“If you know a thing only qualitatively, you know it no more than vaguely. If you know it quantitatively—grasping some numerical measure that distinguishes it from an infinite number of other possibilities—you are beginning to know it deeply. You comprehend some of its beauty and you gain access to its power and the understanding it provides” (p. 25).
Carl Sagan, Astrophysicist
I find the process of collecting and analyzing data about multilingual students fascinating! At this time of year, many educators are preparing to engage in instructional walkthroughs. These can also be referred to as focus walks, learning walks, instructional rounds, classroom visits, and informal observations. Although the titles may be different, the purpose of this practice is to collect data about what is happening in classrooms. It is imperative that district and school leaders have a pulse on what is happening, or not, across their learning communities, including where English language instruction happens. Walkthroughs are one way to collect and analyze data.
What’s a walkthrough?
Walkthroughs are normally conducted by a small group of educators with a shared focus. Typically, there is an agreed upon set of questions, a rubric and/or tool used to collect data based upon what is observed in the classroom during a short amount of time, usually 10-15 min. The focus of a walkthrough can vary, so can the amount of time of the visit. They are designed to provide insight into 1) instruction that students are receiving, 2) how students are engaged with standards-based tasks, and 3) the overall classroom environment. There may be more to observe during a walkthrough depending upon the context. As language educators, have you been part of walkthroughs or plan to be? If so, will they include language education classrooms? What would you expect to see?
What walkthroughs are not.
First and foremost, they are not opportunities to surprise teachers and students. They are not “gotcha” moments between evaluators and instructors. They are not punitive but can feel that way. They are also not formal evaluations. They could be announced visits but may not be. What is important to remember is the purpose of the observation. You are a guest in a learning community. How can you observe what you need to while preserving the environment? How can you collect data while at the same time think critically about what is being observed?
Collect and Reflect
In the July 2023 edition, Part I  (ADD LINK HERE) listed simple questions with complex answers. These questions can be asked to help educators prioritize areas in need of attention, including positive attention e.g, number of multilingual learners who graduate with the Seal of Biliteracy, related to their multilingual student populations. Regardless of the tool used to collect data, attention must be focused on the conversations before and after the observation. I refer to this as conversation beyond the rubric (Cooper, 2020). The reflective conversations are most important since the perfect data collection tool may be difficult to agree upon. I prefer to use a 1 or 2 page data collection tool with key areas names explicit. Lengthy walkthrough tools with dense descriptions can make the walkthrough more complicated than it needs to be. How can we keep walkthrough tools simple yet robust? What we can agree upon is the types of dialog we’ll engage in to make sense of what we’ve observed. In preparation for walkthroughs the acronym for making data CUTE—Comprehensible, Useable, Timely and Empowering—can be used as a frame to prepare for more meaningful data collection that centers on linguistically diverse student populations.
|Centering on Multilingual Learners|
|General (Language) Data Questions||Walkthrough Considerations|
|Comprehensible: Do we understand what data is being presented and why? Is the data too convoluted and congested? More data is not always part of the answer but rather more of certain types of data such as qualitative data and less common data.||What are we collecting data about? Is what we are looking for aligned to the district and/or school goals? Is the purpose teacher, student, environmental focused or something else? What tool(s) are we using to collect data? Who has been part of and in agreement with the pre walkthrough preparation process?|
|Usable: Is the data something we can use to make different / better choices? Does the data provide more context? Do we have data points for all four domains of language? Do we have data that is aligned to and in support of the Language Instruction Educational Programs (LIPM)? How can we include but move beyond demographic data?||Are we collecting qualitative, quantitative or both? How will the data we are collecting be used? Is the focus on language use by students, instruction by the teacher, or a combination of both? Are we able to collect and reflect upon the data in a meaningful way?|
|Timely: How can we collect, analyze, disseminate and use data more efficiently? The time we dedicate to collecting data is oftentimes nowhere near equal to the amount of time we spend analyzing it.||Is the walkthrough scheduled during the beginning, middle or end of year? How might the time of year impact the data we are collecting? How has what we are looking for and collecting data about changed, or not, over time? How will we share results of the walkthrough in a timely manner to stakeholders? What types of questions, comments might the finding generate?|
|Empowering: Are we using asset based lenses when it comes to understanding, using and sharing data? If so, who is being empowered? Is it all gloom and doom or more butterflies and cupcakes? Are students part of and at the center of data based discussions?||How are students included in the data collection process? Do they know and understand the purpose of walkthroughs? If we conducted focus groups of students about their experiences in class, would the findings be aligned or not? Are students empowered by the data we are collecting?|
I’m often asked questions about program models for multilingual learners. Which programs are best and how can we implement and sustain them? By participating in walkthroughs, we can begin to learn more about the program models we have in place and if they are working best for the students we serve. The question remains, what is the intended outcome for multilingual learners? Walkthroughs can provide multiple data points about language instruction and learning in an effort to answer the aforementioned question.
Cooper, A. (2023, July). Making (language) data cute: comprehensible, usable, timely and empowering – part i. Language Magazine, 22(11), 35–37.
Sagan, C. (1997). Billions and billions: Thoughts on life and death at the brink of the millennium. Random House.
Cooper, Ayanna. (2020). And justice for ELs: A leader’s guide to creating and sustaining equitable schools. Corwin, A SAGE Company.
Ayanna Cooper, EdD, is the Pass the Mic series editor, and owner of A. Cooper Consulting. She is the author of And Justice for ELs: A Leader’s Guide to Creating and Sustaining Equitable Schools (Corwin) and (co-editor) of Black Immigrants in the United States (Peter Lang).