Traditionally, learner data consisted of the final summative marks on an end of unit or semester assessment. We now know learner data is much more than this, and teachers can draw on many different types of learner data to improve their practice and to assess the effectiveness of a task or a new way of teaching and learning.
Learner data is everywhere and can be as simple or extensive as you need for your purposes. Qualitative data can be just as useful as quantitative data when tracking trends and progress. Some examples of data you can track and collect are:
- Learner work
- Formative assessment, such as pre-tests (comparative assessments), quizzes, exit tickets.
- Summative assessment, such as end of term or mid-term exams, final projects.
- Anecdotal records, such as comments or narratives recording behaviour, informal observations, or play experiences.
- Learner self-assessment, such as learner self-reflection tools, rubrics, or checklists.
- Large scale tests (at school, regional or national level), such as NAPLAN.
- Learner perception surveys
- Classroom observation records
- Other people who interact with the learner can provide useful data points. This data can be gathered through:
- talking to their other teachers/previous teachers
- checking in with the welfare/pastoral care team
- speaking to family members or conducting parent/carer surveys
Learner perception surveys are carried out in order to find out what learners are thinking, learning, and feeling. They differ to academic assessments as they check in with the thoughts and perspectives of the learners rather than testing their academic skills. Learner perception data, on its own or combined with other data, can help teachers learn what is working and what is not. Learner surveys can be undertaken at any time and, unlike academic assessments, are less likely to result in stress or pressure on learners. They are particularly useful when run before and after the implementation of a new strategy or practice, using the same questions. This enables teachers to:
- measure changes in learners’ perceptions over time
- understand what learners feel has stayed the same and why
- measure learners’ perceptions of the impact of a new practice
- measure learners’ perceptions of the impact of the teacher’s professional learning.
Most learner perception surveys look at learners’ thoughts on their class and teacher, providing feedback on what is working or not working in class. Teachers can also choose to focus on something specific they wish to learn – such as wellbeing, a particular aspect or style of learning and teaching, or something else they might want to measure.
It can help to categorise exactly what information is being sought from the learners. One method that has been used is the ‘7Cs’ (Ferguson et al., 2015).
Each of these cover an aspect of a teacher’s practice.
- Care: teachers’ care for learners, and support for the emotional wellbeing of learners.
- Confer: welcoming and valuing learner viewpoints.
- Captivate: the teacher’s ability to engage learners.
- Clarify: the ability to explain and clarify concepts and content.
- Consolidate: the ability to review and ensure information is retained.
- Challenge: pushing learners academically and supporting them when they struggle with this.
- Classroom management: the ability to organise a class and ensure it runs smoothly.
When using the ‘7 Cs’, break up the questions to avoid asking all the questions from one category at a time. Select the categories you want to ask, then mix up the questions. For sample survey items and more information on how to survey learners, see Asking Students About Teaching from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (2012).
Learners’ perceptions change every day, so it is . Where possible, a pre- and post-survey should be conducted under similar conditions – for example at the start of a class both times, or on the same day in the same period. This continuity is helpful to get the most accurate results possible.
It is important to properly plan surveys in order to ensure the data produced is relevant to the question at hand. While continuity is important to ensure accuracy, over-surveying may lead to ‘survey fatigue’ among learners (Nair, Adams & Mertova, 2008).
With so many data sources, the collection, analysis and utilisation of data can be a challenge. There are a range of ways to collate learner data:
- Education setting-wide reporting systems vary in their focus and usability. They can be a helpful, central place to store and retrieve learner data, especially to observe a learner’s progression though the education setting.
- There are a range of online tools that are free, or at a cost, that gather learner data.
- Ask teachers of similar year levels and subjects what works for them. A great tool for one subject might not work for another, so consider the purpose of your data collection.
- Where appropriate, share data with learners that is supportive to all learners’ learning and celebrates achievement in different forms. When sharing data, ensure site policies regarding privacy are adhered to.
Ronald F. Ferguson with Sarah F. Phillips, Jacob F. S. Rowley, and Jocelyn W. Friedlander, The Influence of Teaching Beyond Standardized Test Scores: Engagement, Mindsets, and Agency, The Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University, 2015. https://agi.harvard.edu/projects/TeachingandAgency.pdf
Chenicheri Sid Nair , Phillip Adams & Patricie Mertova (2008) Student Engagement: The Key to Improving Survey Response Rates, Quality in Higher Education, 14:3,
225-232, DOI: 10.1080/13538320802507505 https://doi.org/10.1080/13538320802507505