How One Simple Tool Makes Teachers Crave More Student Data

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Only one kind of student data matters
Only one kind of student data matters

Collect a Different Kind of Student Data: an excerpt from Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School

In the spring of 2015, Denver elementary teacher Kyle Schwartz asked her students to complete this sentence in writing: “I wish my teacher knew…” The student responses were so unexpected, so moving, Schwartz shared some of them online, igniting a movement that went viral within hours. Teachers everywhere asked their students the same question, learning in late spring things that had troubled their kids all year:

“I wish my teacher knew how much I miss my Dad because he got deported to Mexico when I was 3 years old and I haven’t seen him in 6 years.”

“I wish my teacher knew that I’ve been having trouble balancing my homework and sports lately.”

“I wish my teacher knew I don’t have pencils at home.”

The overwhelming response to this idea illustrates a significant gap in the data we collect on our students. Despite our efforts to carefully examine student performance and choose instructional interventions that best meet their needs, the truth is, we need to be collecting, organizing, and analyzing more robust data on our students–data that really matters.

The Problem: Turning Students into Numbers

For at least a decade now, the driving force behind education reform has been data. We talk about collecting data, analyzing data, and making data-driven decisions. All of this data can certainly be useful. . . . In terms of certain academic behaviors, we can quantify student learning to some extent and improve our practice as a result.

HLS-Hacking updated ebook

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. . . . These things are much harder to measure, so we don’t even try, focusing instead on the things we can convert to numbers.

The Hack: Collect Data on the Whole Child

Most teachers make an effort to get to know their students, and many regularly distribute surveys at the start of each school year to speed up that process. We rely on our day-to-day interactions for relationship building, and although we get to know some students quite well this way, others just fade into the background.

A 360 Spreadsheet is a place for teachers to store and access the “other” data we collect on our students, giving us a more complete, 360-degree view of each student. It’s a single chart that organizes it all and lets us see, at a glance, things we might otherwise forget.

Because the 360 Spreadsheet is a single document, teachers can access it much more easily than they could a whole folder of surveys. . . . Here are just a few examples of what you might learn from students, when using a gracefully developed 360 Spreadsheet:

  • Passions: What is the student really into? Keeping track of things like hobbies, collections, and other hard-to-categorize obsessions will help you connect with your students.
  • Family: The home environment plays a major role in how well a student performs academically.
  • Activities: This category will help you better understand what outside activities fill up a student’s schedule when they are not in school.
  • Other: This seems like it could be a throw-away category, but making room for miscellaneous information is a good idea.

The best part

The 360 Spreadsheet makes students feel seen. “It enables me to ask students direct questions about the sports they play, teams they love, their pets, siblings, and passions,” explains Lisa Tremonte, a teacher in New Jersey who uses the 360 Spreadsheet.

“When I do, the look on their faces says it all. They know that I listen to them, care about them, and think their lives are important.”

Can you imagine anything better than this?

To learn more about the 360 Spreadsheet and other amazing solutions to some of your biggest problems, check out Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School, the first book in the Hack Learning Series, by Mark Barnes and Jennifer Gonzalez, now available online and in stores around the world.

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Mark Barnes is the Founder and CEO of Times 10 Publications, which produces the popular Hack Learning Series -- books that provide right-now solutions for teachers and learners. Mark is the author or publisher of dozens of books, including Bestseller Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School. Barnes presents internationally on assessment, connected education, and Hack Learning. Join more than 140,000 interested educators who follow @markbarnes19 on Twitter.
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