


A few months ago I stated, “accountability on its face is very simple–you do what you say you will do.”

Strategy and Accountability

Strategic plans designed to manage for accountability should function on three tiers: (1) the district level; (2) the school level and (3) the classroom level. If all three levels are not tightly aligned, then the ultimate goal of increasing student achievement will be spotty, if not illusive.

The strategic objective of improving instructional leadership with the misaligned action step of increasing how much school leaders are managed will scarcely allow for the goal of increasing student achievement.The strategic objective of increasing teacher capacity with the CCSS while teachers are still unfamiliar with the standards will simply land you in a ditch.

Most school districts have strategic plans. The system-wide plan should undoubtedly cascade to the individual level for schools’ staff if teachers and leaders are going to be held accountable for student growth on CCSS assessments.

A Missing Ingredient

A conversation I do not hear on the school level as it relates to accountability is one about strategy. I hope you are aware of you district’s strategy, but even if you are not, here are 7 discussion points for leaders and teachers to employ during instructional support sessions. They are sure to align classroom activities with district strategy.

  1. Determine the purpose of the lesson–not the content, but the purpose.
  2. Determine the level of thinking you want students to engage in. The level of thinking should align with the purpose.
  3. Determine the appropriate instructional process that best aligns with the level of thinking–process not activities.
  4. Determine the appropriate appropriate learning activities that best align with the instructional process.
  5. Determine how you will differentiate to meet the various representation and expression needs of your diverse learners.
  6. Determine the appropriate student work product. This is what’s used to assess the level of learning and thinking that occurred.
  7. Determine how you will differentiate work products to meet the various engagement needs of your diverse learners.

The visual below can support the discussion.

Dr. B's LD Decision Tree

If we simply talk about alignment without ensuring it occurs, then that’s all it is–talk. Talk alone will not lead to increased student achievement. Strategy, alignment and intelligent support will. The Core Deconstructed will also.

How to Common Core: Professional Learning Action Steps

I do. We do. You do.

This was the mantra I heard daily at several schools  I was called on to help a few years ago. Everyday. Every lesson. The challenge with this–as teachers voiced–was that every lesson every day did not require this process, but teachers were required to write their lessons in this format everyday. That was problem #1. Teachers wrote lessons in this format to meet the expectations of leaders, but as they informed me, did not always teach those lessons because they didn’t always make sense to the teachers. That was problem #2. Problem #3, which I considered a larger problem, was that designing and teaching lessons in shrouds of secrecy did not allow for effective supervision or the ability to truly analyze student progress and growth through authentic teacher/leader reflection.

James (1885) suggested there are three levels of knowledge: (1) knowledge of – awareness of information; (2) knowledge about – ability to apply and analyze information; and (3) knowledge how – ability to solve problems with the information. When considering the three levels, one could infer that a major decision maker in the schools had knowledge of the need for students to practice, but was unclear about when to apply the method. Furthermore, there was an uncommon understanding about how instructional methods should be used and when each is appropriate.

Level 1 – Knowledge of: increasing awareness of novice to expert learners

The Common Core and other internationally benchmarked standards require clear thinking and common understanding on the part of adults mainly because we must deliver (or lead the delivery of) instruction that moves students from novices to experts. This notion has been explicitly shared here,

The Standards for Mathematical Practice describe ways in which developing student practitioners of the discipline of mathematics increasingly ought to engage with the subject matter as they grow in mathematical maturity and expertise (CCSS for Mathematics, p. 8)

and implicitly shared here,

They [students] build on others’ ideas, articulate their own ideas, and confirm they have been understood. […] More broadly, they become self-directed learners effectively seeking out and using resources to assist them (CCSS for ELA & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects, p. 7)

Level 2 – Knowledge About: increasing understanding about  novice to expert learners

Given the need to move students from novices to experts, the first thing we must get clear on is what the levels mean. The excerpt below from The Core Deconstructed helps with this first step.

Excerpt from The Core Deconstructed by Sheron M. Brown.

Excerpt from The Core Deconstructed by Sheron M. Brown.

Level 3 – Knowledge How: increasing knowledge of how to plan for novice to expert learners

Entering the school year with common understanding and expectations can alleviate the frustrations I witnessed in the schools mentioned above. Consider the following steps for a professional learning activity.  Use them to help move professionals from knowing of and about the need for advancing students from novices to experts to knowing how to do it.

Using the descriptions presented in the table above,

  1. Restate the meaning of a learner at the novice level
  2. List appropriate instructional methods that align with learning on this level
  3. Brainstorm acceptable examples of student work products that align with learning on this level
  4. Peer-review work products and provide actionable feedback (if necessary)
  5. Repeat steps 1-4 (perhaps in additional sessions) for apprentice, practitioner and expert levels

The Core Deconstructed Practice Journal further supports the development of your “knowledge how” level and will be released soon.  If you’d like to know when, just let me know. In the meantime, please share how the professional learning action steps works out for your team.


Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (n.d.). Common Core State Standard initiative: Preparing America’s students for college and careers. Retrieved from

Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science and Technical Subjects  (n.d.). Common Core State Standard initiative: Preparing America’s students for college and careers. Retrieved from

James, W. (1885). On the functions of cognition. Mind, 10, 27-44. Retrieved from