GUEST BLOGGER: Mary Anne Mather, Using Data Facilitator & Social Media Liaison on Twitter & FaceBook

“’Go Visual’ with your data to help construct meaning, make sense,
and prepare to engage in meaningful dialogue.

The Data Coach’s Guide to Improving Learning for All Students

Teachers have access to rich and varied student data, often provided in a variety of computer-generated documents with lots of numbers. Where does a data team begin their dialogue about what the numbers show? How can the team integrate multiple sources of data to tell a coherent story? How can a data team bring to life pages of numbers, so that the data can paint a picture about student learning? One way to illuminate the stories within the data is for data teams to create their own visual display of the data. We call it “Go Visual.”
visual of steps in  4-phase data dialog process“Go Visual” is the second stage in a four-phase process that guides data teams through deep discussion about data and helps them derive meaning from the data.

Data teams work together to create large, visually vibrant displays of data that combine information from multiple sources, make comparisons across student demographic groups, or capture several time frames. These visuals can illuminate subtle changes in achievement over time.

sample data wall

A sample data wall.

They can pinpoint achievement gaps that may or may not reinforce assumptions about who is doing well and why. Most importantly, by creating visual data and then making observations about this data, the team gains ownership of the story the data tells.  The shared understanding that results from the Go Visual process can lead the data team to a culture of group responsibility for improvement.

Action Steps
If your team is ready to Go Visual with your data, these steps will get you started:

• Identify several data sources that relate to one another (e.g.: demographics, state test scores in a selected subject area, district benchmark test scores in a particular subject area).

• Next, make predictions. On chart paper, list your team’s ideas about what you think this data will tell you. (To learn more about Predicting, click here.) Based on the team’s predictions, select data that will help illuminate your assumptions. Include aggregate and disaggregate data from multiple sources across two to three years.

• Decide what format or organization will best illustrate the data you have selected. Consider questions like the following:

–Do you want to compare students that represent various demographics, such as special needs, free and reduced lunch, gender groups, attendance groups?

–Are you interested in how your students compare with other students in the district or state?

–Would it be useful to show multiple years of data on one chart?

–What format will best display the data story—bar graph, pie chart, line graph?

• Using large sheets of paper and colorful markers, work together to create a set of posters or graphic illustrations that capture your data.

• Post the data posters next to your list of predictions and begin the discussion about whether the data confirms your predictions.

• These visuals can form the beginning of a data wall, which will be a source of ongoing dialogue about using data for meaningful change.

Go Visual is a powerful step in helping a data team make sense of data. Creating visual data as a collaborative team contributes to greater understanding and ownership of the story the data conveys. The Go Visual process paves the way for deep and rich observations about the data, and fuels discussion about inferences and solutions that will greatly impact improvement.