April 18, 2023

The Akram-Hussain family: Tracking testing success with Excel

Can project management help parents prep kids for school success? The Akram-Hussain household will show you how tracking can be key to sustained growth and positive reinforcement when it comes to study skills.

Two things become apparent about Abid Hussain when he and his wife describe how they support their children’s educational success: “I work in technology. I love spreadsheets. I’m one of those strange people that love spreadsheets for the fun of it.” That’s right—Dad is something of a project manager when it comes to keeping an eye on how his children are doing in school. “I create[d] a spreadsheet to track [their] exam results.”

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It’s one of the ways Abid’s workplace skills transfer to helping manage a household and family. It is also an invaluable lesson in goal tracking and setting he can give to his children while they’re still students. “I work with data, so I understand [its] importance for very large, organized [projects]. So having that […] toolset available for my kids is just incredibly powerful.”

Old-school work ethic with a technology underpinning

The kids’ success in school is equally as important to their mother, Noreen Akram. “And now everything […] is becoming more competitive. And the baseline requirements for getting a good […] education, it feels like it’s a lot harder on the kids.” While Mom’s approach for supporting the kids’ educations was rooted in dedicated and rigorous study time, Dad felt that adding in tracking using one of his beloved spreadsheets would help their small scholars see the results of their efforts.

“[Noreen] was, you know, really focused on having the kids [sit] down, making sure that [they] study,” says Abid. “And I found that really intense, but it was appropriate for them. My job was to make sure that [there] was balance, […] that they were working hard, but also felt rewarded.” “[We tracked] the [tests] in Excel—and Abid was the master at the EXCEL spreadsheet,” Noreen is sure to mention.

A different kind of growth chart

The family’s tracking process is fairly straightforward, as tracking processes go, thanks to Abid’s robust professional experience with Excel.

“[E]ach time we did a test [for practice or officially], [I’d list] the date, the type of test, [and] the results.” Three simple but key data points for each test session led to big insights. “Over time, that became really valuable. [We] ended up with this really nice graph with scatter data and a trend showing that they were improving overall. So, you know, some of the advanced tools that companies would use—and I know because I use them at work—virtually all of that’s available to help us.”

And Excel isn’t the only tool in the family’s studying toolbox; Noreen and Abid use a few different Microsoft 365 favorites with their kids:

  • Lens to scan test papers for tracking and reference
  • Teams for the kids to communicate with their tutors—including receiving and turning in assignments

Positive reinforcement through results—and treats

Linking good work with good rewards is key, as Abid knows well from the workplace. “[P]ositive reinforcement was […] also important.” This doesn’t mean Mom and Dad employed a carrot-and-stick approach—quite the opposite: “You know, if the kids didn’t do so well, we would still reward them because it was all about effort. […] [T]here’s so many opportunities throughout the journey for milestones.”

Treats for Abid and Noreen’s kids vary, but are all fun reflections of their efforts and their interests:

  • Extra screen time, such as a minute more with a digital hobby or an extra episode of a favorite TV show
  • Tasty takeaway treats, like going out for milkshakes or fun pizza dinner—or the kids choosing a new mealtime adventure
  • A brand-new book, chosen from a savvy backlog collection kept by Mom and Dad
  • A visit to the prize box, full of parent-curated interactive games and toys

Their family isn’t the only one using this method to track kids’ test results; there are others with whom they share progress. Noreen explains, “At the end of the week they’d all hear what their marks were and, based on whoever did best—and that’s in our family and my friend’s family—that person would get [a] special treat.”

Celebrating hard work and success

Abid and Noreen also use Microsoft 365 tools to celebrate their small scholars and their classmates.

“I was involved in the Parents and Teachers Association,” explains Noreen, noting that when children move on from primary school, this group throws a celebratory party for students and their families. One year, she and Abid were tasked with creating a slideshow. Not only did they put together a touching montage of the students’ time in primary school, Abid took it a step further to add a fun activity to the celebration: He created a game called “Guess the Baby.”

“He’s always had these fantastic ideas,” Noreen is quick to say. “It was all of the children in the [graduating class] […]—a baby picture of [each] of them.”

According to Abid, “What that essentially entailed was a slideshow of all the leaving children, a picture of them when they were babies. And obviously the competition is you have to guess which baby is [which leaving] child.”

“The […] children and their parents [got] involved [by] filling out a sheet […] to say ‘this baby is X, Y, or Z.’”

“The year six children graduate into high school. It’s an opportunity for them to celebrate,” notes Abid, musing that the benefit of Microsoft 365 tools like PowerPoint is that it’s simple to pull together ideas like these for powerful results.

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