Sunday, 28 August 2016

Using enquiry and data to inform practice

This is my first blog of the new school session and I am still trying to get to grips with data literacy. This new terminology has recently been included in policy but there has been no definition offered. This is my current working definition:

Data literacy is the ability to derive meaningful information from data. Originally this was viewed as numerical and statistical data interpretation with an understanding the reliability of data to draw conclusion. This definition has been expanded to include the ability to ask and answer questions using data as part of evidence based thinking. This evidence based approach uses the most appropriate data, and interprets it to develop and evaluate data based inferences and explanations to solve real problems and communicate findings. The data collected could be both qualitative or quantitative in nature and can be derived from big data set through to classroom observations and professional noticing. 

I have also recently read a few books on data literacy and am still working through the implications for teacher learning in generating, analysing and making evidence based improvements and how this ties with the aspiration for an ‘enquiring profession’ first discussed in Teaching Scotland’s Future, here.

What is data?

Schools are rich with data and can take many forms. There are obvious forms of data such as attainment data but we need to look beyond this and uncover other sources of data that already exist. Discussing and using different forms of data dispels the myth that data can only be obtained through assessment. For example, other forms of data may include;

·         Student surveys

·         Teacher survey

·         Parent surveys

·         Learning observation notes

·         Student exit tickers

·         Student narratives

·         Focus groups

What do we need to be data literate?

Data provides the opportunity to inform our practice (evidence based practice) but data must be interpreted to inform our next steps before it has any power to inform. Teachers and schools need to create the time to develop conversations around rich data to support improvement. School leaders need to champion the use of rich data not just numerical/attainment data to build and support a culture where it is the norm to discuss evidence based practice. Leaders need to publically commit to using data so it becomes a priority and will pervade the culture and ethos of the school.

Create a data inventory – what data do we already have?

School leaders and teachers could create an inventory to collect together all of the possible sources of data that already exist in school. Schools are data rich, we now need to move this to become data enriched (accessing and using the data). A possible data inventory may look like to one below.

Data source
Dates of learning observations
Year group observed
Where is this information stored/collated
How do we use this data?

How can we use this data better? What else can it be used to inform/improve?

This can help to pull together an assessment calendar which will help both teachers and pupils to manage their workload, and can also identify where time and space can be created to talk about data.

Staff also need to develop skills in interacting with, using data and drawing inferences and conclusions. Sometimes data is presented in ways that prevents teachers from accessing the information, leaders therefore have a role to play in finding sensible ways to redisplay the data to help the underlying narrative and themes become apparent.

It may be helpful to have a list of specific questions in mind as you examine the data, for example;

·         Are there any trends? For groups of pupils? Over time?

·         Are you interested in a subset of pupils only? Do you want to compare across cohorts? Subjects?

·         Do you want to analyses individual progress? Group progress? Cohort progress?

·         Do you want to focus on high attainers? Low attainers? Off target pupils?

·         Do you want to focus in across department comparisons/ in school comparisons? Using insights data?

Once the data is in an appropriate format it helps to stimulate conversations and interrogation of the data, which leads to further questions such as;

·         What questions does this raise?

·         How are we going to address these?


Embedding data in collaborative practice is essential. A collaborative enquiry cycle can support teacher to enquiry into their practice and help develop of an enquiring mindset. Teachers can to generate data and make inferences through professional noticing. To make this more powerful it can be done by asking questions before inferences are drawn, e.g. what did you see? (with no interpretation). This can lead to better conversations about pupils’ learning as the focus is on fact and not interpretation of fact. If it is framed as a learner-centred problem, i.e. this is what I saw, the problem can be about the learning and not the learners and can give a question to start an enquiry. This questioning can start with ‘as teachers, we….’, this keeps the focus on the learning and brings buy-in from teachers. Undertaking an enquiry with a determined focus is both an end and a means. It is easy to get consensus around a focus that does not require teachers to make a change to their practice, so the more teachers are involved in selecting the focus, the more committed they will be in implementing the change. The collective success of the enquiry and how any changes are implemented based on the evidence of the enquiry, will depend on the synergy and trust of the teachers and leaders involved.

Undertaking an enquiry, increases clarity and transparency as leaders and teachers can collaboratively think and work through the enquiry cycle. The enquiry should start with an agreed focus. How you are changing? is a better question than what are you changing? At the start of the enquiry, it is also important to think about and agree how this will be addressed in the classroom, what will it look like? what will it sound like? what will it feel like? Putting this into writing with deliverables, timescales and the evidence to be collected sharpens the focus of the enquiry. Next you have to get creative about what resources you are going to use and how these are to be shared. This will require everybody to bring something to the table whether that is literature or a strategy or interesting practice. The next stage of the enquiry planning is to decide how the data will be evaluated with appropriate timescale and milestones, it is important to include a student voice at this stage so that this done with students and not to students.

Now that the planning phase is completed with some underpinning from literature, it is time to collect data.

Evaluating the data

Once data has been collected it can then be analysed to draw conclusions and inform next steps. This is powerful if leaders and teachers can work together to interrogate both the data and their own findings. It can be helpful to employ a coaching approach and use questions that support deep reflection such as:

·         What led you to conclude…?

·         I am hearing you say…is that correct?

·         I’m wondering what you mean by…?

So when feeding back to the collaborative group, these questions are asked to clarify and distil the findings to produce informed decisions about the data. The conclusions should be supported by the evidence, again a coaching approach can help support this process, for example, possible sentence starters for the reporter could be;

·         I see…

·         I noticed that…

·         I saw evidence of…

Create a living document that can capture these reflections and can be added to over time, generating a virtuous cycle of continuous improvement. This improvement cycle using an evidence based approach can inform school improvement planning.

Through the enquiry cycle, teachers should also interrogate the changes to their thinking and practice and note this in the professional learning log, so that their learning is not assumed or lost in the change cycle, but is also reflected upon and can be used to inform their next steps in their teachers’ journey.

Generating, collecting and analysing data is important to inform school improvement, teacher learning and the life chances of pupils, but the real power of data is not that it provides answers but that it inspires teachers to ask questions.

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