Reasoned Understanding of Evidence
October 10, 2017
Last week, Rainer Weiss, the chair of the physics department at MIT won the Nobel Prize for Physics. This probably isn’t that much of a surprise, though Dr. Weiss said his chances were about 20%, MIT has had 32 Nobel Prize winners.
What struck me in Ray Weiss’ interview on NPR was that he said what was important was the reasoned understanding of evidence. A happenstance that Dr. Weiss fears is in jeopardy.
I was thinking that day (last Tuesday) and the days that followed about what a reasoned understanding of evidence might be. I think of it in light of the fairly substantial amount of evidence we collectively collect regarding students in the fall of each year and in the shadow of examining that data together in our teams. What does it mean to have a reasoned understanding of evidence? As literacy professionals we looked at the words reasoned understanding and we take them to mean comprehension of evidence based on well thought out logic and good sense.
We are fortunate at our school to take the time to carefully construct understandings of the assessment measures, the results of those assessments, and importantly triangulate that information with what we have found out in other ways: observation, practice, and other assessments. We triage results and take the time to return to reflection, recording, and more conversation after our initial meetings.
In the best scenarios and honestly often, we come to a new understanding of students and a new plan for moving forward, considering what might be the bedrock skill to begin with, miraculously considering all of the variables of planning, grouping, materials, motivation, and sometimes, sheer will.
I read last week that teachers have to make more decisions during the day than brain surgeons. Some estimates are 1500 decisions. But these decision, how to group students, what to instruct whole class, what to revisit, what goals to set, what questions to ask, determine the instructional underpinnings of the students in our view.
So when I meet with teachers over the next few days, weeks, months, years, as a coach and a collaborator, I want to be a catalyst, a cheerleader, a co-conspirator, a sounding board. Rai Weiss had a long struggle to that Nobel Prize. He dropped out of MIT one time and his research on gravitational waves spans 30 years peppered with missteps and false starts. We might have similar missteps and false starts, however we’ll start together. I want us to say together what Rai Weiss said when he was interviewed last Tuesday after he made that reasoned understanding of evidence, ” It’s very, very exciting that it worked out in the end.”
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