Educator Brenda Dyck reflects on how collecting data has become an essential part of teaching. But data collection often can become such an obsession that it actually gets in the way of student learning. This week, Dyck reflects on her interest in data and her realization that sometimes more data is really not helpful at all. Included: Eight questions to help determine if data gathering will be worth the effort.
Fighting data asphyxiation is difficult but possible.
-- William Van Winkle
This week Im neck-deep in data analysis. I am sorting through the results from a beginning-of-the-year math assessment. For me, this isnt a comfortable place to be, because I am not a statistician. I even wonder if I will know what to do with the information once I get it!
Since I am an educator in the Age of Accountability, I resign myself to gathering and analyzing everything from classroom behavior to achievement test results and homework completion. But as I wade through the rows and rows of numbers in front of me, I speculate whether the time Im spending will justify the time Im not spending creating new and engaging curriculum, developing meaningful relationships with my students, providing meaningful feedback on assignments, or even applying new learning applications.
Once I finish the lengthy process of gathering, plotting, and looking for meaning in the data, a question lingers: How will I convert this information into intelligence?
I realize how easy it is to drown in an excess of information and analysis, so Ive sought out a number of online tools that have empowered me to investigate and evaluate student learning and classroom issues in a quick, uncomplicated manner. I use
In the information age, there can be too much exposure and too much information and too much sort of quasi-informationTheres a danger that too much stuff cramming in on peoples minds is just as bad for them as too little in terms of the ability to understand, to comprehend."
-- Bill Clinton
When it comes to data analysis, I have to resist buying into the old adage that more is better. Before I yield to yet another data collection activity, my experience this fall collecting data related to the start-of-the-year math assessment reminds me that I need to employ a number of screening questions to determine if the effort will be worth it:
I have to remember that its always more enjoyable to start another study than to use the data I already have, and those questions will help me determine whether new data is really needed. Those questions will help me to create some parameters so my priorities stay in balance -- so data collection and analysis dont happen at the expense of essential one-on-one time with my students.
Brenda Dyck is a sessional instructor at the University of Alberta, in Edmonton, Alberta (Canada). In addition to teaching preservice teachers, Brenda is the moderator of MiddleTalk, a listserve sponsored by the National Middle School Association (NMSA). Her "HotLinks" column is a regular feature in NMSA's magazine, Middle Ground. Brenda also is a teacher-editor for MidLink magazine.