Student Centered Data: Part II

In my last post, I proposed some principles on data collection that I believe are applicable to public education:
  • Instruments used for data collection must align with everyday practice and purpose
  • Data gathering and reporting must be as automated as possible
  • Data reports must be easily shared
I’d like to explore each of these points in greater detail and see if they do indeed bear any relevance. In this post, I will begin by examining our first point:
  • Instruments used for data collection must align with everyday practice and purpose
In a classroom, every second counts. A minute that your attention is not on your students is a minute they will take to redirect their own attention elsewhere. To regain their attention will then consume additional time. Teachers that have poor classroom management are the teachers who have their backs turned for minutes, clicking through folders on their computer, shuffling through papers, or flipping through their lesson plan book on their desk. While they are doing this, students are engaged in conversation, throwing papers, getting out of their seats, and so on.

What this means for a teacher is that any instrument that you may use for data collection must not require your attention for more than mere seconds at a time. If you have to spend a minute tapping on a screen to unlock it, pull up an app, select an option, and wait for it to load, then you’ve just lost a minute assessing and observing your classroom. You don’t have that sort of time to spend.

This is why the most valuable instrument for data collection in a classroom may very well be a paper checklist with your students’ names printed on it. Their homework is out on their desk? Check. They are focused and attentive? Check minus. Johnny is unprepared for class again? Quick note, will call his mother later.

I’m a tech geek, and at the beginning of this school year, I created simple checklists using Google forms, which I would then pull up on my tablet before class began. As students walked in, I would check off their assignments. This is really useful data to have available in a spreadsheet, so I can easily observe trends over time. But even those few seconds it took me to pull up the screen and then press each button with my finger were seconds that my eyes were off of my students. There’s also something about having my eyes on a screen that is different than having my eyes on paper. It sucks my attention in. So I stopped bringing in my tablet and went back to pen and paper checklists.

This principle also applies to the student end of things. Oftentimes, getting students onto laptops or tablets and utilizing technological tools sounds like a game changer, but in an actual classroom, you may find that you are spending your time negotiating password issues, dealing with technical glitches with web browsers or connections, or other unforeseen hardware or software troubleshooting. Depending on the software, you may further find that students click around on things and pay little attention to the content of what they are learning. So using such tools must be very purposeful, and you must be prepared to schedule in time to help students negotiate any obstacles they may encounter, and to teach and model the use of the tools effectively.

Therefore, any instrument that is to be used in a classroom for collecting data must directly align with everyday practice, and be purposeful to the content to be taught and learned.

For now, I’m going to stick with paper checklists and leave my tablet at home and my smartphone in my pocket. The next step is transferring the data collected on those checklists into an online data tracking system for the purpose of analysis, and this is the step that can become most burdensome for teachers.

My next post will explore that very issue in greater depth.

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