Sunday, 26 June 2016

Data literacy for teachers

In my new role as Senior Education Officer (National Improvement Framework), I am trying to gain a fuller understanding of some areas. Data literacy is a term that has been used but since I was unsure exactly what this meant, I thought I would explore this further and purchased a book called Data Literacy for Educators: Making it count in teacher preparation and practice. This is a summary of thoughts on data literacy and what it means for teachers.

The rationale
Teachers need to be able to use data to understand and measure children’s learning and transform this information into next steps in learning for each child.
This can be achieved through a combination of different knowledges;
·         Knowledge of standards of progression – what stage is this child at and what is their next step in learning
·         Curricular knowledge – how can the curriculum be developed to support each child’s learning
·         Pedagogical knowledge – what theory and practice would be best employed to support children’s learning
·         Knowledge of how children learn – metacognition.

In classrooms, teachers observe children’s learning in a holistic way, not just their progression in learning but also how they react, behave, perform, whether they are engaged, attentive or alert, and use all of this information to make professional judgements on the next steps in learning for each child.  As an education system we have to move away from anecdotal evidence of children’s learning and behaviour to a more systematic way of collecting and using data to support professional learning of teachers and learning progress of the young people. This means using data to reinforce and confirm observations and gut reaction. This does not mean replacing the tacit knowledge gained over years of experience for some teachers but using tools to augment this tacit knowledge with data that can be collated, discussed and used to inform next steps.
Teachers need to develop skills, knowledge and disposition to be able to use data effectively and responsibly. This would be supported by a strong data culture within schools where data is explicitly utilised to identify problems in practice, which can be analysed and an action plan created as part of a cycle of collaborative enquiry.

What data?
Data comprises of both quantitative and qualitative facts, figures, materials or results. These are empirical pieces of evidence which can be transformed into information by the context which gives them meaning. This data (information) provides the teachers with evidence which can support professional judgement and actions. The data collected must be meaningful and more importantly actionable, i.e. it needs to provide information for action to be taken.
Teachers have to go beyond the easy sources of data such as assessment data, and mine the rich learning experiences and classroom practice to find the most appropriate evidence which is meaningful and manageable. There are many forms of data that can be used as evidence, some qualitative and some quantitative, such as;
·         Assessments
o    summative, formative, interim, benchmark, diagnostic
·         Classroom activities:
o    exercise, quizzes, reports, problem solving, lab exercises, projects, demonstrations
·         Portfolios
·         Observations:
o    attentiveness, engagement, fatigue, hyperactivity, hunger, misbehaviour
·         Questions and answers
·         Attendance, truancy and tardiness
·         Behaviour: demerits, exclusion, socially supportive actions
·         Health and nutrition
·         Affect:
o    motivation, attitude, attention, grit, self-esteem
·         Special status:
o    special educational needs, accommodations, languages, giftedness
·         Transportation
·         Demographics
·         Home circumstances:
o    parental status, languages barrier, education, numbers of siblings, homelessness, immigration status, poverty level, parental support, home educational resources, technology
It is the triangulation of some/all of these sources of data that helps give teachers the fullest picture of their students learning and supports teachers to make professional judgements in the best interests for each child.

What does this mean for teachers?
Teachers need to develop knowledge, skills and dispositions through professional learning opportunities in how to collate and use data effectively and ethically. Teachers can undertake professional learning in data literacy, to support their professional judgements and increase teacher agency, as they become confident in utilising data to make informed decisions about the learning of young people.
Teaching with a closed classroom door, is not conducive to a collaborative professional learning community. Teachers teaching in isolation have limited sources of data to make informed professional judgements, a collaborative professional learning community offers the possibility to make well-articulated, objective professional judgements on student performance and to use data to inform learning and teaching.
Teachers need to develop data literacy skills and think critically about data. Teachers should combine their data skills with content knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge. The pedagogical component helps inform changes to learning and teaching that result from the data as part of a continuous enquiry cycle into their practice.
To be data literate, teachers need to;
·         Understand what data is appropriate
·         Understand data quality
·         Understand data accuracy, appropriateness, and completeness
·         Transform data into decision
·         Understanding context for the decision
·         Create next steps in learning
·         Monitor student performance
·         Diagnose what students need
·         Make adjustments in learning and teacher
·         Understand the context for a decision

Teachers need to use multiple sources of data and triangulate these sources to inform their practice. Engaging with research can form the basis for understanding what data literacy is and what skills and knowledge need to be developed.

The Education System
All educators need to know how to talk about data, and they need to know how to communicate with data. Each establishment needs to become what Senge calls a ‘learning organisation’, where data is used for organisational improvement. In a ‘learning organisation’ data is collected and analysed in ways that can be used in a feedback cycle to inform decisions for continuous improvement.
“Data gives us roadmap to reform, it tell us where we are, we need to go, and who is most at risk” (Duncan, 2009a)

Mandinach, E.B. & Gummer, E.S. (2016) Data Literacy for Educators: Making it count in teacher preparation and practice; new York, NY: Teachers College Press

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