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7 types of data you can collect in your inquiry

Teaching through inquiry requires a great deal of evidence collecting so that you can evaluate what the needs are for your class, what aspects of teaching and learning are more and less effective, and how changes you are trialling are impacting on student learning. A range of data from varied sources will give you a fuller picture of the teaching and learning in your class, and you can compare the information you get from each kind of evidence to ensure that it is consistent, and therefore measure the reliability of your information. Here we define data broadly, to include all forms of data that relate to educational activity.

Here are seven key kinds of data you can collect and how to do it.

Observations

You might ask students to talk through their thinking while working through a maths problem, and write down what they say. You might observe a student’s strategies for decoding an unfamiliar word while reading, make a note of the substitutions they use and what these tell you about students’ reading skills (phonetic, syntactical and semantic awareness). You might observe students’ engagement during particular lessons by measuring time spent on task, or find out which self-choice activities are most popular by mapping student position at given intervals. You might make a record of the feedback that you give during a lesson and to which students, by making notes or videoing yourself.

Exit cards

You can collect students’ perceptions and summaries of lessons on index cards or post-its as they leave the classroom. Pose a question or ask students to list three things they most remember about the lesson. Do these match to your learning intentions?

Records

You might explore the numbers and types of books that students are selecting, or review student portfolios to see the number of reflections added. These findings can be represented numerically making them easier to compare. However, this might miss out understanding why books are chosen or how students feel about writing reflections. You can also access your school’s numerical information about students’ attendance, for example.

Results of tests

You can use the results of standardised tests (e.g. e-AsTTle, PAT, STAR Tests) as evidence for your inquiry into the effectiveness of learning, or of tests that you administer in class yourself. For example, you can record not only the total score of each student in a test, but which questions were generally answered correctly by a given group of students, and which students struggled with. Are marks consistently lost in a particular area of the test, for example? Are students confident in a mathematical operation in number problems but not in word problems?

Samples of work

You might gather a range of students’ work and use the New Zealand standards information to grade achievement. In addition to using these standards as a measure of students’ current understanding, you can also see whether there are particular aspects of each standard that are missing across the range of students’ work.

Surveys and scaled surveys

You might survey students, parents  or other teachers. A scaled survey asks respondents to quantify their answers, so the information gathered can be easily organised in numerical form, for example, in a graph.

The use of scales limits the scope of the survey however, and there is no way to ensure that different respondents mean the same thing when they grade the question with a 4, or what it was about the unit of work made them grade it so. Unscaled surveys allow personal responses to open-ended questions, but are more complex to organise for analysis.

It can be a good idea to pilot your planned survey to see if your questions are easily understood and supply the information you are seeking.

Interviews (students, parents, other teachers)

Interviews might be useful for investigating perceptions, beliefs, attitudes and values, or for exploring complex issues that do not have a finite set of possible responses. Interviews might be informal and conversational, which means they flow through spontaneous questions, or they may be guided by a set of questions or points to discuss. Collecting data through interview can be time-consuming, and the data generated may be difficult to compare and analyse. Also remember that interviews give a great deal of useful information about perceptions, feelings and understandings, but self-reports are limited in accuracy.