Schools generate lots of data about students.
We gather data through tests and assignments. We gather data through classroom observation. Informally, teachers gather information through simply talking to students. We also gather information through communicating to parents, sharing stories with our peers, and even by participating in intramural/after-school activities with students.
All of this data is incredibly valuable. The information we gather every day informs our instructional practices – highlighting what might need to be retaught, what strategies are working or not working, or which assessment tools are most effective. Data also provides us with information about areas of student concern/need – who needs more time to get this concept, why a particular group is not working well together.
One year I studied my classroom bathroom sign-out sheet and attendance records to discover that a significant number of students were working hard to ensure they would not be present when we began work that was more complex and challenging than normal.
In the past, I have argued that the problem is the lack of data. After watching the movie Moneyball, I began to think that teachers need to generate more data. We should be more like Major League Baseball and have all kinds of stats and facts about our students. Wouldn’t it be cool to know that a particular student does best on tests when taken in the morning, at the beginning of the week, when seated in the front row, featuring short-answer style questions, and when using a pen and not a pencil.
As cool as that world would be, the reality is that teachers don’t even have time to analyze much of the data we already possess.
Wouldn’t it be cool to have a chunk of time to sit with colleagues and pour over the numbers and information we have?
Set Aside the Time
Data diving is time intensive. You can’t just gloss over complex and varied information on the way to your next class. Teacher time, outside of instruction, is limited and already full of other responsibilities. So, where do you find the necessary chunks of time?
What if, along with the usual PD days, we added a few DD days – Data Dive days?? On Data Dive days, time would be set aside for the entire faculty to do nothing but explore information we have gathered about students.
We could look at standardized test results.
We could study running records.
We could even share attendance numbers.
What’s important is that adequate time is set aside and everyone on the faculty is involved. By doing it together, and all at the same time, a faculty could develop a common understanding of student needs and then develop the necessary responses collaboratively.
Yes, studying data is something that could be built into regular meeting time. But, the data dive process is time consuming. You really do need to dive into it. There are a lot of numbers to pour over. There are patterns to discover. There are long and short-term implications and possible strategies to discuss.
Also, simply tacking data discussions onto an existing meeting agenda sends a signal to the faculty about the importance of data. If it isn’t worthy of a significant amount of time, then it can’t be that important. And, like it or not, that is how teachers measure the importance of school policies and directives – by the amount of time set aside to address them.
Finally, meetings are not the best place for detailed explorations. Meetings usually take place at lunch or after school, when attention and energy levels are at a low point. Meetings are also notoriously fluid, with unanticipated delays or distractions reducing scheduled discovery time.
Students Need to Explore Their Data Too
If a deep dive into learning data is important for us as teachers, imagine what it could mean for students. Shouldn’t we set aside corresponding large chunks of class time for students to explore their own data? If students can be taught how to read and interpret information gathered about them, that would contribute much to their understanding of their own growth and development.
To bring back the Major League Baseball analogy, there is a scene in the film Moneyball where team manager Billy Beane shares hitting data with player David Justice. When hitting, the team discovers, Justice’s batting average drops .075 when he takes a first pitch strike. Armed with this information, Justice has a better understanding of (and appreciation for) the efforts of coaches to help address this situation. Likewise, if our students can learn to understand the data being generated around them and the subsequent adjustments in instruction and assessment strategies, these efforts are more likely to have an impact.
Data has become a bit of a catchphrase in academia. But, the ubiquity of the idea shouldn’t diminish its importance. We gather information about our students on a daily basis. It is all too easy to get caught up in the day-to-day treadmill that is school and lose sight of the importance of what we already have. So, let’s get more intentional about giving our data the attention – and the time – it deserves.