Don't Put My Child On Your Classroom Data Wall

In the lead up to the 2019 school year, Instagram was filled with teachers creating beautiful things for beautiful classrooms. But as the parent of a school-aged child, one thing worried me - the number of displays which were created just to share the academic and behavioural levels of children in the class.

And - as a parent - I’m asking you to take children off your classroom data walls.

 
Don't Put My Child on Your Classroom Data Wall - a look at public data walls and how they lack context, privacy, thought for outlier students and how they may harm our students. A parent-teacher perspective from Galarious Goods
 

Whether it’s reading levels, test scores, behaviour, number of books read or goals achieved, our schools are filled with data. But should those data levels be publicly displayed on the wall of our classrooms?

The call for ‘accountability’ - mostly stemming from No Child Left Behind (an early 2000’s government initiative from the United States), led to the call for more and more data to be collected, recorded, analysed and displayed. One way this was achieved was by creating data walls for teachers to use. These were placed in teacher areas - like staff rooms or planning rooms - where they could be used for planning and evaluation. But slowly, these walls of academic and behavioural levelling crept out of the teacher areas and onto the walls of the classrooms. It is these classroom displays which concern me as a parent and a teacher - for a number of reasons.

1. The Privacy of Our Students

Once a child’s name is attached to a levelled display in the classroom, they lose the privacy of their own achievement level. Every classmate, every other student who comes into the room, every parent can see exactly what behaviour level students are at or what reading level they have achieved and how they compare with other students.

In some places around the world, these data walls actually break laws protecting student privacy. But even when they don’t, these walls - which are often put up without the permission or knowledge of parents - share information about students which should be kept for the students, their parents and the staff of the school. I had to give parental permission for my son’s kindergarten to share his learning statement with his school - but few teachers ask for permission to share reading levels, behaviour levels or achievement levels with anyone who looks into the classroom.

2. The Lack of Context

A display showing how many books a child has read over the year sounds like a great thing. But when Alice is reading picture books and Bill is reading novels, Alice is obviously going to look better on the chart.

Lack of context is a serious problem for a wall chart - yet that is what students see, day after day. For some students learning comes super easy. They absorb the information, share the information and it all takes very little effort. For others, they can work extremely hard at school and at home and - on paper at least - show very little progress.

Even if Bill knows he’s only read half as many books as Alice because he’s reading much longer than books than she is - he knows that his number of books looks ‘small’. It takes away some of the pride that he might feel for being able to read longer books, or - at worst - tells him that he should also swap to picture books so he can have a lot of books to add to the chart on the wall.

You cannot easily add context to a chart on the wall in your classroom - not in a way which will help your students to understand it.

3. Is There Evidence That They Work?

The short answer to this is no. When researchers from Australian Catholic University examined the research, they found only one example of research showing positive results for TEACHERS using data walls - and nothing about classroom displays making a difference to students.

Australian authorities and school administrations often point to one school in Australia which showed improvement after putting data walls up where everyone could see them. However, this is a) isolated, b) focused on a particular population of students and c) was combined with a significant program of improvement - much more than just a data wall.

So, why are we doing it? Are we creating walls just because they’re popular? Or because admin told us to?

 
Don't Put My Child on Your Classroom Data Wall - a look at public data walls and how they lack context, privacy, thought for outlier students and how they may harm our students. A parent-teacher perspective from Galarious Goods
 

4. Does Your Data Display Harm Your Students?

Have you got anxious students in your class? Imagine being the anxious student working hard to go up the behaviour wall, but for some reason you don’t seem to be moving, no matter how hard you try. While your behaviour continues to be good at school - because you’re striving to be moved on that wall you see every session of every school day - your behaviour at home is deteriorating because you’re frustrated and you just don’t know what’s wrong with you.

Or what if that data wall becomes your sole focus in class. You’re no longer interested in classes which don’t progress you on the wall, or learning for the joy of learning. You just want to see that peg with your name on it moved.

Or what if you just cannot get past other people on that chart - if no matter what you do, you’re always on the bottom.

As a teacher, you may not see the harm these charts are doing to your students - students can be remarkably good at masking how they feel to fit in. But parents see it at home. We see it in poor behaviour and loss of enthusiasm for school. We see it in school refusal and constant anxiety related illness.

5. Do your data displays allow for outlying students?

Have you got a goals chart in your room? A chart with the standards for your grade level, and places to put the students as they’re striving to meet those standards?

What are you going to do when a student walks into your class and they’ve already met those standards? Your display has told that student and their parents that you have no goals for them to meet - that there is no learning place for them in your classroom.

If you’re measuring reading levels, where do students go when they’ve already reached the top level?

What about a student who is working on goals or levels which are not easily seen on a standard chart?

 
Don't Put My Child on Your Classroom Data Wall - a look at public data walls and how they lack context, privacy, thought for outlier students and how they may harm our students. A parent-teacher perspective from Galarious Goods
 

What’s the alternative?

The good news is that if you’re all about data, there are alternatives to classroom data walls. Data walls in teacher spaces - either physical or digital - can be a great tool when planning. There is no reason students can’t track their own data either - keeping it in a private place in their own notebooks and creating their own learning or behaviour goals.

Classes can also create collaborative displays. Recording the amount of books read by a class can be incredibly motivating (we kept ours on the door of our classroom and it provoked many conversations with students from other classes about why we enjoyed reading so much) - and every students contributes together from this. Similar things can happen with achievement levels - additions can be added to displays whenever any child in the class achieves a new level or has a particularly successful (for them) piece of work.

We can also acknowledge a full range of classroom achievements - from being a good sport during a sports lesson to using particularly good words in a piece of writing. We can make our classrooms places of joyful learning, instead of places where everyone is just trying to climb the ladder to their next regimented success.

Further Reading

5 Things School Parents Might Worry About (And how teachers can help those worries)

I’ve checked the new school bag, bought the new water bottle, browsed Pinterest for lunch box treats. Excitement is at an all time high here because my eldest is about to start school.

Despite all my own school experience, I - inevitably - have some worries. And I’m not the only one. Parenting groups I’m part of are filling up with questions and concerns and parenting blogs are publishing posts to help parents with their concerns.

So, what are these concerns? And how can teachers address them - and alleviate them?

 
5 Things School Parents Might Worry About (And how teachers can help those worries) A Back to School blog post from Galarious Goods
 

1. Have I Got Everything Right?

Is the uniform right? Have I bought the right shoes? What books do I cover and name and which ones do I leave? When do I send the library bag to school? What time should I arrive for the school assembly? 

Schools have their own rhythms, routines and systems. So do different teachers and classrooms. Every time a new school year starts, parents and students need to get used to these rhythms and systems and work out how they fit into the rest of life.

While teachers often take the time to go through the little details with students, parents are often left asking questions of more experienced parents or making worried posts in Facebook groups. Lots of parents don’t want to add to the stress of teachers and students in the first days of school by getting it wrong.

You can help these worries by making your school and your own expectations as clear as possible. If you want all books covered and named, let parents know through a note or an email. Ask your administration team to provide examples of the ‘right’ shoes at orientation sessions or meetings with new parents. Use a calendar to help parents know what’s coming up. These little details can help parents be more prepared, which means students are more likely to arrive on the first day ready to learn.

2. What Should I Talk to the Teacher About and How Should I Do That?

Do I let them know we’ve had a bad night’s sleep? Do I let them know that they’re finding the reader way too easy or way too hard? Do I ask them how my child is settling in? Can I get clarification on this homework?

Teacher time is valuable time, and it can be hard for parents to know how to navigate that, while sharing information and not being ‘that’ parent. 

What you want to know or how you’d like to communicate with parents will differ depending on your school, the age of the students and your own preferences. But let the parents know what you’d prefer, whether it’s a short note at the beginning of the day if something at home is likely to impact on the student’s learning, an email to clarify an assignment or a formal meeting set through the school office to discuss greater concerns. You may have a ‘no question is too small’ policy or you might like to produce a ‘frequently asked questions’ handout for parents to address those questions you get year after year. 

3. Will My Child Be Recognised in the Classroom?

Will they remember to speak up? Will the teacher have time to see them with all the other students and forms and reports and outcomes and curriculum they need to get through? Do I need to tell them about what my child can or can’t do, or will the teacher pick that up themselves? Will the teacher be able to work on their weaker areas? Will the teacher see who they are?

Parenting can be worrying, but it can be especially so when we hand our kids over to other people! Parents tend to know so many of their child’s strengths, weaknesses and individual quirks, so it’s easy to worry how a teacher of so many students (with so many other things to do!) will be able to see each student.

One way to address these worries is by making individual contact early in the year. It might be a short note about how the student has gone in the first two weeks or a quick chat at the end of the day. It might be a conversation as part of a back to school or meet the teacher night or a quick phone call to talk about something the student has done well and to address any questions. 

You can also combine these forms of contact with a parent survey - asking parents to talk about their children might help you pick up on things you haven’t picked up on yet. 

If you’re making phone calls home, you might like to use this free Parent/Carer Phone Call Log - it’s an easy way of seeing which parents you’ve contacted and which ones you need to contact, as well as allowing you to record anything you might need to follow up on.

 
 

4. Will My Child Get In Trouble?

Will they listen to the teacher? Will they be nice to other children? Will they talk too much in class? Will they behave themselves at assembly? Will they behave themselves when they’re tired? 

Almost all students are likely to get into trouble at some point. We know that as teachers and parents definitely know that about their own children. So the answer to this one is usually ‘yes, your child will get into trouble at some point.’

Schools often have really detailed behaviour management plans, but these can be a little overwhelming. Plus they don’t always cover the day to day teaching and management of behaviour which happens in the classroom.

Teachers can definitely help break these down and can work with parents as a team on behaviour. If you’re concentrating on a behaviour - raising hand in class or being kind in the playground, for example - you can let parents know. When parents know that’s something to be worked on, they can reinforce the good behaviour at home. 

You can also let parents know that certain behaviours are normal and even expected at different ages.

5. How Can I Help At Home Without Stepping on the Teacher’s Toes?

If I’m reading at home should we talk about the letters and the sounds they make? Should we be doing maths problems or do I leave them for the classroom? I know they’re learning about volcanoes this year, should we do some reading at home first or just wait?

Many parents want to support their children when it comes to learning. But often they’re not sure how to go about it without getting in the way of the teachers and the work they’re doing. 

Teachers can help with this worry by having a list of activities parents and students can do at home together. It might be general like reading books, looking at maps of trips, helping with chores around the house, playing with toys which develop fine motor skills, getting out and exercising together or exploring the interests of the child. Or it might be more focused like looking at sight words, practising time tables or maths facts, looking for interesting words when reading and making a personal dictionary, talking about family history.

If students need more focused help or are showing particular interest in a subject, it’s worth passing on this information to parents as well so they can expand on that at home.

I’ve had several parents ask what tutors (for students at all levels) can do to help. It’s worthwhile to think of the skills which might need reinforcing or extending at different times of the year and to have a list which can be used by the student and the tutor.

You might also like to think of ‘sideways’ activities which the students can engage in. If a student really likes a book you’re reading in class, you might like to suggest that they research what other books are available on a similar topic or by the same author. If you’re learning about Ancient Egypt, they might like to read about other ancient civilisations. A student who is really into mathematics might like to brainstorm places they find or use a maths concept in the ‘real world’. 

There are lots of ways parents can help with learning outside of the classroom and it’s worth the time to offer some suggestions to engage the whole family in the learning of the student.

 

Have you found some effective ways to alleviate the worries of parents at the beginning of the school year? Share them in a comment!

 
 
 
 

Making Contact With Parents

My son has taken his first steps into formal schooling this year and it's been fascinating seeing it from the other side. He's enjoying it throughly and has a wonderful group of educators, but it has made me think about how parents and educators communicate - and how teachers can ensure that they effectively communicate with their students.

 
 

1. Let Parents Know How They Can Contact You

Whether it's in-person, through email, through notes or on the phone - let parents know how they can get in contact with you. Give them all the information they might need (to include the name/class of their child, to visit at a certain time in person, to leave a return phone number) - anything to make it easier for them and for yourself. Some parents might find it difficult to make contact, so offering a couple of options with some clear information can make it easier for them and help you establish a good relationship with those parents.

2. Reach Out to Contact Parents

There are a number of ways you can make contact with all your parents - through a website or social media page, through email or paper newsletters, through open nights or events where parents are invited. These are wonderful opportunities to let parents know abut curriculum, about behaviour and organisational expectations, about homework and outstanding work. It can be a great way of getting everyone on the same page and can help you create a classroom community which goes beyond you and your students.

3. Contact Parents About the Good Things

This one comes from an old principal of mine. He challenged us all to ring a number of parents each week to share the good things our students were doing. It had an amazing result for our students and their parents - some parents had never had positive news come casually home from school before. It doesn't take too long to identify a couple of parents to phone and a couple of talking points, but it might make a huge difference to them.

4. Be Consistent With Your Contact

Lots of us start off the school year with great intentions, but it can be easy to let it fall aside as other responsibilities pile up. Try to be consistent with at least one kind of contact - even a brief note or blog post can maintain the relationships you have.

Maintaining contact with parents might not seem like the most important thing to do in the very long list of things teachers do, but it's one of those things which means a lot to parents and can help you build a community which helps you out when you need it the most. 

 

You can save time with Back to School and other resources from Galarious Goods. You could spend the time with the photocopier . . . or you could spend it organising how you'; contact parents!