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Data Walls in Classrooms: Yay or Nay?

Updated: Sep 29, 2021

phonics data wall
Visual and anonymous phonics data wall for small group.

An important part of the teaching and learning cycle is assessment and data analysis. It informs practice and helps teachers target the learning to their students’ needs. Data walls have been a valuable tool in helping me plan, especially for literacy and maths. During release time I would head to the staff room to move students’ names up on the school reading levels wall or tick off goals written for my higher students, my core group and my learning support or vulnerable students. After each term of assessments, students would move along the writing progressions and MAI growth points. During collegial planning and data analysis meetings I would adjust goals and plan with grade partners, leadership and experts for the next few weeks of learning using the data wall as a constant reference point. I then take this planning and implement it in my classroom, making adjustments for certain students and preparing for guided groups, targeting the learning intentions and goals discussed. However, these data walls were always located in the staffroom, for “teacher-eyes” only!

In more recent years, I’ve seen colleagues use data walls in the classroom to assist students in goal setting and to track student progress in literacy and maths. Some track student progress in learning sight words, others have tracked literacy progressions. Some use data walls in the classroom to assess maths concepts while others have used it to show MAI growth points. Data walls in the classroom was very confronting to me. While I could see the value in data walls and understood the significance of visual learning and individual goal setting in the classroom, the idea of having student names plastered all over the walls held me back. I’d had negative experiences of parents comparing their children to other children in the class already; so with names up everywhere, I felt this would only worsen. But my biggest concern was more for those few little cherubs, or even just that one student that is in every class; the one who makes very slow or limited progress. Thinking of this child’s name always being at the end of the line, or the bottom of the chart was enough for me to be fully against data walls in the classroom. Without data walls, I’ve seen children compete and feel disheartened when they still haven’t reached the level their friend is on or become disengaged and unmotivated when they have been stuck on the same level for a long time. A visual to reinforce these feelings with their name on show for everyone else in the classroom - this didn’t seem right to me. And I began to question the use of nametags in other parts of the classroom as well. What about names written in guided groups? Or names on behaviour charts?

In recent weeks, there was a push to have a data wall in my classroom to track progress of students completing a particular letter and sound program. Immediately, I spoke very honestly with my good friend, the Inclusion Support Practitioner, who is implementing the program with this group of students in my class. I voiced my concerns and she suggested a data wall without names. What did she mean by this? Students colour a character that only they know and can recognise. Names are written on the back for teachers and the students can still move their name along without anyone else knowing it’s their name. Genius! And what a happy medium between data wall and no data wall. The teacher and students still get the benefits and value of having the wall for goal setting or tracking their progress, but there is no element of embarrassment. An extra character could be added to the chart, to prevent children from feeling alone, especially those children that may be at the end or bottom. This way of displaying a data wall also maintains student privacy when parents visit the classroom.

Let me know what you think - data wall or no data wall in the classroom?

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