Thursday, 29 August 2019

Keep it simple - and let the data speak for itself

It’s been a hectic couple of weeks as schools return to BrightFish and new campuses start up for the first time. After the initial rush of rostering, class assignments and pre-testing, students are well into their training streams and teachers are starting to look at the data. This year, we’ve introduced a whole new look for our Teacher Dashboard, and it’s generating interesting – sometimes deep – conversations about instructional levels and student progress. It’s amazing how making simple changes to the way data is presented can lead to a richer understanding of the tools we provide and the best way to use them to help students improve their reading proficiency.

What’s in a level?
Our Test Results report presents the same data as before, but we’ve added a summary pie chart showing the range of proficiency levels in the class. Teachers can also see the grade-level performance for each student, the instructional level and the individualized training stream from the main summary screen. Just this week, I’ve had multiple calls from teachers who’ve used BrightFish for years, asking about the instructional level, what it means, and how the training streams are determined. (BrightFish Reading uses the instructional level from the pre-test to assign a starting menu for stories.) Teachers can adjust a student’s menu at any time as they monitor student progress through their stream.

Class test results: Adding simple visual elements and presenting data in summary screens makes a difference.

Sure, I went to the training…
As trainers, we spend a lot of time agonizing over the “flow” of the online session or workshop. How much information is just the right amount, and when do we push out additional help and recommendations? The reality is that everything seems clear until students start logging in, working on stories and producing data. Once teachers start seeing what students are doing, the real questions begin. We’ve found that a mix of live chat, online videos and articles, and email support gives teachers the “just in time” detail they require to get the most from the program. 
(Check out some of our training videos here.)

How to add value
Our software is designed to be self-paced, and students could theoretically work through the stories completely on their own. In truth, that’s what happens in some environments with a high student-to-teacher ratio. But the transfer of skills from online program to academic coursework (and life) is always much more powerful when teachers are engaged and can forge a bridge between classroom instruction and independent work.

The balance is between adding value and not adding weight to an already overwhelming schedule. Based on teacher input, we’ve developed a number of remediation and supplementary resource tools that can be used for small-group and 1:1 remediation. Teachers can use the data in our progress reports, see where learning standards are being missed, and use our tools or their own to revisit those areas.

It’s about the gains
As part of our refresh for the new school year, we’ve introduced a gains report that will provide visual growth charts and metrics that teachers can review after students complete the midyear and post-test assessment. I can’t wait to hear the feedback on it!

To all of the software developers and GUI specialists who wonder whether their work has an impact, I can say without hesitation that it does. And for the record, keeping it simple is our new mantra!