Hacking Assessment: 10 Ways to Go Gradeless in a Traditional Grades School (2015)


Ease data collection and inform learning with technology

It is important to remember that educational software, like textbooks, is only one tool in the learning process. Neither can be a substitute for well-trained teachers, leadership, and parental involvement.



IN TODAY’S EDUCATION world, where “data” is the most frequently used buzzword, teachers are often charged with gathering information that in many cases is never used. Binders are collated and organized, clipboards are purchased, and dozens of spreadsheets are made, most with no further application.

Whether teachers are supposed to analyze testing data or generate classroom observational data, they rarely put it to use. There isn’t enough time in the day to explore all of the data that gets collected because we are so busy gathering and analyzing it.

Here are just a few problems with traditional data collection:

·                   There is too much data collection without enough action

·                   Data collection methods are time-consuming

·                   The data collected doesn’t enhance student learning

·                   Teachers gather data in isolation and often lose valuable opportunities to get to the heart of what is happening


There is a way to streamline the data collection process and then meaningfully use that data for learning. Using Google Forms or some other digital tool like it, teachers can include students in the assessment process and create a real-time result that is traceable, editable, and sharable.

Figure 5.1 is a snippet of a student form, created to generate feedback and data, after viewing student movies.

I share the information from this form with students, and we set goals based on the feedback. I am able to skip the usual data entry because the form collects the information and generates the spreadsheet, so sharing the information is much easier and more efficient. Including students this way provides more specific data that a teacher can use to adjust instruction.


While this is an ongoing process, there are immediate steps you can take to begin digitizing your data:

·                   Create a form and share it with students. Creating a form with a tool like Google Drive or SurveyMonkey is easy and takes only a few minutes. Start tomorrow by generating a short needs assessment or a quick “Where are you now?” form. This means literally posting one or two questions to your platform of choice, providing an answer space beneath the questions, clicking “Publish” and sharing a link to the form with students.

·                   Take pictures of student learning. Instead of writing everything down, use your smart phone or tablet to take pictures or short video clips of student learning that you can review later or share with parents and a wider community. You may want to refer to “The Glass Classroom” section in Hacking Education: 10 Quick Fixes for Every School (the first Hack Learning Series book) for more information about backchanneling your classroom. There are many web tools and apps that provide excellent cloud-based storage space for student work samples and narrative feedback.

·                   Create a class hashtag on Twitter. Build a conversation about learning with students in and out of class with a unique Twitter hashtag. My classes have their own hashtags—#WJPSnews for Newspaper and #WJPSAPlit for AP Literature. Make sure to use your school initials, in order to make your hashtag unique; this keeps unwanted participants out of the conversation. Be sure students understand how hashtags aggregate tweets into one easy-to-read stream. There are many brief YouTube videos that illustrate how to effectively use Twitter hashtags.


Step 1: Create a template that you can re-use and revise.

Once you have found a platform, it’s time to start developing some templates that you can use with all of your classes for different kinds of data collection. Here are a few tips:

·                   Make the form generic, but include a question that allows the students to say which class they are in. This general query makes the form easily customizable. This will also help when cutting and pasting to create new forms.

·                   Make sure the form has a clear purpose. For example, if you’re preparing for a conference, label it as such, and include goal setting and feedback collection. At the end of the term you may want a lengthier reflective form that can also serve as a scaffolding tool. Be cautious, though, because long forms tend to get clunky in the middle.

·                   Keep most forms short, something the students can fill out in a few minutes.

·                   Create a form to use as an exit ticket at the end of class.

·                   Consider creating forms describing growth around specific standards or skills.

·                   Always ask yourself, “What data do I need?” and ask students for the information that matches your needs.

Step 2: Review the data.

Take time to review the data, first on your own, and then with the students if you have questions. Add notes and feedback that help students establish goals and strategies, based on your findings.

Step 3: Adjust instruction based on the data.

Once you have reviewed the data, determine the best course of action. It’s helpful to reflect and ask yourself some key questions:

·                   Does something need to be re-taught to the whole class, a small group, or one student? Are we ready to move to the next topic?

·                   Should anything be changed for future lessons?

·                   Are different activities around the same skills or concepts needed to provide students with opportunities to move toward mastery?

Step 4: Share the data with colleagues who teach the same students.

Conferring with colleagues can be challenging if a common meeting time isn’t available. Sharing data electronically between team members is efficient, and if you use Google Forms, the spreadsheet will allow other users to add their own information, ask questions, and enter observations into the spreadsheet. This will save time when you do meet in person, as you will have already addressed many of the issues. This way, you may solve simpler challenges without having to meet face to face. The “Meet Me in the Cloud” section in Hacking Education may offer other helpful ideas about conferring in the cloud.

Step 5: Continue to update information as the year progresses.

To use data successfully, you will need to update information periodically. You don’t need to update every student’s file every day, but you should definitely add and adjust information over the course of an activity or unit. Always make sure to date the changes so your records remain accurate. If you’ve chosen a program that will work on your phone, updating becomes even easier.

Step 6: Back up and label your data.

Save your work regularly and use a title for the document that will be easy to locate later. You should also routinely back up information onto a flash drive in the event that a cloud-based service like Google isn’t working.


Technology can be a polarizing subject, as many people like to do things a familiar way even if they understand that it isn’t the most effective way to do it. Here is some advice for dealing with folks who push back against digitizing the data:

Technology isn’t always available. If you select a platform that also features a mobile app, you can work from your phone or tablet, making technology available at all times. Most cloud-based storage bins (Drive, Dropbox, Evernote, to name just a few) have free mobile applications, simplifying data collection for teachers and students. It’s understandable that school Wi-Fi may be slow or down occasionally, but students can always add data from home or another location, like a library. Students will only need access to email to get into a form. In a worst-case scenario, students can also write out data you want to collect by hand and you can type it into the online form later.

I don’t know how to use the technology. Not knowing how to do something can be scary, but it shouldn’t stop education shareholders from moving forward. Turn to colleagues and administrators for help. Find a support team to help sift through the thousands of resources available online, as a mountain of tutorials can actually create a steeper learning curve for newbies. Remind parents and colleagues that taking a chance on new technology will have a huge impact on teaching and learning.

How is this any different than doing it by hand? Too often we write information in notebooks and never return to it, or we lose the notebook. Data collected online is conveniently organized and accessed from anywhere. It integrates smoothly into other places, and cutting and pasting makes it especially easy to copy student feedback into objectives and differentiation plans. Plus, today’s learners prefer to work online, so they are more likely to add valuable information and respond to feedback that is stored in the cloud.


The first time I brought Google Forms into the classroom, my form was clunky and student response was thin. As with everything we do for the first time, I needed to carefully consider what my forms were trying to achieve and stop trying to do everything at once. So I revised the form and re-sent it to the students. I gave them class time to execute the survey in a meaningful way; this way if they had questions, I was available to answer them on the spot.

I walked around the classroom and read over their shoulders while they completed the survey at their own pace. Ideas about how to work with them were already beginning to bubble. I realized that some students didn’t understand the topic as well as I thought they had. For example, when my ninth-grade ICT students responded to questions about journalism ethics, their answers showed me only a cursory understanding. We needed to spend more time on this, and I knew exactly how to help them grasp what they had missed.

Since the first pass was largely a reading activity, we needed to do something more hands-on. I made the second assignment a skit. As a group, they had to develop an ethical dilemma that journalists face and then walk us through how the journalist solved the problem. When I sent the same form back after the second assignment, all of the students had got it. In addition to learning that they needed more time, I learned that for this group of students, hands-on acting activities were more meaningful than reading alone. Once I collected this data, I could adjust the outcome on the spreadsheet that the form generated, and I was able to rethink what would happen next, predicated on what I had learned from the data.

With this particular set of students, I learned as the year progressed that giving them too many options was actually detrimental to their growth. Too many choices paralyzed them, and I doubt I would have learned this had I not offered them the chance to share their learning with me through this data collection process. Observation alone wasn’t enough.

Toward the end of the year, I was able to go back through the data, revise the final evaluation for the year, and help students prepare for their self-evaluation forms. These activities all tied together nicely, and the students understood the benefits of working in the cloud.

This data collection method made my teaching process transparent. The forms helped me scaffold the expectations for later, when students moved away from answering directed questions to completing written reflections. Throughout the process students became more articulate when addressing their own needs, which helped me hone class time.

This is the kind of efficiency we must strive for to ensure growth for every child in our space, regardless of how big our classes are. Class size can no longer be used as an excuse not to collect and use data. We have a responsibility to every child in our care, so we must find methods to make the job of data collection manageable.

Data in education is never going to go away, so if we can find more efficient ways to gather and use it, then both our practice and our students improve. Consider your current data-gathering practices. What are you currently doing that can be improved? How can you use the data to push learning even further in your classes?