Getting Lost in the Data

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G is a first grader who's going through the RTI process because he has difficulty with writing.  He's lucky.  He has an enthusiastic teacher who stops at nothing to help him make progress.  She recently asked me if I would work with him.  He balks when it's time to write.  He has great ideas and can tell a story with great detail, but he shuts down when it's time to write.

Of course, I agreed.  Time to work with a student on writing?  How could I say no?

He came back to my office with me readily.  His teacher had told me that he had been out in the hall working with an older student earlier that day and the two of them were laughing and laughing.  I thought maybe that would be a good thing for him to write about.  It was fresh in his mind.  He obviously had been having a good time.  And I was right about there being a story to tell.  He regaled me with the details about what had happened in the hall, laughing through the whole story.

Then it came time to write.  He retold the story on his fingers.  He touched the paper as he told the story again.  He wrote three words and then he stopped.

And did nothing.

He stared at the paper.

He stared at his pencil.

He waited.

"What's wrong?" I inquired.
"I hate writing?"
"Why is that?"

And here is where my heart broke.

"Because you just keep writing and writing and writing and it's never correct."

Oh my gosh.  That's a pretty profound statement coming from a 6 year-old.  It's never correct even after you write and write and write.  How must that feel to work really hard at something and feel like the end product is never going to be good enough?

I asked him why he thought it was never correct and he replied, "I can tell by looking at it."

And some people might agree with him:  It's hard to read his writing; he spells phonetically, so many of his words are misspelled; and he doesn't put spaces between his words.

But, I had to disagree with him.  There is so much right with his writing.

He has ideas.
He can tell a story with a beginning, middle and end.
He hears sounds in words and is able to write letters  that represent those sounds.
His pictures match the words in his writing.
He can label his pictures.

Does he have room to grow?  Absolutely.

 We'll be sitting down around the RTI table later this week to talk about G.  His teacher's got data.  We've counted how many words he writes in a 15 minute time  period.  The charts are ready to go. 

But this is where I struggle.  G is more than what this one set of data shows.  And we aren't going to make much progress if we only focus on what he's not doing.

 I believe with all my heart that we have to begin with what G is doing right. And it's up to us, his teachers, to help him recognize those successes.  We can't give up on this boy.  We can't attribute his reluctance to write as stubbornness or a behavior issue.  It's our job and responsibility to dig deep and figure out how to help him.  And we may just have to get a little creative and think outside the box.

Our  students can't become data points, numbers and charts.  

We have to be the voice of reason.  

It's up to us to make sure they don't get lost.


  1. I loved that you just asked the question, opened the door for conversation ... what an amazingly honest response! One smart cookie for sure. Both of you. Keep doing what's right! (Love that blog post label! Hmmm ... a great title for a book too.) :)

  2. Great post! A good reminder that sometimes we are just not asking the right questions!

  3. I'm so happy you got to meet with G! He now knows something he didn't before -- he does things RIGHT! I'm extremely frustrated with my data (numbers -- no stories attached to my names on the list) this year. My evaluation score (and "effective" status) were pulled down due to data this year. I was so relieved to sit with my principal and tell the stories that went with the numbers. She "gets" that students are more than their scores -- thank goodness! Keep it up, G! We're cheering for you! Jennifer Sniadecki

  4. And it's the way we are teaching them. When they write and write and write and then someone says "edit it", "revise it"...and they write some more. And they are only 6. They've barely learned to read the words, let alone write them down in a coherent and neat fashion. We are pushing so hard that, whether they know it on not, students' bodies and minds are pushing back or shutting down. I hope "G" is able to be revived! What a telling statement he made!


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