Hands On Your Data

Data, bring this up at meeting and the mood in the room changes, sometimes the room deflates – I know I have had those feeling sometimes.  However, data does play a role in helping us determine what is working and what isn’t.   Sometimes I wonder if I am even asking the right questions regarding our data?  Am I seeing trends?  One of the chapters in Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg is called Absorbing Data and the story of the Cincinnati’s Elementary School Initiative caught my attention.

The story focused on teachers putting their assessment data on index cards every two weeks.  There was an index card for each student and once the data was on the cards they sorted them in to red, yellow and green piles and looked for any patterns.   After a few sessions of doing this one teacher started asking questions of the data and writing more than test scores on the cards – what questions did each student get wrong.  He asked another teacher of the same grade level to write same assessment data on their index cards and they grouped all the two classes of kids.  In doing this they found a pattern and developed a shared strategy to help their students.  The momentum continued with a different teacher asking a different question the following week and dividing their cards up to answer their question.  Another pattern emerged and another strategy was brainstormed and introduced and the conversations and problem solving seemed to grow.

We can all look a charts and tables until our eyes go blurry.  After our eyes reset does anyone look at the charts and numbers again or do they just sit in a data binder?  What I pondered about from this story was that even though there was some more work on the teachers part with recording the data – the hands-on process of sorting the kids using index cards led to more discussion, questions and explorations of the data.  If they just looked at the numbers and reflected on it – would the same questions be asked?  Would the same conversations happen?

So, I like this idea of asking a question about our assessment data and then a tactile way to organize it.  How would I use this in my math class next semester?  What would be my system?  And probably most importantly, how will it change how I work with my students to help them them learn the skills and content of the course?  Who can I talk to about my student data questions and trends that I see?

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