When I went over to my friend Jaqueline’s house for Christmas, I was completely overwhelmed. There was Christmas everywhere. There were lights on her house, a wreath on the door, mini little Christmas trees outside the door. When you walked in, again Christmas was everywhere, she had Christmas candles on the mantel, her throw pillows on the couch had christmas trees, garland on the staircase, and there was a Christmas tree, but it wasn’t even the focal point. It felt like I literally stepped inside Christmas.
This is very different from how I get ready for the holiday. I go get a tree, decorate it, and consider myself done. This is also the difference in ways people look and think about data. I may not have Christmas all around, but I do have data all around.
Some people think data is just the ELA, when I asked “how is your data this year?” they answer “we predict our ELA scores will go up this year”, or they refer to the ELA scores. Data is not one big test at the end of the year, like one Christmas tree for Christmas. That is part of the data, just like the Christmas tree was part of Jaqueline’s Christmas, but not the whole thing. Data is all around us.
Data is your conference notes, guided reading notes, running records, post-its, students writing folder, and behavior. Data can be taken on how fast kids start reading workshop, or a transcript of partner talk, that we use to inform our own language. Data is literally everywhere and everything.
Our job as teachers is to recognize what is data, and then use it. For example, if you take a quick recording of partnership talk (thank you trusty iPhone), then listen to it for language. One thing I noticed when doing this last week, was students using simple language to discuss the characters, using the words bossy (which I often say), and helpful (which I often say) quite a bit. I made a note to myself to try to use other words during read aloud, and book talks to model. I stepped up my language a bit over the next week. One week later, I took another quick recording of the same partnership talk, and sure enough, they were using more varied language, such as “arrogant” and “altruistic”, which were two words I had made a point of using during the week. That is how we use data.
There are 3 steps to using data to inform your instruction:
1. Collect – This could look so many ways. There are two main types.
First is to have planned time where the purpose is to collect data. This could be an on-demand writing piece, or a stop and jot during a read aloud to collect the post-its. It could be a running record, spelling inventory, performance assessment and the list goes on.
Second is the have unplanned data collection, perhaps a students says something interesting during a book club and you write it down, you write a bit of what students say during the active engagement of a mini lesson, or you record a small piece of partnership talk to listen to. It could also be around behavior, quickly time the students when they go off to write etc…
3. Inform – Now that you have the data, and looked at it, you must somehow change the course of your teaching to reflect that data. If your notice an area of writing that is weaker for your students, beef that area up in your demo texts, add a mini lesson etc… If you notice some strategies are used more often than others, more heavily emphasize the strategies students are not using during shared reading, or add some mini lessons. This last step is important. It is the reason the other two steps exist.
So remember, data is all around you. Collect it, Organize it, and most importantly, USE IT!