In the process of collecting data about my action research paper entitled The Effect of Digital Tools on Reading Comprehension, Focus and Engagement, I found it fascinating to gather both quantitative and qualitative data for my inquiry. I asked students to rate themselves 0-100 in their level of engagement before and after reading and answer comprehension questions in a traditional format and also in an interactive digital format.
If I were to solely look at the change of engagement in numbers with both sessions, I might come to the conclusion that engagement went down using the digital format vs. the more traditional approach which would be the exact opposite of what I had hypothesized. However, since I triangulated the data by also taking notes in an observation log as well as asking the students to fill out an open-ended question survey, I found that sometimes numbers tell you something incomplete and that narratives can help fill the gap of missing information.
Why is this important? We often assess our students based on assigning numbers. In fact, daily we do this as teachers. But numbers don't give the whole picture, as in my case. When I told the students about the quantitative results, that their engagement numbers went down when we used the interactive digital tool and asked why they thought that happened, especially since my observation log told a different story, they responded with some very interesting additional information. One student said it best, "It's not that the digital tool wasn't fun or engaging, it's just that at that point, the plot in the book became a bit flat and started to get boring."
So, engagement went down because the plot flattened, not because of any use or non-use of a teaching tool. However, the act of recording the level of engagement lead me to a clearer picture of how my students were engaging with the material. And this is key. A teacher needs to know where their students stand and quantitative data was key in helping me understand what was happening. However, explaining that data, or understanding that data is a whole other animal and required a rounder picture through the use of qualitative data.
Thus, if we only assess students quantitatively, we are missing huge portions of the whole picture. Grades are helpful, but are only a portion of feedback that students and teachers can draw upon to better learn and teach. We need to also be offering narrative feedback to our students, observational data that should be shared with students along with their grades. It is not enough to simply know that you are a D, C, B, or A student, but also know where you can improve, what patterns you are showing in your learning, and what observations led to those conclusions.
I know very few schools that offer narratives, although there are some, but do they offer them in conjunction with quantitative grades as well? And do those narratives really give the kind of feedback that students can use to improve their learning? I would like to see a hybrid of grading happening in school, so that we get a broader picture of each student, a more whole and round view of their education, their abilities, their skill levels and their learning processes.
Lisa Gottfried is a CTE teacher with 20 years experience as CEO of her own Video and Motion Graphics Production house. She currently teaches Intro to Digital Media, Video Production and Game/3D Design. She loves her job and her students!