Anyone who has worked in education during the last few years can tell you that data is important — and that it is everywhere. There has been no shortage of articles and ideas about using data in the classroom, including Using Student Achievement Data to Support Instructional Decision Making, Ways Student Data Can Inform Teaching, and Using Data to Guide Instruction and Improve Student Learning. Aside from the Common Core, “data” is arguably the biggest buzzword in education right now.
Yet most teacher training and professional development does not explicitly focus on data. In fact, many teachers are not aware of how to get data, how to use it, or how it can be useful. The truth is data can be one of your very best friends in the classroom, especially when it comes to assessing yourself as an educator. When teachers consistently use inquiry in their teaching practice, they are able to identify important questions that lead to improved practice and greater student achievement. And to do inquiry right, a teacher must have good data.
But where can you find data? And how can you use it? Let’s take a look.
Step 1: Ask Questions
All inquiry starts with a query. That is, you need to know what you are looking for before you can start finding it. Your first question for almost any teacher inquiry might be, “How are my students doing?” And your second question might be, “How can I improve?”
Both questions start with the end in mind, which is a better teaching practice. Now that you know what to look for, you can start your inquiry.
Step 2: Find the Data You Have
You might be amazed at how much data is readily available to you. Schools keep track of home language surveys, English language proficiency scores, state, and national assessment results, attendance records, Individualized Education Programs, 504 Plans, and—of course—grades. Take some time to talk to your administrator to see what data has been recorded and how to access it. Then reflect on how the available data can help you in your own inquiry. Where there are holes, you’ll want to create more data.
To do so, start by talking to your students. Ask them questions. Collect anecdotal data from your interactions. Evaluate their responses. Monitor their grades, their test scores, and their writing skills. Come up with a way of identifying their strengths and weaknesses.
And don’t forget about your own practices! Experiment with different approaches, asking yourself if there are better strategies you can use and what would happen if you used them. Create new forms of assessment for your students and for yourself.
Step 3: Track Data
In isolation, data paints a limited picture of your students, so you’ll want to track the data over time. Let’s look at what one of our expert authors did to track data in her classroom.
She created a data wall in her classroom where she kept track of student progress. She started by aggregating and posting her students’ data on last year’s assessment and then met with each student individually to set goals for the next end-of-year assessment. She then regularly updated the data wall with data from interim formative and summative assessments and practice tests, which motivated students since they could see their progress in real-time. By the end of the year, all of her students showed growth, which was a great success.
Regardless of what kind of data you collect, it’s important to create a system for monitoring it over time. Just as a scientist records the results of an experiment for extended periods, you need to evaluate your own practice cohesively, rather than in isolation.
Step 4: Examine
All of your data can be analyzed to determine strengths and weaknesses in your teaching process and the trends in your students’ individual scores and abilities. Want to track where students are on the spectrum? Predict where they are going? Determine if a unit or lesson is successful? This is just the beginning of the questions you can begin researching in your classroom by collecting data.
During this part of your teaching inquiry, you will need to be objective. Look at the data in front of you and determine what it means. This is the part of the process when you crunch the numbers and see what has and has not worked. If you see your students’ scores trending down, you’ll want to adjust your teaching practice. If you see them trending up, you may still want to tweak your teaching practice to help your students improve even more.
During this step, you will want to think of ways of improving your teaching practice. Come up with new approaches or keep using the ones that have been proven to work. And, of course, you’ll want to track how they work when you put them into practice.
Teacher inquiry allows you to make sense of the complexities of education, and a good evaluation of your data will lead to concrete ways of improving your teaching practice.
Step 5: Repeat
Finally, use all your data to plan for your future teaching practice. Put what you know together with what you want your students to accomplish, and repeat the process. Teacher inquiry is not a one-time thing; to be effective, you should perform it consistently.
Each educator needs to figure out the best way to integrate teacher inquiry into his/her teaching process, but a helpful start begins with the acronym AFTER: Ask, Find, Track, Evaluate, Repeat.