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Teacher Tips: Apply Data to Understand Math Student Behavior

A teacher’s perspective on using data to get your back-to-school routine off to a great start.

A new school year can be such an exciting time: new faces, a fresh start, and students eager to learn! Starting a new school year is also a time for learning. For the students, they are learning new procedures, new curricula, and about their new classmates. For the teachers, we are learning about our new students, how they learn best, and how to handle a new dynamic of personalities. The data that teachers receive about their students from the previous school year is numerical, but does it tell us everything we need to know about our students?

When teachers hear the word data, most think of data such as end of year tests, unit test scores, and report card grades. Although this information is valuable, it does not represent the whole student. What if you could identify within the first few days of school which students are on track and ready to learn and which ones need extra support and motivation to start the year?  Planning your first few lessons with the intention of finding out informal information could put you ahead of the game.

When teachers hear the word data, most think of data such as end of year tests, unit test scores, and report card grades. Although this information is valuable, it does not represent the whole student.

On the first day of school, my students hit the ground running. As a result, I am able to assess important behavioral data from the onset. What data am I referring to? Let’s take a look at typical first-day activities.

  • The seating chart. Helps identify which students are visual or spatial learners as well as the social butterflies.
  • Assigning textbooks, workbooks, groups, tablets, or computer stations. This show who can follow simple verbal directions without needing them repeated.
  • The warm-up. My first day warm-up is a personality test where I ask my students to draw a pig. This activity provides valuable informal information about the students that I can use when creating lesson plans. For example, who can work independently without much direction, answer open-ended questions, or handle situations where I do not provide feedback, and which students are confident.
  • 10–15 minute mini-lesson. This tells me which students want to impress the teacher, who is confident in their math ability, and who shies away from answering questions in class.
  • Closing activity: personal questionnaire. I ask my students about themselves such as family, work habits, strengths, and weaknesses. This also lets me know who is confident in their math ability.

There are other situations throughout the first days of school where teachers can collect informal data such as trying to open a lock, how they interact with their peers in the hallway or cafeteria, and how they handle dismissal procedures. These are three potentially stressful situations, and watching students handle adversity gives you a glimpse into how they will behave when they become frustrated in math—a subject where confidence and persistence are as important as mathematical ability.

In a new school year, understanding your students’ behavioral data is just as important as understanding their data. If a student learns to make mistakes and still continues to push forward, they are preparing themselves for the future and twenty-first century learning.

Lori Carson

Lori Carson

Lori Carson graduated from High Point University in 1997 with a degree in Middle Grades Education.She taught in High Point, NC for three years before moving to Raleigh, NC where she taught for another 14 years. She earned her NBPTS certification in 2003 and renewed the certification in 2013.Lori is currently working as a Professional Development Consultant and writer for DreamBox Learning.
Lori Carson