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.