What Data Do We Really Need? Really.

datahandsOne of the key contemporary teacher-questions for the first few months of school is, “What kinds of data should I be collecting?” A perhaps unexpected answer comes from Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez. In their book, Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School, Barnes and Gonzalez suggest a number of education “hacks” to solve school problems. In considering the data question, they note that it is possible to examine peaks and valleys in achievement data, but that such data present only part of the question.

And yet, we know this is not enough. We know our students bring with them so many other kinds of data. So many other factors contribute to academic success: the atmosphere in their homes, the demands of their out-of-school school schedule, the physical concerns that distract them, the passions and obsessions that consume them. These things are much harder to measure, so we don’t even try, focusing instead on the things we can convert to numbers.

To help support teachers in this dilemma, Barnes and Gonzalez’s hack is the 360 Spreadsheet, designed to give a fuller—360 degree—view of students. It is used to gather the data achievement tests miss, the important information about families, special skills, current challenges, and (perhaps most importantly from a creativity perspective) interests and passions. Take a look at the categories in this sample spreadsheet. You can read more about them in this excerpt in a recent Mind/Shift blog.


 Consider how this information could be used to improve your efforts to support students’ learning. Next, think about how you might use it to support and encourage their creativity. If you know Lydia girlmakeradores fantasy literature, it might lead you to consider a class project creating a fantasy ecosystem in science class or to add the option to analyze a fantasy character as an example of a tragic hero. If you know Abby spends every Saturday in the local maker space, perhaps you might enlist her help in designing a model for a science demonstration. Sometimes you may find ideas for class options, as in the Lydia examples, and other times you may be in the position to encourage an individual effort, in in the case of Abby. But either way, if you don’t know about students beyond their test scores, there are opportunities missed. Clearly, this kind of analysis is much easier for elementary teachers who may be getting to know 25 students, rather than secondary teachers with 125+. Even so, charting what you can—even if categories are limited and the chart may be incomplete—may be even more important when the demands on interpersonal skills are stretched so thin.

If you designed a 360 spreadsheet to be most useful in supporting creativity and learning in your class, what would you want as categories? We’d love to see your spreadsheet!

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