October 2, 2014

The Best "DATA" You Will Ever Get

Does the word "data" make you throw up a little in your mouth. This gag reflex is common among artists and becoming an epidemic. Data and accountability has become the new "answer" to the perceived problem of kids not achieving. This "problem" was created by the very thing that is trying to solve it, the impersonal nature of our lives. Life, even in my cozy art room, has become about the bottom line. How many kids can fit in a classroom, how many classes can fit in a day, how many minutes of instructional time can fit in a schedule. Most of the data we are asked to collect carries little meaning in the reality of our job, to teach children. This bit of "data" that I'm about to share with you is the most useful tool I've ever received to help me better understand my students, their families, and the values they are raised in.

I gave my students a little worksheet "Parent Homework" in the beginning of the year. It asked one simple question, "Tell me one thing you think I should know about your child."  I wasn't sure if I'd get any of this "homework" back working in the inner-city school where parent involvement is a struggle. I totally didn't expect the stacks and stacks of papers that flooded my mailbox. I received about 300 back (although I will count them more accurately soon to fuel the data train:) This is a huge credit to their teachers as well who helped students follow through with my request. I filed all of the returned "homework" by classroom teacher in a binder.

I read each one, laughed and cried at some of the things I read. Most were happy tears. Parents cheering their kid on "I know you can do this! It's going to be a great year," one mom wrote to her son who obviously struggles with school and ended her note with a smiley face. It was like opening a million lunch boxes and finding those little notes about how much these children are loved. There were others that were a little more negative, some that wrote back in different languages which I still am working on translating, some that did their best to write in English recognizing that I am too dumb to speak their language (after 8 years of working here I still only understand minimal Spanish), and some the very few who didn't return one at all. . . well that definitely said a lot.

So why do I call this data? Is it truly data. Well I had to look up the word myself to make sure.

Data: things known or assumed as facts, making the basis of reasoning or calculation.

Using that definition I think this just might be data. I have already used these "parent homework" sheets a lot while trying to "reason" with some question or concern I've had. Whenever I'm having an issue or a question about a student, I look at this sheet, the few sentences sometimes tell me something that I didn't know about a student that helps me connect with them, or it tells me who takes care of them at home, what that person expects/thinks of them, what language is spoken at home and so much more. I ALWAYS check this sheet before I make a phone call home. This lets tells me who I will be talking to, what their perceptions might be and how they might be able to help. If I shared the actual parent responses from this "homework" it would become really clear to you how these responses can tell me all this. 

I keep all the letters in a binder by class for easy reference.

These are BEAUTIFUL EXAMPLES of how parents help me get to know their children. 

I will share one with you that is not too personal so you can see what the "parent homework" looks like. I encourage you to do the same and save them. They will tell you more in one week about the students you work with then anyone could hope to learn in months. Data in my arty opinion should be used to change the way we perceive a problem, approach a problem/situation, but never to solve it. There are no problems that all this data collection can solve. I think the sooner the government realizes that data doesn't solve problems, people do, we will finally be on the road to education reform that we desperately need.


Mrs. C said...

HERE HERE!!! WELL SAID!!! The word of the year that makes me cringe is " rigor" ( Gggrrrr!!!) If I hear my one principal say it one more time I swear I'm going postal! ( I think it makes crazier since he really has no clue... sigh...) This is my second year dealing with the " data" (that means nothing and is only being used to evaluate my teaching.... ) this year I'm just, yeah, whatever, about it... I've learned how to play their game so I can get back to doing what's really important, you know, like teaching my students...

Hope Hunter Knight said...

What a great idea! I am feeling more of a pull to connect to my families too - I'm trying to get families involved with Instagram challenges. The first one was kind of a dud but I have faith it will be fabulous, eventually. I'm also trying a new behavior management program called Class Dojo, that I can use for quick brags to parents. We'll see how that goes , I'm in a trial period now.
Anyway, love this idea and let us know how you use the info over the year.

Ruth Lee said...

What a thoughtful idea! I would love to fill this out as a parent and it would make me feel so good that my child has a teacher who cares this much! :-) I am totally doing this next year! Thank you for the great idea!

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