How do we use information?

Reaction to the following articles:

Bryk, A. (2010). Organizing schools for improvement lessons from Chicago. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Excerpt from Gee, James Paul. (1990) Social Linguistics and Literacies: Ideology in Discourses, Critical Perspectives on Literacy and Education. London [England]: New York.

Newmann, F.M., Carmichael, D.L., & King, M.B. (in press). Chapter 6. Authentic Intellectual Work: Improving Teaching for Rigorous Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin

How do we use information? This is a really broad question and might not seem on topic for this week, but I’ll get there. First, I returned to Chris Thorn’s “Knowledge Management for Educational Information Systems: What is the state of the field?” (2001) that we read last semester. He defines knowledge and it’s relationship to information and data. Data is facts, information is facts + context, knowledge is the facts + context + experience, judgement, intuition, values. (These are actually definitions from Epson, 1999, that Thorn cites.) There is thus a progression from data to knowledge of as facts are brought into a Discourse. Two different Discourses might take the same data and come out with different knowledge. Thinking about it in this way led me to think about what we have discussed the last two weeks about how administrators have the power to bring a policy into their Discourse (if they have established one, of course).

But returning to the question of how we use information, what I find so exciting about Authentic Intellectual Work (AIW) is that it is an information gathering tool that seeks to measure what I would call the “good stuff” of teaching and learning: the conversations, the higher-order thinking, the student interest, social support. What’s more, the implementation framework actually establishes a Discourse around the use of the information, changing the way educators interact and centering the conversation around the empirically gathered information – not about thoughts, intentions, feelings, etc. Teachers are coached on how to see and understand the information that is already in their classrooms.

In a different turn on how we use information, Organizing Schools for Improvement uses data to show relationships in a way that I had never seen before. It was the first time I had seen a quantitative analysis of systems that even attempted to show synergistic effects, such as Figure 4.11 (p. 114), showing that schools strong on two supports did substantially better than those strong in just one or the other support. While I have struggled with accepting the use of math and reading scores as measures of “achievement,” I think the way it was used here has merit. Since the schools deemed “improving” were the ones in the top quartile, it does seem that this would represent genuine learning. It seems it would be hard to exclusively teach to the test and get into the highest quartile.

One final thought on how we use information is the question of what information we choose collect. Given the progression cited by Thorn, it essentially determines the knowledge we are able to gain. The methods of AIW actually give us a framework to collect data that helps us measure the learning we want students to be doing, whereas math and reading scores collect the data on fairly decontextualized skills. (I do believe it is important for students to read and do math, but I see those as tools for learning, not the learning itself.) The AIW framework addressed the question over whether students could engage in the AIW lessons without having the vocabulary or basics first. I am definitely in the camp of presenting interesting, contextualized, enigmas first and then supporting students as they are motivated to learn what they need to know to solve it. As we discussed last week, a focus on outcomes can narrow the paths we take to get there, but if the learning outcomes are the authentic intellectual work itself, we have both broadened the pathways to learning while providing outcome information that can be shared for learning and accountability. Win-win.

Just as teachers help their students learn how to gather the right information to further their understanding, educational leaders need to create environments for teachers to learn how to collect and focus on the right information, understand it, and use it to further the mission of the school. This goes back to the work of establishing a professional community and a common Discourse. The foundation of using AIW seems to point to a path for using the right information to build a reflective, improvement-minded community that ultimately creates a better learning experience for kids.

Just for fun because it’s one of my favorite diagrams of all times:
Flow and ZPD

Also cited:

Thorn, C. A. (2001). Knowledge Management for Educational Information Systems: What Is the State of the Field? Education Policy Analysis Archives, 9(47), 1–34.