Math was never my thing. In fact, I had a real phobia of all things math all during high school. Eventually numbers and I developed a sort of mutual indifference toward each other – they didn’t bother me, and I didn’t bother them.
Fast forward many, many years later. What started out as a career in education has now evolved into the role of both technology and data specialist. (Data specialist? Really? God definitely has a since of humor! ) So I’ve had to work really hard to overcome my fear of numbers in order to meet the monthly deadlines that arrive with the administering of various classroom, district, and state assessments.
I recently did a session with teachers in my building on analyzing data from our most recent benchmark tests. I shared my perception of data – a huge monster made of tidbits of information, with no clear beginning or ending in sight. One lifeline that I have found particularly helpful is the Data Driven Dialogue protocol, developed by Nancy Love and the Teacher Development Group with the Harmony Education Center. This is a step by step, practical guideline to analyzing data and taking the scariness away by approaching it in 3 phases. A copy of the protocol can be found here.
Phase 1 – Predictions
In this phase, dialogue takes place before you even look at the data. During this time, teachers were asked to activate prior knowledge, look at their assumptions, and make predictions in order to create readiness to examine and discuss the data. The teachers reflected quietly on thought starters such as “I assume…”, “I predict…” “I wonder…”, then share their thoughts with the group. It’s was a great way to look at the overall mindset and attitudes towards both the test and the students.
Phase 2 – Observations
Next, teachers silently reviewed their data and notated their observations about the data – trends, surprises, etc. It’s important that teachers not make any assumptions during this phase, although that is easier said than done. It was funny to see the wheels turning in the heads of our teachers as we looked over the data! We again shared our notes and resisted the urge to draw conclusions just yet.
Phase 3 – Inferences
This was the easiest portion of the Data Driven Dialogue, I believe in part because it’s typically our first reaction when we see data. We honored the rule of No Judgement during this session, and teachers were able to gain some valuable insights both from their own observations and those of their colleagues. By ensuring that we were in a “safe” place to share, teachers were able to see more clearly and objectively some of the root causes of the data, as well as instances where they needed to know more. We were even able to evaluate some of our teaching practices, and come up with action plans for the next benchmark period.
Our plan is to use this protocol during our bi-weekly grade level meetings and after school-wide benchmark tests for the remainder of the year. My expectation is that we will begin to have rich, meaningful conversations that will evolve into strategic plans to drive student success.