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Becoming One With Data Walls in Your Classroom

By Rhonda Stewart on October 24, 2013
  • Grades: 3–5, 6–8

Have you heard the words, “DATA, DATA, DATA” in your sleep recently? In all of my 25+ years of teaching, never has there been such an emphasis placed upon data as I have seen in the last couple of years. Back in the Stone Age when I first started teaching, my thoughts regarding data were centered around grading tests and student work, transferring those grades to a grade book, and creating an honor roll. Fast forward to 2013, and my thinking has changed. Now, when data is mentioned, I think of external data (information from my New Jersey state assessments, i.e. NJASK) and internal data (information from class and grade/content specific assessments). I think of how data drives instruction not only for my students, but for the students in my district, state, and even the country. It affects the way instruction is delivered in the classroom.


Why Data Walls

My school district requires that at the end of each school year, teachers develop their own Professional Development Plan (PDP). This gives teachers an area of focus for their instruction. This year, I decided to step out of my comfort zone to research data walls and create my own in my classroom. I chose this as a means to truly assess my students’ strengths and weaknesses and to guide them towards success. Who knew I would be awakening the sleeping math teacher inside of me? I also looked at data walls as a way for the students to be accountable for their work, reflect upon their learning, and how they fit into the scheme of the classroom. After all, shouldn’t the students be held accountable for their learning?

I have to be honest, I am new at this. As teachers, we have always been collecting and analyzing data on our kids to notice trends in student learning, especially for common assessments and standardized tests. But we have yet to use it consistently in the classroom — that’s the new part.


 Pearls of Wisdom — If you are just starting with data walls, keep it basic. I attempted to create data charts for every assessment and activity in my classroom and soon became overwhelmed. I remembered my mantra of “keep it simple” and made myself breathe and refocus. Make a decision as to what you feel is most important to be displayed. Also remember to consider what type of graphs would be appropriate for the information you are presenting.


Choosing Topics for Data Walls

One of my biggest concerns as literacy teacher is the fidelity and integrity of student reading logs. I decided to create data walls about their work as readers. The data walls would reflect their growth as readers based upon their reading levels from running records and using the information from their at-home and in-school reading logs. And in this way, students get to see and reflect upon their work.


Data Wall Samples

In creating the class bar graphs, scatter, and dot plots, I had to call upon the spirit of math teachers past and present to assist me. It has been awhile since I have taught math and my students were a big help as well. It was great for them to see the connection between math and literacy in real life application. I hope these inspire you to plot your own data, but if you have new ideas, please share them here.

Bar Graph

Scatter Plot


Line Plot


Comments (99)

It seems to me that all of the people posting as “Anonymous” are taking advantage of what we in school call cyber bullying. A blog is a place for everyone’s opinions, but take ownership of that to be authentic. Posting a blog, and even teaching, you have to be prepared for criticism and a difference of opinion. However, it’s basic courteously to follow the practices: disagree with the idea, not the person, and if you have a thumb down, help create a solution. As a new teacher I am always looking for information and ways to implement standards that I am required to follow. I believe this teacher has taken the time to share something that she was able to use in her classroom. Whether it works in everyone’s classroom is up to them. We must all find motivation for our students and it seems she was using classroom cooperation to show what the students could do as a group with their own individual participation. Teachers should understand the desire to motivate and help students grow. Parents should realize we only have your student for 6 hours; if you have a better way to motivate them I have never met a teacher who wouldn’t listen.

It is great that conversation has been sparked by this topic and that there are opinions supporting all points of view. I hear the commitment and frustrations in your comments, all with the common interest to educate our children. I truly believe we have the same goals in mind -- we just have different strategies on how to achieve those goals.

Everything old is new again, right?

I think very highly of you as a professional and I know you are doing the best you can in an era where everything needs a fancy name and requires hours upon hours of professional development.

The practice of displaying student work and progress is certainly not new. Looking at data is also something that teachers have always done--again, we take something we already do and sing it to a different tune.

In response to the negative commenters, Rhonda Stewart is a longtime teacher who cares immensely for her students. I don't see her doing something to hurt or humiliate her students.

It's just a shame that out of all the great things she has done (including raising her own wonderful sons), data is the most interesting topic out there. There's no data on the number of broken 5th and 6th grade hearts she has helped to heal or the number of kind acts she has performed for friends. Data walls don't show that.

Thank you Molly. I appreciate your support.

How about if we create data charts that can be posted in the hallways of the schools and the administration buildings that show the percentage of parents and students that are pleased with their children's teachers and administrators? Wouldn't that be great for morale? (If we wouldn't treat adults that way, we shouldn't be treating children that way.) :)

I am appalled at the unprofessional and derogatory comments made by teachers on this thread. It is shameful and certainly a way to stop teachers from sharing and learning from one another. Data is a way to inform us of our progress, motivate us to focus our efforts and illuminate the areas that need additional attention. It certainly has a place in education and learning about how different teachers incorporate it should be a very interesting exchange. The negative comments posted here effectively stop learning and instead have made this a place for people to complain about what is wrong with education. Start your own negative thread and let those who want to share ideas and learn from one another do so without your soap boxing!

Before implementing an educational practice in my classroom I do some research. I appreciate any ideas that are suggested but I do rely on my own decision as to whether it will be beneficial for me and my students. Effective teaching is more about the climate we create - and less about which tools we use to teach them. Use the tools that you have a passion for - or at least connect to - and try it. Whether data walls, portfolios, displaying student work, etc. "If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming."-Haim Ginott

Someone tell me how covering the classroom walls with this data is a better idea than pictures, sentence starters, words of encouragement, charts and graphs of historical importance, student artwork, multiplication tables, bar graphs of favorite books, imagination grabbers, thought-provoking ideas, scientific discoveries, pictures of important people, student projects, photos of the class doing, learning, pictures of animals, interactive bulletin boards, classroom birthdays, seasonal pictures, class schedules, math facts, history facts, reading facts and anything else that may foster a love of learning.

Teachers can not control the number of their room. Come on people lets be practical about some comments!!! We are talking about a master teacher here. When I look at the picture and charts I do not see a single student name, there are only numbers. Data walls are common practice and so is charting the results so students and educators can visually see the progress. When a student is involved in the chart process there is more ownership. It is very important for a students to see where they are at academically so they can create goals towards success. None of this is abuse. What I see are steps for students to take an active role in their education and work towards metacognition. This then aids in their success not just academically but as a person as a whole. This is RAC for those who are in New Jersey and very Charlotte Danielson. We have seen trends come and go in education so we need to learn to be flexible and find away to make it work for all who are involved. Wonderful Job, Mrs. Stewart!!! Keep up the good work and care for your students.

This practice, like gold stars, is manipulative and can end up being counterproductive. Read Alfie Kohn's "Punished by Rewards." The teacher has decided to chart the class's reading logs--to what end? In order to get them to read more? So the goal is to read more pages? And when the reading chart goes away? Will the children who don't already like reading keep doing it? Not likely.

My own daughter was a very able reader at a very early age but she did not like to read (as unlikely as that sounds). In fact she hated it! Thinking I could entice her to like reading, we signed up for one of those "fun" reading programs at the library over the summer where they award little prizes for books read. At the end of the program, I asked her how she liked it, and she said, "Getting prizes was fun, and the books were 'ok', but now I don't have to read anything else until next year." !!!

Children are born curious, and soon after they start school many of them associate "learning" with boredom and with being judged constantly (through grades). If the goal is to love learning in general and love reading in particular, then maybe we need to work on that *directly* with students and not try to manipulate them.

Thank you to the teacher who shared this and was willing to go out of her comfort zone.... I don't see all the negative people posting stuff that they do. Thank you scholastics for bringing us different views on data and sharing information... With this we would not be able to share ideas with others, liked or not!!!!! Someone posted a great point on here.... Go in tomorrow and look for all the places you have students names.... That is data.... Even holiday projects are data.... The only way to not have any data up in your room, is to NOT display any student work.... Nothing.... Or for that matter.... Nowhere in your school....

The comments on here are so sad.... Where have all these people been the last 10 years.... Data is all that is out there anymore. The government does not care about the student or the teacher... All they want is the DATA... If the government cared about the students.... Then we wouldn't have all the testing that we have.... Back to the teacher... She is trying to use the data in a positive way, while directing her teaching to help benefit the students.... It is her choice and it is a way to share info. Not everyone teaches the same way, thank goodness, some people may not like your ideas, but we can all post our ideas and pick and choose what we want to use.... That's what teachers do, we try, we expand, we throw away, retry, rethink, and try again... That is the only way to become better teachers, that is what she is trying to do.

I understand that the teacher has no say in this. Which even makes it more ridiculous and insulting. I do vote and speak my mind, but sadly, no one cares. I can't believe wht education has become. As a teacher and mom to a kindergartener, it makes me sick.

Data walls? Aren't students being pressured enough? How can Scholastic promote this ridiculous idea? Adding Scholastic to my boycott list.

CLARIFICATION- The teacher/blogger of this article is NOT a TFA employee or participant. Coincidentally, there are two people who share the same name and profession, however one of them is a TFA employee. The author of this blog is a veteran teacher and holds no affiliation to TFA.

It would have been more professional if you had researched this more carefully before spreading lies about the author of this blog.

It would be nice if you wouldn't make the assumption that this clarification was written by the author of the original post.

Seriously, what have we become as educators? All we do is benchmark, assess, benchmark, assess, benchmark, assess. Now we have to display the "data" for all the world to see? I'm so sick and tired of it all. There is very little joy left in teaching. It breaks my heart. I have students that walk in every day asking if we have another test today. After 21 years, I think I'm done, I can't be a drone for corporations that are driving education today. I'm DONE.

After all, students should be "held accountable for their learning"? What kind of statement is this?? If individuals were to be TRULY held accountable for their THEIR own learning, why the hell would we need the dictatorial set-up of the modern classroom? How can one be accountable for his/her own learning...accountable to WHOM is the big question here...and btw, accountability is becoming quite a dangerous buzzword in education.

Students need to take an active part in their learning.... Not just sit there an expect the world to hand them everything.... Life doesn't work that way.... If you don't do your job, u may get fired, Students need to have some responsibility in their learning along with the parents....

Students SHOULD be held accountable for their learning! There's nothing wrong with asking students to become aware of their own progress. Yes, 'accountability' is a particular favorite with the the reformy movement. It's also a reality for teachers AND students these days. Your comment is unduly negative, Christyne, and it takes away from your message.

"I chose this as a means to truly assess my students’ strengths and weaknesses and to guide them towards success."

I truly don't understand. Are you not a teacher? Can you not see your students? Do you not pay attention to their work, their responses to discussion, their achievements in your classroom? How could turning data points into a chart give you any greater understanding of your students' strengths and weaknesses?

I'm not anti-information. But as a teacher doing real live look-at-persons assessments, I can take in a thousand points of information. I can see if Johnny is distracted when he tries to answer, if he looks baffled or bored, if he answered quickly or searched, if he was stumbling or certain. As a real live human being, I can process far more information than your chart, which ultimately has to turn a complex human interaction into a single number.

It's like you're a doctor, and you have a choice of running tests on every aspect of the patient's physical and mental status, but instead you just write down his height and throw out everything else.

Peter --- you seem to have no good suggestions for how to meet the requirements imposed on this teacher by her district. It's clear you are against data walls. If you were in this teacher's place, and HAD to make data walls as we do here in our district, what data would you display? What format would you choose? How could you meet the mandate while still providing information useful to the students?

Public humiliation is the best way to force compliance, put the data on wall and display for all to see. SHAME the children into doing better, where is the FUN in education, when the race to the top of the data wall is your only goal ! Data collection in education is now a $82billion industry, this data will be used AGAINST the teacher, and AGAINST the student. Wake up teachers, you are being used, and boycott Scholastic and all the other profiteers who want to make money off of our children.
Get back to real education, teaching with a passion, not teaching according to the DATA.

I am appalled at this idea. I have taught some of the hardest working children the last 18 years. I teach children with special needs.While I keep private data and I do not grade students work I do keep data.. to shame kids which this can do seems abusive, unethical and unprofessional. Children are so much more than data points.. If I must post anything it will to build up students , encourage curiosity, interest- not to shame or create competition.

When did our children become lab rats that we need to collect data on? And when are we as parents/teachers going to step up an refuse to accept this path our education is currently on?

Data became important about 10-12 years ago when it became a requirement from the government.....

As I teacher, high school in fact, I too would like to know where the parents are!

This is outrageous, and I WILL be boycotting Scholastic...SAD, because the school book sales were a favorite thing of mine as a child. Scholastic is supporting the Common Core, the over reliance on testing and now THIS! Not a penny more! BOYCOTT SCHOLASTIC until they stop putting their weight behind this evil 'reform' movement in education.

This practice is demeaning and humiliating. It is based on the presumption that competition and labeling students will motivate them. In my 18 years of teaching, I have discovered that students are motivated to learn in caring spaces that foster cooperation rather than competition. Students are complex human beings, not data points on a chart! The blogger presents this as something progressive and new. It is neither. It is a tired old approach...it harkens back to the day of the student with the dunce’s cap in the corner...only now there is an entire wall. Even if it's anonymous, this approach to extrinsic motivation is humiliating and demeaning. I respect my students too much to ever engage in a practice like this.

Data walls don't HAVE to be demeaning and humiliating -- the examples provided by the blogger are a great example of how to show student progress and maintain the dignity of the students.

I am a teacher in a school district in New Jersey and this is what we are REQUIRED to do. I'm pretty angry with how you are portraying the blogger as mean. It is a REQUIREMENT. Don't you get that? You should be ashamed at your rude and insensitive comments.

I agree. Although I would prefer not to spend time creating data walls, as with anything, there can be benefits. I think it gives students an opportunity to assess their own work with their peers. Names don't need to be listed.

On another note, yes, unfortunately the field of education is not what it used to be and we are constantly being told what to do. This teacher isn't doing this because she wants to, but rather it is state mandated.
P.S. Rhonda… I think it is fabulous!

I don't believe anyone is particularly angry at the teacher, just angry at the idea if portraying students in this manner. If I post the "data" of your height and weight in the Internet, you will most likely lose weight (even if you sont need to). The moral dilemma here is, should this be happening at all??? This is America's largest step toward fascism, and I have a big problem with teachers and districts embracing it, throwing up their hands and saying "oh well, the states making me do it, so lets just accept it".


Teachers have to 'embrace' what they are asked to do. This teacher made terrific lemonade out of the lemons she has been given. I applaud her. If you want to express your distaste regarding data and data walls, write a letter to the governor of our state (NJ). You are directing your anger at the wrong person.

If you all want to be disgusted or angry at something it should be your comprehension and data analysis skills. I'm surprised that you negative commentators have the brain capacity to type. Look at the graph and notice how she isn't posting grades, she is posting how many books a student is reading AT HOME AND AT SCHOOL. I imagine this would motivate students to read more, like a friendly competition and possibly positive peer motivation. This is not to defame a student or to turn students into numbers this is to get them to read!

Seriously. Hey, students. Your magnet moves up because you did well on the interim. Wait, now you must be stupid because your magnet moves down on the next interim. Blah, blah, blah.

This just makes me so sad. Sick to my stomach. Ignores every educational theory about children but you can bet the author didn't study those theories. Not a happy classroom at all. But I'm sure the data is more important than the child in that room. Sad sad sad!

Making students' scores public violates their privacy and is child abuse. Would it motivate the editors of Scholastic magazine to post your weight every week, for all to see? I thought you knew something about children and learning!

I can't imagine the circumstances under which I would so violate my students' privacy or the care and respect they have a right to expect from me as their teacher by posting their personal 'data' on a wall for all to see. If we're going to start public shaming again as a tactic, instructional or otherwise, first on the list should be those responsible for this travesty, because they should be ashamed of themselves!

And yet you feel the need to shame this teacher. Did you even look at her photos? No names.

I agree with you!!

I love my Data Wall! We make two a class goals per term: 1 academic and 1 behavioral. Our goals are class based so it is still anonymous of the scores. Our academic goal is to reach a 90% class average on our spelling each week. Our behavior goal is to keep our classroom clean 95% of the time. If the class reaches their goals, we will have a class party!

The students are motivate to practice their spelling words more if we don't reach our class goal and they have started helping each other keeping their areas cleaner too!

Data Walls are essential and they have to be done correctly! Please do not post single student information - keep the data walls class orientated.

Because the students are supposed to focus on achieving for the good of the class?? This is one more (rather direct) statement about what's wrong with much of the reform crowd-- the creation of a topsy turvy world where students exist to meet the needs of the school and schools do not exist to meet the needs of the students. Instead of human beings, they are just little data point generators.

So imagine the class doesn't get their party. How do you think the children will treat the kids who they KNOW are just not getting the scores to make the party happen? How would he/she/they feel when all the rest of the class is moaning, glaring at them when it's announced? What happens on the playground? Many classrooms have competition in them already. If the competitive environment is sanctioned by teacher we are giving bullies fodder. (Remember a bully in middle school can come in the form of a child who tries to make others feel bad by making it clear they are so much better than them. I taught middle school. I've seen it.)

Absolutely horrible! I wouldn't post grades for my high school students, even using their ID numbers and mixing the order. I can't imagine how demoralizing this would be for special ed students, who already know that - according to some - they aren't doing that well. I'd rather post achievements and successes based on the best performance each child did at whatever level he/she could and celebrate that. Sounds like another data-driven idea concocted by a non-teacher.

I was a MATH teacher and, although the idea of integrating math into the classroom is appealing, I would NEVER have done this to my students. I was a middle level teacher and they would have done poorly just to laugh at themselves and make fun of those that cared enough to do well. I am also a parent of a child whose medical condition causes her to be more emotional, she is also very capable. Her chart would be all over the map because her knowledge is very dependent upon her state of mind and other mitigating factors. Her ability to be confident would be shattered. I have already asked that her personal information NEVER be displayed even anonymously because there is such a high potential for her to be recognized. I get the well intentions here, just thinking this is TMI to be public....

This us awful!! Data has its place. Your classroom walls should be the last place for it. My students keep data folders in which after each test they graph analyze and compare their test results from test to test and from the previous year. No one should have to see that but them. It is private. They shove enough testing down their throats as it is. Who puts 504 on the wall? Seriously?

504 is the room number, silly.

This is child abuse, mental abuse, and emotional abuse to the struggling learner. Hold your data in a PRIVATE place, but don't set students up for ridicule and bullying by other kids. A lawsuit in the making.

How about posting each one of your paychecks or your weight? Seems only fitting the teacher share in this glorious display of data.

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