Tuesday, November 18, 2014

More than Just a Number - #SOL Nov. 18

As I had off to #NCTE14 in Washington DC this week, I find myself looking forward to many learning opportunities with friends and colleagues from all over the country.  One of the topics I look forward to chatting about is assessment and the multiple ways in which we know our students.

With that in mind, I'd like to share a recent event:

Recently, I made a commitment to have better health, and one aspect of that commitment meant beginning to work with a personal trainer.

Initially, I fretted about the idea of personal training. Someone paying undivided attention to my body seemed overwhelming, but I scheduled my initial evaluation anyway. I grew increasingly anxious the closer the time came for this appointment, when the realization hit that the initial evaluation would probably include gathering numerical data about my body.

In the beginning, my anxiety seemed justified.  It was just as horrible as I had imagined – first the scales, then the BMI number, and finally the tape measure encircling all parts of my body, from head to toes. Though my glasses were off, leaving me unable to read the measurements the trainer actually wrote on the chart, I cringed each time he put his pen to the paper. None of this could be good.

Then something wonderful happened. The tape measure and scale were put away and the trainer began to collect data about my body and health in different ways. First, many questions were asked about my definition of being physically fit, my activity level, enjoyment of movement, family medical history, and any current concerns about health. With each response, the trainer drilled down a bit further, looking for more clarification of my initial answers.

After the interview was completed, the trainer began to observe my movements in space.  He asked me to walk, stand still, raise arms, bend at the waist, and bend at the knees to a squat position multiple times. As I complied, the trainer would carefully, with great focus, observe my movements, and then add his observations about those movements to his paper.

The final portion of the evaluation came when the trainer analyzed and synthesized all the information he had collected about me.  He spent some time in thoughtful reflection, and then shared his analysis. He first mentioned the things going well with my physical health, a short list, but at least a place from which to build. Then, he focused on what he considered to be my most immediate concerns – aligning my spine, working on gaining solid core muscles, and strengthening neck muscles. He shared that once those areas were addressed and in control, we could then focus on other items of concern. But for now, we were going to build a solid foundation for my body and its movements. Using those multiple pieces of data about my body, the trainer then devised my personal plan, and it had clear goals I would be working toward achieving.

While driving home from this initial evaluation, there was an “aha” moment when I realized what Adam, my trainer, had just done was incredibly similar to what I do as a literacy coach with colleagues, and what classroom teachers do with their students every day.

We gather data, and yes, for teachers, several of the pieces of data about students will be numerical in content. But as literacy coaches and educators, we need to push past the numbers, because we are all far more than just a number. As educators, we also need to observe and confer, then analyze what we discover. We should identify the most important need that will help individuals build a solid foundation in their learning. We are then able to make the best coaching or instructional plan for each person. We help our colleagues and students by sharing their strengths with them, and scaffold their learning by setting clear and attainable goals.

I learned a great deal from Adam that day, and it wasn't all about my physical well-being. To get the best picture of an individual in order to help them with positive changes, we need to look at multiple types of information and data. It was what Adam did for me as my trainer, and what I know is best for my colleagues with whom I collaborate as a literacy coach.

Thanks so much to my friends at Two Writing Teachers blog for hosting Slice of Life. I hope to see many of you in DC this week! Head on over to their blog to check out some wonderful writing for Slice of Life Tuesday.


  1. Brilliant. Perfect read to start my Tuesday! Continuing to cheer you on in all of your journeys -- so exciting for you to (literacy) coach and be (health) coached at the same time! I bet, through those dual roles, you'll continue to have some great reflections. Way to go, friend!

  2. Great comparison and reflection! And like your colleagues and the students, you will take little steps forward and maybe some backward a bit (you know, like during the holidays) as you continue to grow toward your goal. Good for you. It's a brave thing you did!

  3. Have you heard this song by Barry Lane and Amy Ludwig VanDerwater?

    This made me think of it! Hope to see you in DC!!!

  4. It's a very good thing you're doing, Karen. You must be very proud of yourself. And this connection made to teaching is so right. We ask students to be brave every day when they do all the activities and assignments, and now you can speak with authority with them about your own experience. Have fun at NCTE!

  5. What a great analogy! A thoughtful post and a good reminder for all of us who need to think more about how we assess our readers and writers. See you soon.

  6. Ah, wonderful! I love these kinds of analogies. Bravo!