Why Data Matters

Honestly, the idea of “data-driven instruction” bugged me for years. I hated reducing students to percentage points of growth. I hated “mining data” to refine my instruction. It all felt formulaic for something that was really an art in my mind. But my frustrations were based on misunderstandings. My premises were wrong. Data-driven instruction is truly key to providing the best education possible for our students, if we use this tool in the way it was intended for.

Head over to Thinkingnation.org/technology to watch two videos showing how our platform works.

I often think in my head that the difference between a ‘good cook’ and a chef is the recipe. Anyone can make something delicious once, but to be an expert, the dish must be able to be replicated day in and day out in a restaurant or even in the hands of someone else if they are provided the recipe and some helpful tools. It would benefit us to think of teaching in this way. A good lesson or unit is worth praising, but expertise lies in our ability to build off that success to create more success for both ourselves and our students. Data affords us that opportunity.

At Thinking Nation, as we addressed last week, we provide grading services to our partnering schools. One of the strengths of this approach, summarized last week, is the ability to use data to enable vertical alignment across grade levels. We suggested that “having access to uniform data assessing the same standards over [the] years is crucial for the development of deep thinking and analysis.” If one teacher can build upon the gains of another teacher in cultivating historical thinkers and writers, we begin to look like chefs whose dishes are replicated in kitchens everywhere. We build a community of experts, not simply star teachers in isolated cases.

But we don’t need to wait for vertical alignment to be a possibility for data to be incredibly useful to our teaching. When teachers receive a data report (see a sample here), they get simple but helpful feedback on whole class trends and individual students. Using this data, teachers can go back to our document analysis worksheets to re-teach primary source analysis or review how to write a thesis statement and then check progress by implementing one of our formative assessments. Of course, teachers can go beyond Thinking Nation resources too, re-teaching or pushing rigor further depending on student needs. The important thing is that by having distilled data on student performance, teachers can best address their students’ needs in order to cultivate them as thinking citizens.

Data, especially in history and the humanities, can sometimes feel like a “4 letter word” (I know, I know, it is…). But in reality, when we have data on how students are doing on complex writing tasks like DBQs, we can tailor instruction specifically to meet their needs. Data allows us to see our students as people with specific skill sets and then take those observations and build something appropriate for their growth. With our online platform, teachers don’t need to spend extra time compiling that data; rather, they can dive right into it, reflect on it, and then do what teachers do best: teach.