Data Walls: Yay or Nay?

May 31, 2016 | by Janice Smith

In the Washington Post a couple weeks ago there was a pretty scathing article on ‘Data Walls’ (you can find it here), and there have been other since.  One has threatened law suits on every school in their state if all data walls aren’t removed by a certain date.  As someone who not only used data walls in their own classroom, trained a staff of teachers on data-driven instruction, and has since collected and created many videos discussing the use of data, I was interested in some of the research they were presenting.

I want to be clear, I have a lot more work to do in terms of reading and analyzing the research that supports the removal of all data walls, but my right-now instinct reaction after reading these articles (and a bit of the research included) is that perhaps the discussion should be less black & white than YES or NO on data walls, and we should dig a little deeper into how teachers are using student data to drive their instruction, and how effectively they’re building a culture that believes in data as one tool in helping us to grow.  Not just us as teachers, but also instilling that mindset in our students.

So this week I’ve created a Collection in the Mission 100% video library called ‘Data Driven Instruction’, which will be growing over the next couple of weeks, with some of our favorite clips featuring teachers and schools who are incredibly intentional about the culture of data they’re building.  From our time observing and talking to teachers who use data effectively, we notice a couple things happen:


  • It’s grounded in a Growth Mindset.  The teacher is constantly reinforcing the messages that we are all working to grow our mastery (even the teacher), and part of this is knowing where we start and what skills we want to work on.  Your data does not represent a permanent state, but just your current state.


  • There are lots of opportunities to spiral, reteach and prove mastery. Hand-in-hand with #1, the teacher and class must provide plenty of opportunities for students to master content.  If students receive their data, and that skill is never revisited, it does feel like a permanent state.  This is the action aligned with the words of #1.


  • Data is accompanied by feedback. Along with #2, if you’re going to grow from where you are, you need feedback in order to do better the next time around.  The more specific the feedback the better.


  • Data use is common. When students are seeing data used regularly in classed, for a variety of things, they buy into this idea that it is helping us identify our strengths and weaknesses and grow from there.  We love this clip from George Marshall’s class below for that reason.  He uses data everywhere in his class- sometimes student find success in the data, sometimes they celebrate growth, and sometimes they identify what they’re going to work on next.  The more often they encounter this, the more they understand how it’s helpful.
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