Data, Inquiry, Action, Teaching

The other day, I was reading and then re-reading a post by Bud Hunt about teacher inquiry and data collection, and the balance he talks about in regards to data analysis and hard numbers.

Bud wrote:

“Teachers, of all people, should have a good and always developing sense of this: they should know and understand what it means to measure, and how measurement affects the thing you’re measuring, and how there are ways other than percentages and standard deviations to explore vital areas of life and living and learning.”

His post crossed my mind again over the weekend, as I was sorting through a large stack of Benchmark Reading Assessment folders. This “data set” represents my current students. I try to be organized here, so I had a roster sheet from each class and began to mark down the Independent, Instructional and Hard levels for every child. I then used a highlighter to begin color-coding the instructional levels of every student so I have an idea of grade-level reading, from the data of the Benchmark Assessments. The visual helps.

Later, I pulled out a writing sample that I gave my students this past week. They had to write a paragraph response to a question about protagonist and antagonist from the story Rikki Tikki Tavi, using evidence from the story to support their ideas. I went through these short pieces, reading for paragraph structure and also for content. I made notes on my master roster sheet about where they are as writers in the early stage in the sixth grade.

When I am done here, I will have an overview of what my classes of young readers and writers look like. I know it won’t be perfect. There are all sorts of reasons why the data might not be accurate: perhaps last year’s teacher didn’t administer the Benchmark the same way that I do; maybe they had a bad day when I asked them to write the paragraph; etc. But at this stage in the year, I am looking to get both an overall impression of where the classes are at and where individual students are at.

And then, at our staff meeting, we started to get information about last year’s state testing scores (MCAS). I can’t share the results yet due to a state-issued embargo, but I am starting to crunch those numbers, too, not only to see if changes in the curriculum last year made a difference, but also, to identify this year’s students who might need some extra help or observation.

And finally, over at our iAnthology network, one of this week’s writing prompts from Janet Ilko is all about teacher inquiry and what it looks like in our classroom. It’s like the week of inquiry and data!

And now, thinking back a bit to Bud, I want to remember that the numbers from all of these different areas (Benchmark, paragraph, MCAS, etc), while important, is not everything and certainly no Knight on a Horse to the Rescue. The data collection will guide my planning and help with curriculum changes, but it will be my day-to-day observations and adjustments and flexibility that I hope will make a difference in their growth as readers and writers, but also as people.

Which brings me to yet another related point: I may be working with two UMass professors this year on a classroom research inquiry project around my students and their use of digital tools for composition both inside and outside the classroom. We’re curious about overlap, or not. Much of that inquiry will be observation and interview — the “data” will be what they see, even we know there will be many limitations to what students will let you see of their lives. I may keep coming back to Bud’s post as we move forward, as a gentle reminder of the complexities of classroom inquiry research.

Peace (in the inquiry),


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