ElEd: Data Practices

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8.1 Collecting Data in Elementary Classrooms

In a blended learning environment, data are often automatically generated any time students participate in a learning activity. As Chawanna Chambers states in the following video, it can “feel like we have data coming out of our ears!” In fact, elementary teachers are constantly collecting and analyzing data, even if they don’t realize it. Our goal in this chapter is to help you become more mindful of the data you already collect and utilize, while also increasing your awareness of opportunities to use data in new ways.

Administrator Advice: Getting Started with Data

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Reflection Question: How can you get started with data?  

When used well, data can inform all parts of your teaching. They can help students see their own progress and identify areas needing improvement, help you understand the needs of specific students, and provide information students can use in setting and evaluating goals. Technology has greatly expanded the way data can be recorded, collected, organized, and used in a timely and efficient way. Because of technology, teachers can easily and quickly collect and use data to change and enhance their pedagogy, as well as group students, plan remedial and extended activities for students who need it, and target specific needs of individuals, groups, and an entire class.

Teachers Talk: Nicole Sandrowicz

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Data can be found everywhere and can come in multiple forms, yet the form that’s often overlooked is  “street data.” After reading Chane Safir and Jamila Dugan’s book Street Data: A Next-Generation Model for Equity, Pedagogy, and School Transformation,  I learned that conversations with students and stakeholders can be a tool that can elevate learning. This type of data promotes students’ sense of belonging within their school and provides continuous opportunities for reflection and conversation to promote equity in school. It requires us to listen and observe the experiences and mindsets of students, teachers, and entire learning communities. Street data operates in real time, leading to school transformation.

In order for data to be helpful, they need to be organized in a meaningful way. You may want to use subjective and objective data, observations, performance criteria, and areas of a rubric aligned with a certain learning objective. 

Data can be categorized as 

  1. Learning Profile Data that help you to know about students’ personal interests and backgrounds as well as their learning preferences, tendences, and confidence levels. 
  2. Activity Data that help you to know how students are spending their time online and their progress in an assignment or unit. 
  3. Performance Data that help you to know what students have learned, what they have yet to learn, and how well they have mastered learning objectives. 

Table 1 shares a few examples of each of these types of data with suggestions on how you may collect or access them.  

Table 1

Collecting Data—Some Ideas 

Desired DataExamples 
Learning Profile DataData are often seen as impersonal. However, data can actually help you get to know your students.  You might use a Google Form survey where students answer questions about how they prefer to learn (alone, in groups, by reading, watching, writing), hobbies, pastimes, perceptions of personal strengths and weakness in a subject area, what they want from the class, what they are nervous about in the class, types of assessments and activities they prefer, etc. Not only is an online survey a great way to efficiently gather and organize data, some students actually feel more comfortable sharing certain information in a survey rather than in personal conversation. Another option is for students to share their thoughts and feelings in a private video recording using a tool like Flipgrid. You can also simply notice and take notes on students’ participation, interest in reading materials, friends, attention, outside interests, interaction with others, clues about home life, etc. By placing these notes in an online password-protected document or spreadsheet, you can easily and securely organize and use the data.  You can also collect data by observing how your students seek help and then recording what you see: Do individual students seek help online, from other students, from you? Are they afraid to ask for help? You can collect data on how well students are developing their ability to collaborate through self-reflections regarding their own collaboration and personal contributions, your own observations, working with them on a shared document so you can see the contributions of each student, and reports from team members.  Course evaluations can also be a helpful source of learning preference data. 
Activity DataAt times it can be difficult for blended teachers to know how students have been spending their time online. As one teacher explained, online data can act as “digital footprints.”  Some learning management systems (LMS) and programs provide teachers with reports on how long students have been in LMS or program and which pages they have accessed. At times the most helpful information is a student’s last login time.  Teachers can easily scan online gradebooks to check assignment submission patterns for a single student or an entire class.  When students are using a school-provided device, teachers may even want to check an individual’s internet browser history when they become concerned that a student may not have been using online time wisely.  Activity checklists not only help students stay organized and motivated, they can also help teachers track student progress. This is especially helpful when students have flexibility in their pace of learning. Paper checklists can become lost and may be difficult for teachers to access. When check lists are created and shared in collaborative documents such as Google Documents, they are easier for teachers to track and for students to follow. 
Performance Data 

Performance data is at the heart of blended teaching. Any assessment of learning will result in some form of performance data. For instance, in language arts and literacy, data can include a student's reading speed, comprehension, fluency, vocabulary, decoding ability, sentence construction, reasoning skills, application of grammar, punctuation, spelling conventions, writing composition abilities, etc. This form of data can allow teachers to create differentiated groups to teach specific information based on identified needs of their students. For instance, Nicole Sandrowicz uses data to create differentiated reading groups for her special education students, allowing her to better target learning gaps. Differentiated reading groups based on performance data

Standardized tests are commonly administered to students by the school district and state. The resulting data provide teachers with an important way to track student growth across multiple grades.  Learning software, such as adaptive learning software, provides teachers with student performance reports.  Teacher created assessments and the performance data they provide are the lifeblood of the classroom and can include pre- and post-assessments, exit tickets, projects, and interactive games such as Kahoot.

Using surveying tools such as Google Forms can be a helpful, easy way to collect learning profile data. Some tools also have grading features that allow a teacher to use them as assessment tools that can automatically score students’ responses. Here is an example of a media-rich Google Form that was created by Jodie Faust to assess her third graders’ understanding of Ancient Egypt.

If you are creating a survey for young learners whose reading abilities are still emerging, try including images in the response options. For instance, if you are asking students how they feel about something, you can have them select from a set of emojis. In the example below, Beth Hooser regularly uses pre-assessments with her first graders. At the end of the pre-assessment she has students rate their confidence on how well they were able to use the “Fist to 5” scale (1= This is really hard and 5= I could teach this) by selecting from images of hands holding up different numbers of fingers.

Screenshot of a Google Form

Teachers Talk: Creating Surveys with Emojis for Young Students

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Reflection Question: What can you do to help young students express their feelings?

Teachers Talk: Collecting Data 

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Reflection Question: How can you collect useful data in your class?

Teachers Talk: Tracking Student Use of an Online Library

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Reflection Question: How can you track students’ online behavior?

In your blended teaching workbook, you have a blank table like the one above. Decide what sources of data you would like to use in your classroom. Fill out the chart based on what data you want to collect. You may have to ask others for ideas on types of technology and what you need to learn to use the technology.

If you haven't already opened and saved your workbook, you can access it here.

 8.2 Utilizing Data in Elementary Classrooms

Data are only helpful if elementary teachers use them to improve their teaching and students’ learning experiences. Data can help you in creating curriculum, differentiating activities and assessments, helping students set goals and personalize their learning, and tracking students’ progress. Data can also help you see strengths and opportunities for growth in your curriculum and approach to teaching. As you look at the examples below, notice how these teachers are using data. Think of ways you could improve your class by collecting and analyzing data.

8.2.1 Using Data to Determine Mastery 

Mastery in elementary classrooms focuses on building students’ foundational skills across content areas. In the youngest grades (K–2), we typically see a heavy emphasis on mastering early literacy concepts, the building blocks for children’s academic careers. As students become more independent readers and are able to make deeper interdisciplinary connections in grades 3–5, the complexity of content mastery increases.

Tracking proficiency levels provides teachers with clear, actionable information they can use to create strategic groupings and intervention plans. Advancements in adaptive software have made it possible for elementary teachers to use technology to assess students’ current skill levels and to address the unfinished learning revealed through the data.  For example, one student may struggle with decoding Consonant-Vowel-Consonant-e (CVCe) words, while another’s trouble area is decoding CVC words with the short i sound. Another may not have concerns with decoding but instead experience difficulty with reading comprehension. When teachers have this level of information, they can use educational apps to monitor progress and create goals with students so they may track their own growth. 

Teachers should start by creating assessments that will act as clear benchmarks of student mastery. They can then design opportunities to collect data along the way to various benchmarks. Data from these formative assessments can help teachers differentiate instruction and adjust learning activities. For instance, it may be that some students have similar learning gaps and can be grouped together to learn and offer support. Students who excel can become mentors for those who need help and, in turn, can have students strong in areas in which they need more support become mentors for them. 

Not only can technology help teachers collect data, it can also help them analyze that data and even make instructional decisions based on that information. For instance, adaptive learning software is constantly using student activity and learning data to adjust instruction and activities. Kindergarten teacher Angela Johnson briefly describes how she uses adaptive learning software to help her students develop literacy skills. Given that many children move from grade to grade with unfinished foundational literacy learning, adaptive learning software can help teachers meet students where they are and provide them with the instruction they need.

Teachers Talk: Using Technology to Differentiate Student Learning

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Reflection Question: What tools are currently available that you can use to differentiate your students’ learning?

8.2.2 Using Data to Help Improve Pedagogy

Because data often come from student performance and activity, if you pay careful attention to student data, you can learn a lot about how to best teach your students and what pedagogy to use. What activities lead to the best results for what kinds of learning outcomes? What confuses your students? When are they most behaviorally engaged? Does their engagement lead to understanding and mastering learning outcomes? Reflecting on questions like these can help you evaluate yourself as a teacher and your students as learners. They can lead to insights that can strengthen your pedagogy and help students achieve mastery as well as their learning goals. 

Quizzes, quick checks, and exit tickets are common sources of learning data. When quizzes, quick checks, and exit tickets are created online, often the tool will automatically grade them, so teachers have more time to answer the question, “How can I best use learning data to improve my teaching and student learning?” Here are some ideas for answering that question:

  1. If many students miss a question, check to see if there is a problem with the question (miskeyed, difficult wording, unclear answers or expectations). If there are no problems with the question, check the standard to which the question is aligned. Pinpoint specific areas of confusion, analyze your instruction, and modify where needed. 
  2. If most students answer correctly, check to see if the question is too easy. If it isn't, review your teaching strategies for strengths that you might be able to use for similar learning objectives.
  3. If just a few students miss the question, you may want to pull those students out in a small group and reteach, remediate, give extra practice, etc. 

In the following video, Chrissy McLaughin shares how the automatic grading feature in her online exit tickets have allowed her to focus more of her time on actually using the data to improve learning and to determine intervention groups based on students’ performance.

Teachers Talk: Steamlining Exit Tickets

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Reflection Question: How can technology improve exit tickets that you use? What could be some downsides to using technology?

Teachers use data in all sorts of ways. Here are some examples of how teachers can use data in an elementary classroom. What ideas do their experiences give you?

Example 1: Using Data to Help Students Receive Services 

During the Response to Intervention process, we collect and analyze data to identify instructional supports that work best for students.  For instance, literacy-based learning software that assesses students’ foundational skills often provides critical data that identifies the need for intervention. For example, embedded dyslexia screeners make it possible for teachers to identify students in need of further evaluation without added 1:1 screening time.

Example 2: Using Data to Determine Teacher Intellectual Preparation Adjustments 

We can also use data to determine areas where we might be able to strengthen our planning and preparation. For example, reviewing students’ answers on both classroom assessments and online activities helps teachers identify critical student misconceptions. From there, we can reference our instructional materials to assess their actual benefit when we initially addressed those concepts. This allows us as educators to see our own opportunities for growth because we may have missed this type of misconception altogether or simply needed to dedicate more time to it on the front-end. 

Example 3: Using Data to Adjust or Modify Instructional Materials 

How do we know when our instructional materials need to be improved? The most reliable way is to closely analyze student data. This includes performance data but also demonstrates the value of qualitative surveys and conversations with students.

From a student survey or conference, we can better identify the topics that interest our students. This can be a vehicle for delivering foundational content that yields high, authentic engagement. Say 50% of your class loves YouTube and wants to be a vlogger. You might create an activity that asks students to work in groups to record a quick tutorial that explains or demonstrates a concept that their performance data show needs more practice.

Let’s look at another example. 

During your last three activities with a quiz game on Kahoot, you observed 100% participation and excitement. Further, students’ performance on those questions was significantly higher than comparative results from some other methods you’ve tried. The data suggest students respond better to and might be able to internalize content with more ease if you use interactive, gamified methods. This new knowledge doesn’t mean you will only use this approach, but it does suggest that your students might grow more quickly if you employed this type of technology integration more often during formative stages of learning.

Teachers Talk: Using Data to Modify Instruction

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Reflection Question: How can you use data to modify your instruction?

Example 4: Using Data to Group Students 

Some edtech tools have a feature that allows teachers to group or sort students by skill level. In these instances, we can create small groups or intervention cohorts so our instruction focuses on personalizing actual student needs.

When it comes to grouping students, we should also consider whether the data show a need for remediation or for intervention, as these are not quite the same thing. Performance data often indicate a need to reteach, which should happen by using a different approach than was used in the initial lesson. Intervention focuses on addressing prerequisite skills (often from previous grade levels) students have yet to master. These skills are essential to demonstrating mastery of grade-level content. 

For example, an elementary literacy teacher’s data may suggest that students currently working in an adaptive learning software should be grouped in one of three small groups for intervention:

V = vowel, C = consonant

While there are likely multiple skills to be addressed, the data indicate that students need more differentiation in one of the areas above to better support their advancement.

In math, this could look like focusing on re-presenting the concept of place value to ensure a group of students have mastered it before tutoring students on adding four-digit numbers.

Watch the video clip to listen as classroom teacher Chrissy McLaughlin explains how she uses tech to more efficiently deliver intervention for her students.

Teachers Talk: Maximizing Intervention Time

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Reflection Question: How can you use data to maximize the little amount of intervention time that you have with your students?

Think of one source of data that you are not using but that you could use in your classroom. In your workbook, outline a way to collect that data and ways you can use it.

Collecting and using data may feel uncomfortable. You may think you can't do it. But if you think about it, you are collecting data all the time. You are watching your students, reviewing their work, interacting with them, and listening to them. You are ready to take the next step and find more formal ways to include data in your understanding of your students, their learning patterns and needs, and your strengths and weaknesses as a teacher. Data collection can open new ways of seeing. 

In the next chapter you will begin to explore personalization in your blended teaching.

Previous Citation(s)
, , , & (in progress). ElEd: Data Practices. In , , , , & (Eds.), K-12 Blended Teaching (Vol 2): A Guide to Practice Within the Disciplines , 2. EdTech Books. https://edtechbooks.org/-kxUP

This content is provided to you freely by EdTech Books.

Access it online or download it at https://edtechbooks.org/k12blended_eled/eled_data.