Gathering data is one of the most crucial components of the Impact Cycle. Data allow teachers and coaches to establish a clear picture of current reality and measure the effectiveness of the strategies being implemented. However, gathering useful data can be tricky, so I’ve laid out a set of rules below that can help coaches and teachers get the most out of their data.
1. Data Should Be Chosen by The Teacher
Teachers are best motivated, and consequently learn the most, when they choose data gathered during coaching. This doesn’t mean that a coach can’t suggest types of data to be collected. But in some cases teachers won’t know what data to gather and, therefore, need suggestions from their coach. Effective coaches master the art of suggesting types of data while still positioning the teacher as the decision maker in the conversation.
2. Data Should Be Objective
The difference between objective and subjective data is clear if you watch the Winter Olympics. During speed skating, for example, where the data are objective, whoever makes it to the finish line in the shortest amount of time goes home with the gold medal. Since the data are objective, assuming everyone is judged to have raced fairly, there are few controversies about who wins. This is how objective data work. There is very little opinion involved; data are what they are.
During figure skating, however, where the data are subjective, the experience is quite different. Figure skaters, or at least figure skating commentators, often criticize the subjective way in which skaters are scored. Since subjective data, by definition, involve the observer’s opinion, conversations about subjective data can turn away from what actually happened and toward whether or not a given opinion is accurate.
Objective data are not personal—they are factual. When coaches gather and share reliable, objective data, their opinion shouldn’t guide the conversation; they are just reporting the facts. Objective data keep the focus where it should be, on students and teaching.
3. Data Should Be Gathered Frequently
A GPS that only tells us when we have arrived at our destination wouldn’t be of much help. The same is true for data gathered in the classroom. Data won’t help teachers and coaches monitor progress if they are only collected once or twice a year. Data need to be gathered at least weekly. The feedback provided by frequently gathered data is necessary because teachers usually need to adjust the way they use strategies until those strategies help students move closer to their goals. Data only help us see what is working and what needs to change if they are gathered frequently.
4. Data Should Be Valid
Valid data measure what they are intended to measure. For example, a valid measurement of whether or not someone can ride a bicycle is watching them ride, or fail to ride, a bike. Asking them to complete a multiple-choice test on bicycle riding would be less valid. So too in the classroom. Teachers and coaches need to make sure that the data they gather actually measure what students are supposed to be learning.
5. Data Should Be Reliable and Mutually Understood
When different coaches gather the same type of data and get the same results, we say that their results are reliable. As a general rule, researchers strive for a reliability score of higher than 95%.
In coaching, reliability can have a slightly different meaning. During coaching, it is most important that the coach and teacher agree on what data to gather, how to gather the data, and why the data are gathered. There should be no surprises when it comes to data gathering. One way to increase mutual understanding in this area is for the coach and teacher to create a t-chart that depicts examples and non-examples of data. I’ve included an example below.
6. Data Should Be Gathered by Teachers When Possible
Coaches have told us that when teachers gather and analyze their own data, they are much more likely to accept the data and change their behavior accordingly. The easiest way for teachers to do this is by video recording their lessons. Video recordings are also helpful because observers can re-watch segments of a lesson to clarify what happened. When the observer is the teacher herself, such data can especially lead to powerful learning.
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