Inviting Data Into Our Classrooms - Possibilities for Teacher Driven Inquiry Done Our Way.

For educators like myself, the notion of student data comes with hefty amounts of baggage and equal amounts of skepticism. What kind of data? How will it be used? How can my worth as a teacher be gauged by using this so called data? How about the immeasurable types of data such as emotional intelligence or student engagement or intrinsic motivation? How can you even begin to measure student efficacy? Self confidence? Self-worth?....These are the rock bed and amorphous ‘things’ that are the foundation of every lesson that I strive to teach.

Well, I have to admit that I recently made friends with data on my terms. Let me tell you the why and how of that experience. I recently embarked upon a Media Literacy unit with my 4th and 5th grade classes, approximately 200 students, the impetus of which stems from the professional learning network I am a part of in advancing the new SC Visual and Performing Arts Media Arts Standards. My sounding boards are fellow art teachers from across the state who, like me, are interested in moving student centered learning forward. Although I have taught many Media Arts lessons before, I have never done so with such intention.

I started the unit by pre-assessing students’ knowledge of ‘Media Literacy’, a basic, good practice to gauge student understanding. Rather than a static paper assessment, I opted for a Google Form, an online data gathering tool that is part of the Google ‘mothership’ of related educational apps. I was surprised at the immediate and accessible digital data that I gathered so seamlessly and visually. Colorful pie and bar graphs filled my screen. I could clearly see that students had little prior knowledge of what ‘literacy’ might mean, followed by a greater vagueness of the term ‘media literacy’. I also learned how much time they spend online, what types of activities they are investing in and how many advertisements they think they are exposed to on a daily basis.

I did, however, reassure students that “I don’t know’ was a fully acceptable answer and that the assessment before them was not a true ‘test’ but merely an assessment of their prior knowledge of a certain subject, nothing more. What I gained through this Google Form data gathering experience was invaluable. It gave me an understanding I could have only vaguely gleaned through class discussions and much hand raising (or not so much). I welcome data gathering that is meaningful and purposeful, the kind that fuels the direction of personalized learning, the demarcation of students’ thinking so as to chart a course for learning and acquisition of knowledge. This is both student and teacher empowerment.