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Feel the Data love

Updated: Nov 27, 2019

So many of us hate 'doin' the data' because it's just one more job - and it is NOT in that 'Urgent and Important' box either! It's also often something we do just because senior admin wants it. More times than not, it's the end of the year anyway, or perhaps the beginning of the next year - the students have left ... so what's the point? Finally, the thought of using Excel or Kamar to create flash graphs to analyse is just one hurdle too far.

Forget the end of year admin pressure to produce your data. The whole point of data is to find trends, pinpoint areas of success, and to pinpoint areas that need work. I always knew this, but hadn't really, put that philosophy into practice as part of my teaching - like, during the year rather than just at the end! Data just seemed too 'academic' or 'removed' from the daily heat of the classroom. But then I began to play... and I played with data my way (a mathematician I am not)! I had to ask myself, after marking draft stories and practice essays:

- What's going on here?

- What do I need to focus on next in my teaching? And,

- Who exactly needs ... what exactly?!

Like, I actually had to stop and reflect properly! Authentically, as they say!

Summative data is fine. You get an overall picture of how things went. But, for me, it's far less useful than formative data. This is because, once a final assessment is done ... it's done. The other thing is that it focuses more on that one final mark or grade rather than students' strong or weak points within that assessment. Still, sometimes we need to collect it, and it can be good to get an overall picture - especially if you're comparing assessments over the years, and especially if you've tried something new this year. The sticking point with measuring summative assessment is, of course, that the group you're collecting the data from has changed. You're not measuring apples with apples, but last year's apples with this year's pears. How can this be a reliable way to inform your practice in that case?!

Comparing data from one year to the next is like comparing apples with pears because you're measuring an entirely new set of students.

Having said that, sometimes you do just want an overall picture of how your students have performed in that final assessment (and sometimes your senior admin wants it). An easy and effective way to go about this is shown below. I admit right now that I didn't invent this - a colleague showed me, and it's gold. The top sheet shows grades according to New Zealand's NCEA system. Students' names are simply written into the appropriate box. The bottom one graphs results from a test out of 25. There's less room on this template, so I've just written in initials.

Sure, they might not look as flash an an Excel created graph, but they are just as effective, and I would argue even more professional because the teacher is easily able to do them then and there. We talk about catching students 'when they're hot' and 'just in time' learning; this follows that same philosophy for teachers. Do your data as you mark. See your graph and analyse it when you're still 'hot' on that assessment!

Formative data is the best, and I think any senior admin worth its salt should instead focus on this more than summative analyses, instead looking at:

a. How teachers are collecting this, and

b. How teachers are using what they've discovered to take the next teaching step.

If I'm teaching, let's say that necessary evil - essay writing, then I want to keep myself informed about the areas students are struggling with, our areas of strength etc. But how do I compile that information when I'm in the throws of marking as we practice over the course of the year?

Easy! I simply adjust my template to fit my rubric then complete it as I go. In fact, I don't even need to write anything in my mark book as this becomes my mark book. Here, the features I was looking for appear along the top, and each student has been awarded a mark out of 5 for each of those features, with their initials appearing in the appropriate box.

The graphs shown earlier were completed by hand; this has been done electronically - whatever floats your boat. I've colour-coded so that red = 'danger-danger' and yellow = bright sparks. I can see there is a lot of red in the area of Evidence, so I need to work on this with my students. Better yet though, I can see which students in particular need the most help in this area. In fact, I have used graphs like these to set up tutorials, getting the students that need help and/or extension to join me as part of a small group. Can I show the class these graphs? Absolutely - but I take out the initials beforehand, just leaving the coloured bars. These are are great eye opener and fodder for class discussions around how 'we' are all doing.

Now, while I can easily see exactly who needs what here, it does make a difference if I write it up. Below is an easy template that I admit I don't always complete. However, far out does it make a difference when I sit down and really 'brainstorm' those strategies for that final column!

Bottom line - love doin' ya data by making it work for you. Use it formatively, and graph and analyse 'while you're hot', informing your NEXT LESSON.

Grab templates for lots of different graph options, as well as the analysis template at my Drive Resources or Teachers Pay Teachers stores. Go! Frolic in your data. You too can feel data love - I promise!

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