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Using Data Solutions


Data Tip #3: ""Go Visual" with your data to help construct meaning, make sense, and prepare to engage in meaningful dialogue."

(Love, Nancy et al., The Data Coach’s Guide to Improving Learning for All Students, 2008, p.7)

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!"

"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.

Phases Flowchart

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 timeframes. These visuals can illuminate subtle changes in achievement over time. 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 among the data team that results from Going Visual can lead to a culture of group responsibility for improvement.

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

Action Steps

  • Identify several data sources that relate to one another (demographics, state test scores in a selected subject area, district benchmark test scores in a particular subject area, etc.).
  • First, make predictions. On chart paper, list your team's ideas about what you think that 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 and across 2-3 years.
  • Discuss what format or organization will best illustrate the data you have selected. Consider these and other similar questions:
    1. Do you want to compare students that represent various demographics, i.e, special needs, free and reduced lunch, gender groups, attendance groups?
    2. Are you interested in how your students compare with other students in the district or state?
    3. Would it be useful to show multiple years of data on one chart?
    4. What format will best display the data story —bar graph, pie chart, line graph?
  • Together, using large sheets of paper and colorful markers, 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 confirm 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.

Going 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 convey. And Going Visual paves the way for deep and rich observations about the data, and then discussions about inferences, causes and effects, and solutions that will greatly impact improvement.

Written by: Diana Nunnaley, Director
Mary Anne Mather, Facilitator
TERC's Using Data